Vertumnus and Pomona

An exquisite piece in our tapestry collection is the story of Vertumnus and Pomona. The tapestry was acquired by Akershus castle as a testamentary gift in 1976. The tapestry was in bad shape, it had been cut, and is still missing its original borders. It was cleaned and restored by DeWit Manufacture Royale de Tapisseries N.V in 2006.

Description

  • Produced in Brussels (? or a French workshop).
  • Material: wool, silk, metal.
  • Measure: h 248cm x w 179cm.
  • Based on a design by Pieter Spierincx (1635 -1711) and Peter IJkens (1648 - 1695). Vertumnus and Pomona (from the series Landscapes with Ovid’s Metamorphoses).
  • The piece was acquired as a testamentary gift to Akershus castle in 1976 from Mrs Ingebjørg Andresen. No earlier history of provenance known.

History and provenance

The theme of this tapestry is a scene from Vertumnus and Pomona in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Designed by Pieter Spierincx and Peter Ijkens, from Antwerpen. The design responded to the increased competition from the rising French industry, both from Beauvais and the newly reopened Gobelins (1699) with its commercially orientated sets.

The Flemish weavers had to adapt and make amendments to their compositions, and the intricate historical and mythological series was abandoned. Ovid’s Metamorphoses was very suitable because the designs were more flexible to the taste and wishes of the customers, who could choose the scenes and numbers of tapestries they desired in the set.

We do not know the name of the workshop where the piece was produced, but the substantial amount of metal (gold or silver) thread tells us it is likely to have been made in either Brussels, Paris or Beauvais, places supplying the high-end market. A very similar piece, now found in Berkely Castle England, is from Jan Cobus’ workshop in Brussels. Possibly the Akershus Castle tapestry was produced by Jan Cobus, but more research is needed.

When compared, the Berkeley tapestry gives us an idea of how much of the Akershus piece is missing and was cut away. Luckily only the border and the very top seems to be gone. The top could have been cut off due to damage, or it may very well have been eliminated from the initial design, maybe to make the tapestry measure a certain hight.

Still surviving business records show that many sets of Landscapes with Mythological scenes were marketed and sold in Europe around 1700, the first to be commissioned in 1695, which gives us a date for the design. The genre like quality of these sets has made them less appealing for art-historic investigation. However, precisely this type of tapestry was vital for the survival of the workshops in Brussels, Antwerp and Oudenaarde. It was a popular and profitable motive.

The story of Vertumnus and Pomona

Pomona was a nymph preferring to spend all her time in a closed-off garden and did not like the forest and the wild nature. She was known to carry a curved pruning knife, hence her name after Latin pomun, fruit. She was beautiful and had many suitors, but Pomona was not interested in any of them. One of her most persistent suitors was the demi-god Vertumnus, the god of the changing seasons. He knocked on Pomona’s garden-gate multiple times, each time wearing a new disguise in the hope that she would let him in. One day he dressed as an older woman and Pomona opened the gate. They wandered through the garden and arrived at an elm-tree where grapevines draped the trunk of the tree.

What we see in the tapestry is the older woman, Vertumnus disguised, arguing for the virtues of marriage, trying to convince Pomona that without the vines, the elm-tree would be as poor as Pomona is without a husband. Then, as Pomona was watching the older woman, the woman’s headdress fell off, the cape and the cane fell to the ground, and Pomona was suddenly watching Vertumnus in front of her. After spending hours together in the garden, she promised to marry him.

Other versions

We recognise this composition in two other know tapestries; one mentioned at Berkely Castle, woven in Brussels by Jan Cobus. Designed by Pieter Spiereinckx and Peter Ijkens, ca 1700, a set of six pieces with Vertumnus and Pomona.

Another version, woven in Antwerp, is at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen.

Comparing our piece to the two mentioned, we find significant similarities and differences in both. Which again serves as examples on the playfulness in which the weavers could creatively alter and modify the design.

Read more about our tapestries

References

Brosens, Konrad. ‘’Flemish Production, 1660 -1715’’, Threads of Splendor, Met. New York 2008

Delmarcel, Guy. Flemish Tapestry, Tielt, Belgium 1999

De Meûter, Ingrid. Vlaamse wandtapijten. Productie en handel. De Oudenaardse familie Van Verren (1680 - ,1740) Gent 2016

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