Over several decades multiple sets from the series were produced, mainly by the collaborating weavers E. Levniers and H. Reydams in Brussel. And you will find variations of the design, and numbers of tapestries included in the different sets.
Weavers started producing the series after inspiration from the illustrations found in a book on dressage riding: L’Instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval (1622/1625) Antoine Pluvinel (1552 - 1620) the first French riding master and instructor to King Louis XIII. The book was published post mortem (1622/1625) and a huge success, translated and printed in many European countries. Crispin Van der Passe richly illustrated the book, and his engravings were highly admired and served as a model for the initial design of the tapestries in the Riding School series. In the earliest tapestries, Pluvinel himself was depicted as riding master. Pluvinel was replaced by the god Mars when Levniers and Reydams commissioned the artist Jacob Jordaens to update the design.
In Norway, our set's earliest records are from 1865 inventory lists when Johan Brodkorb. inherited Tjøtta farm. There they are said to have been placed in the garden pavilion by a pond. They were subject to wind and weather and partly laid on the floor for people to step on them. In the late 1800s the painter Peter Nicolai Arboe visited Tjøtta farm, he saw the tapestries and traded them for a painting. He kept the tapestries in his studio in Oscars gate 46 in Christiania (Oslo).
Nearly 100 years later, Akershus Castle acquired the set as a testamentary gift from Arboe’s grandson Hemming Windfeld-Hansen.
Between the late 1960s and the early 1970s, they went through thorough repairs and conservation at The Norwegian Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (now the National Museum of Art) under Elsa Tharaldsen, which has proven to be of excellent quality and to stand the test of time. The ‘'Akershus slotts Venner'' (Friends of Akershus Castle ) funded the costly repairs.
All of the three tapestries at Akershus Castle have an identical border of fruits and flowers adorned with birds. In the upper-left and right corner are a parrot and a peacock. In the lower-left and right corner are a deer and dogs.
The general theme for the series is horses and dressage riding. Each tapestry presents different exercises, or airs, of baroque-dressage. A nobleman executes the airs, and both horse and rider are dressed in the most exclusive, latest fashion of clothes and harness. Present as riding master is the roman god Mars, in some pictures accompanied by Venus and Mercury.
Our three tapestries in the Riding School set are titled and showing as follows:
Presentation of the horses:
In the clearing of a forest, we see the roman god of commerce and communication Mercury, presenting six horses aided by two putti. Central in the picture is the roman god of war Mars and probably accompanied by the goddess of love and beauty Venus.
Young rider performing mezair in the presence of Mars:
A young and fashionable nobleman is conducting the baroque dressage air called mezair on a powerful and beautiful white stallion. With him, to his right is his teacher, no other than Mars himself.
Young rider performing capriole in the presence of Mars and Venus(?):
We see a young rider executing one of the most challenging airs of the baroque dressage; the capriole where the horse jumps up and the kicks out with its hind legs. Watching him from a relaxed pose underneath the tree's shadows, is his riding master Mars accompanied by a woman who may very well be Venus.
Two of our tapestries have signatures, whilst the third tapestry is missing the piece where the signature used to be. The signatures shown are E. Lyeniers (Evererad Levniers III) with Brussels’ coat of arms; a shield between two B’s, one B for the city of Brussels in the country of Brabant, the second B.
Today, the best kept complete sets of the Riding School are in Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Austria and Ljubloká Castle, Czech Republic. The one in Vienna is dated 1666 and was commissioned for the wedding of Emperor Leopold I. The Hluboká set can be dated 1647, when Archduke Leopold Wilhelm acquired it, later inherited by Adolf of Schwarzenberg and kept in Hluboká castle.
Both the Vienna and Hluboká sets consist of eight tapestries, but the motives are not identical in the two sets. Some depictions are variations on the same theme and design, whereas others are only found in one of the sets. However, both sets include interpretations of the motives found in the Riding School at Akershus Castle.
Earlier scholars believed that the set at Akershus Castle originally consisted of more than three pieces. However, there is no evidence supporting this either way, as lists of commissions shows that ordering all from one to the complete set of eight tapestries was customary at the time.
Bauer, Rotraud. Tapisseries bruxelloises au siecle du Rubens. Brussels: Musée royaux d’Art D’Histoire, 1 July- 7 September 1977. (Introduction og Cat 1-24)
Brosens, Konrad. ‘‘Flemish Production, 1660 - 1715’’. Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendour, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007
Bugge, Astrid. ‘‘Brusseler-tapisseriene fra Tjøtta’’, Akershus slott venner årsskrift 1968, Oslo: Akershus slotts venner 1968.
Cichrová, Katerina. Vlámske tapiserie na zámcích Hluboká a Cesky Krumlov. Narodni Ceske Budejovice: Památkovy Ústav, 2014.
De Pluvinel, Antoine, L’instruction du Roy en L’exercice de monter a cheval, Amsterdam: 1868. Publ 1623
d’Hulst, Roger-A. Flämische Bildteppiche. Brüssel: Kunstverkag LArcade, 1961
Kavli, Guttorm, ‘’30 år for Akershus’’50 år for Akershus, Akershus slotts venners jubileumsskrift.d. Tschudi-Madsen Stephan. Oslo: Andresen & Butenschøn for Akershus slotts venner 2001., s. 215 - 220
Delmarcel, Guy. ‘‘Tapestry in the Spanish Netherlands,’ 1625-60’’. Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendour, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007
Nelson, Kristi: Jacob Jordaens Design for Tapestry. Belgium: Brepolis, 1998.
Schmitz-von Ledebur, Katja. ‘’26. The Creation of the Horse’’. Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendour, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007