A ‘Pugnae Ferarum’ Tapestry, Workshop of Jan RaesFlemish, Brussels, c. 1600

A ‘Pugnae Ferarum’ Tapestry

A ‘Pugnae Ferarum’ Tapestry

Wool and silk
Workshop of Jan Raes
Flemish, Brussels, c. 1600


345 cm; 11 ft. 3⅘ in.
512 cm; 16 ft. 9⅗ in.


Private collection, France

Related literature

H. Goebel, Wandteppiche I: Die Niederlände (Klinkhardt & Biermann Verlag, Leipzig, 1923)
M. Roethlisberger, ‘La Tenture de la Licorne dans la Collection Borromée’ in Oud Holland, Vol. 82, Pt. 3 (1967), pp. 85, 107-108, 115
J. Szablowski (ed.), De Vlaamse wandtapijten van de Wawelburcht te Krakau (Mercatorfonds, Antwerpen, 1972), pp. 191-286
M. Ferrero-Viale, ‘Quelques nouvelles données sur les tapisseries de l'Isola Bella’ in Bulletin van de Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Vol. 45 (1973), pp. 77-142
P. Junquera de Vega, C. Díaz Gallegos, Catálogo de Tapices del Patrimonio Nacional, Vol. II, Siglo XVII (Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1986)
J. Boccara, Ames de Laine et de Soie (Monelle Hayot, Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988)
I. van Tichelen, Vijf eeuwen Vlaamse wandtapijtkunst (Taichung, Taipei, Mechelen, 1989), p. 36
I. de Meûter, M. Vanwelden, et al., Tapisseries d'Audenarde du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle (Éditions Lannoo, Tielt, 1999), pp. 140-141
E. Cleland, Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry, exhibition catalogue (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2014)

This superb panoramic tapestry belongs to a small group of works referred to as 'Verdues with Animals' or 'Parc Sauvages' ('Animal Parks'), some of which depict scenes of combat between wild beasts. Both the combative versions of these tapestries, which became known as ‘Pugnae Ferarum’ (‘Combat of the Wild Animals’), and the 'Parc Sauvages' examples, were inspired by the 16th century Southern Netherlandish painted landscapes of Gillis I of Coninckxloo and Hans Vredeman de Vries and integrate harmoniously a wide variety of both fantastic and real animals. Highly decorative, the present tapestry corresponds, both iconographically and stylistically, with the celebrated 44 16th century Brussels Verdue panels found in the Wawel Castle of Krakow designed by Pieter Coecke van Aelst of Antwerp and with the Verdure with Wild Animals in the Borromeo collection on Isola Bella in Lago Maggiore in Northern Italy attributed to Willem Tons of Brussels and believed to date from around 1565. The tapestries in the Borromeo collection convey a Messianic symbolism with an underlying theme of the Triumph of Christianity and Redemption of Man. They depict the Fall of Mankind at the Creation and Man’s salvation through the Passion of Christ.

The present tapestry of wonderful colour shows a golden lion and a beautifully marked horse, both with magnificant manes of hair. These two powerful forms, creating a focal point drawing the eye of the viewer, are set amongst a rich scene of woodland verdue filled with an abundence of animal and bird life, including peacocks, pheasants, cranes, ducks, snakes and mouse-like creatures nestling in the undergrowth. The extraordinary variety of creatures interact in an exotic display against a backdrop of towns, villages, lakes, streams, hills and woodland comprised of an array of forms of flora. The complex composition and wide variety of densely placed animals, birds and foliage is indicative of the superior quality of this hanging. The entirely intact borders are decorated throughout with festoons of flowers and intertwined with allegorical and mythological figures and creatures including lizards, winged beasts, cats and birds of prey, such as the eagle in flight with a snail in its claws in the upper left corner. The present tapestry should be compared to a smaller square version from the same series, also in our collection, which shows the same eagle in flight with a snail in its claws in the same corner. In a third related tapestry within our collection depicting a garden scene this representation appears in the upper right hand corner, versions of the same figures and creatures appearing around the border of that work.

This tapestry and our other two versions are part of a series of verdues with the same or nearly same borders which are now in Torino, Palma and Le Mans. Near identical borders appear on the Story of Tobias tapestries (in the Museum Prisenhof in Delft) woven by the workshops of Jan Raes around 1600. A near identical tapestry is conserved in Le Chateau de Serrant in the Loire. Between 1580 and 1650 the Brussels workshops of Raes produced suites of tapestries for the most important private clients and heads of state. Three successive proprietors were named Jan, sometimes making it difficult to distinguish between them, but it was Jan Raes II (1570 – 1643) who was responsible for the animal series in question. The cartoons for these works were made after sketches by Jacob Savery (Courtai c.1545 – 1602 Amsterdam) who was known for his precise zoological observations.  

This genre was very popular during the 16th and early 17th centuries and illustrates the contemporary fascination with the animal kingdom. The design was conceived to transport the viewer into an unfamiliar landscape where the sense of drama was geater than would have been experienced in the forests of Europe.