The Boar and Bear Hunt tapestry
Tapestries were expensive and much prized during the medieval and Renaissance periods. They were easily transportable and well-suited to the travelling lifestyle of the northern courts up to the 17th century, providing means for insulating and decorating the coldest and gloomiest castle. Tapestries would have hung from floor to ceiling and been placed edge to edge, like wallpaper in a modern room.
This is one of a group of four Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, so-called because before they came to the Museum in 1957 they belonged to the Dukes of Devonshire. Large tapestries were not produced in England in the 15th century and had to be imported. A number of towns or cities in the southern Netherlands had workshops and it was in one of these that the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries were made. The earliest history of the tapestries is unknown but they were identified as being at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire in the 16th century, from an inventory compiled in 1601 for the Countess of Shrewsbury. This celebrated and four-times married noblewoman had Hardwick Hall built and furnished to her taste, which evidently included the15th-century hunting tapestries.
The tapestry features a number of elegant couples. Toward the centre of the tapestry a lady wears a sumptuous blue gown decorated with back-to-front letters that spell the motto 'much desire'. The man's sleeve is decorated with silver shapes that resemble teardrops and probably also relate to the pursuit of love.
The rich red gown of the lady further right is lined with miniver, an expensive fur obtained from the bellies of Baltic squirrels. A lining on this scale would have required hundreds of skins, taken from squirrels killed during the winter months.
In the top right corner of this tapestry, two castles are visible. Castles began to dominate the landscape of Europe from around 1000 onwards. Visible to people at all levels of society, they were potent symbols of power, status and wealth. They also provided increasingly luxurious accomodation for nobles and their households.
You can listen to a description of the tapestry using the audio bar below. If you then click on the main image you can view a large version of the tapestry while listening to the description.