The Toilet of the Princess (from a pair of Indo-Chinese scenes)

Attributed to the workshop of John Vanderbank the Elder Flemish
Probably woven by Great Wardrobe
Designer Unknown

Not on view

During his tenure as governor of the Dutch-controlled area of Brazil, Johan Maurits (1604–1679) commissioned two artists in his service to record the area’s wildlife and inhabitants. The resulting works were translated into tapestries for him by 1678; he found them so impressively lifelike that he wrote, "it would be possible, by the tapestries, to see Brazil without crossing the ocean."¹ In contrast, the first English tapestries depicting exotic and foreign scenes were inventive compilations of motifs from the Far East. John Vanderbank, weaver in London, is recorded as having supplied nine pieces in the "Indian Manner" for the decoration of Kensington Palace in the 1690s.² These tapestries are thought to have been of the same type as the present hanging, and if this theory is correct, they would have complemented the vast collection of Asian porcelain and Dutch Delft ceramics of Queen Mary II (1662–1694). A print by Daniel Marot the Elder suggests the appearance of such a collection juxtaposed with wall decoration of either Asian lacquer panels or some European imitation.³

The Toilet of the Princess is one of two Indo-Chinese tapestry scenes in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. As many as fifty variations on these compositions of exotic characters on little islands floating on plain backgrounds were made in England, attesting to their popularity.⁴ These tapestries were made in sets of varying dimensions and numbers of panels, depending on the room for which they were intended. Placing scattered vignettes against a dark background was a concept clearly inspired by the lacquer panels that were being imported to Europe from Japan and China. The diarist John Evelyn mentioned seeing an inventive use of lacquer panels in 1682, writing, "in the hall are contrivences of Japan Skreens, instead of wainscot; . . . The landskips of the skreens represent the manner of living, and country of the Chinese."⁵ Individual motifs and groupings on the tapestries are an imaginative combination of Chinese and Indian scenes that derived from a variety of sources, including illustrations from the works of such European travelers and artists as the Danish Melchior Lorck (1526–after 1588) and the Dutch Arnold Montanus (1625?–1683).⁶ The designer of the tapestries attributed to Vanderbank has not been discovered.

The original owner of this tapestry is not known. However, Elihu Yale (1649–1721) had four tapestries in this style, two with designs very close to those in the Metropolitan Museum.⁷ Yale was born in Boston, but his family moved back to England when he was a child. He served the East India Company from 1670 to 1692 and remained in Madras, India, until 1699, looking after his lucrative personal business interests there. Yale was governor of Fort St. George in Madras from 1687 to 1692. According to an English visitor to Madras in 1675, the English governors lived in great splendor with numerous attendants, thus Yale may have been attracted to these charming tapestries as a reminder of his lifestyle during his tenure in India.⁸ Though he never returned to North America, Elihu Yale agreed to support a newly established college in New Haven by sending 417 books as well as bales of cloth to be sold, which brought in 562 British pounds.⁹ The founders were so grateful for this windfall that in 1718 they renamed the school Yale College.

[Melinda Watt, adapted from Interwoven Globe, The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800/ edited by Amelia Peck; New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: distributed by Yale University Press, 2013]


1. See Campbell et al., Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendor, pp. 390–96, no. 48, this pp. 390–92. The original weavings are lost, but later sets survive.

2. See Standen, "English Tapestries ‘After the Indian Manner,’ " pp. 119–42, and Standen, European Post-Medieval Tapestries, vol. 2, pp. 717–25, no. 127. The tapestries made for Kensington Palace are recorded in the 1697 inventory, but they may not have survived to the present, as they have not been identified.

3. Chimney-Piece with Various Porcelain Vases, etching from Oeuvres du Sr. D. Marot, Daniel Marot (French, 1661–1752), published by Pierre Husson, 1703, Metropolitan Museum, acc. no. 30.4[43]. The medium of the wall panel in this print has been debated; Standen ("English Tapestries ‘After the Indian Manner,’ " pp. 137–38) noted that "it is always considered to be a leaf of a Coromandel screen, but it is not impossible that it represents a Vanderbank tapestry, perhaps even one in Kensington Palace." It is also possible that this represents a painted panel.

4. Ibid., p. 119. Very few of these tapestries are actually signed by Vanderbank, and other English producers made similar tapestries. My thanks to Elizabeth Cleland for her comments on this subject.

5. Quoted in ibid., p. 127.

6. Ibid., pp. 128–37.

7. The Concert (no. 1926.30), The Toilet of the Princess (no. 1926.31), The Promenade (no. 1926.32), and The Palanquin (no. 1932.130), Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven. None of the Yale tapestries are signed by Vanderbank.

8. See N[agel], "An Elihu Yale Tapestry," p. 143.

9. The cloth included calico, worsted (wool), poplin, and muslin to be sold, and some black silk crepe to make tutors’ gowns; see Bishop, "Campus Honors Man Who Gave Yale Its Name."

The Toilet of the Princess (from a pair of Indo-Chinese scenes), Attributed to the workshop of John Vanderbank the Elder (Flemish, active 1683, died 1739 London), Wool, silk (19-20 warps per inch, 7-8 per cm.), British, London

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