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Work The Noble Pastorale tapestry

Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages

Le Travail de la laine

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Fuzeau

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Author(s):
Ribou Marie-Hélène de

Part of a series of three, this is commonly known as the "Noble Pastorale" tapestry: "pastoral" because it portrays different activities of shepherds and shepherdesses, and "noble" because its central focus is young lords and ladies playing at being shepherds. These pastoral tapestries were very much in vogue throughout Europe in the late Middle Ages, being both highly decorative and less costly than large narrative pieces.

A pastoral scene

The tapestry shows three phases in the process of wool manufacture. On the right, a seated girl is holding a sheep preparatory to shearing. Her dress, despite its ample folds, is clearly that of a peasant. A comb hangs from her belt and the upper part of a pair of shears can be seen in one hand. The young man in the middle, an elegant doublet signaling his noble rank, is winding the wool into a ball from a skein set on a spool or reel. Attached to the folds of his broad white belt are various shepherd's tools; among them, in the middle, can be seen a 'sharp' shepherd's knife. Both the man and the girl have with them the shepherd's implement par excellence: the crook, a long wooden staff with a small crook at one end. The seated girl on the left is holding on her knees a ribbon heddle, a small portable loom used by women for weaving ribbons and braid. Three shuttles hang from her belt and she has a fourth in her hand. She is wearing a fine chemise and a wide skirt under a generous dress that falls in rippling folds to the ground.

Tapestry as decoration

As furnishings, tapestries played a highly decorative role. Mentions in a number of inventories make it clear that, as early as the fourteenth century, scenes of country life and work in the fields were much sought after. Yet while fairly accurate, these scenes were always idealized. This tapestry is a particularly good illustration of the bucolic image exalted a century later by Jehan de Brie, himself a former shepherd. The treatise he wrote on the Good Shepherd for King Charles V was a source of inspiration and imagery for artists for centuries to come.
Set in the upper right corner, the coat of arms of Thomas Bohier and Catherine Briçonnet indicates that the tapestry was in their possession before 1524. However, we cannot be sure that they commissioned the work, as the coat of arms seems to be an addition.

A millefleurs background

The figures are set against the millefleurs background with no attempt at perspective. Medieval weavers frequently used cardboard cutout figures that could be adapted to the needs of different tapestries, but here the composition is particularly successful, combining figures on the same scale and the same, three-part plane. This makes it likely that they were specifically created for this tapestry and later used for others.
The weaver has given his imagination free rein in the millefleurs background, creating a veritable garden of closely set plants interspersed with animals. Only the tree seems intended to create any sense of depth.

Bibliography

Claudette Joannis, "Essai d'interprétation ethnographique d'une tenture médiévale", in La revue du Louvre et des Musées de France, n 5/6, décembre 1982, pp. 335-340.

Pierre Verlet, "Les tapisseries de la donation Larcade", in La Revue des Arts, vol. 1, 1951, pp. 24-30.

Technical description

  • Flandres ? (vers 1500)

    Le Travail de la laine

    Provient du château de Serrant (Maine-et-Loire)

  • Tapisserie : laine et soie

    H. : 2,20 m. ; L. : 3,19 m.

  • Legs E. Larcade, 1945 , 1945

    OA 9408

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Larcade
    Room 10

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Additional information about the work

Bearing the arms of Thomas Bohier, administrator of the royal finances under Charles VIII, Louis XI, and François I, deceased in 1524, and of his wife Catherine Briçonnet.