Don Quixote Tilting at Windmills, from “Don Quixote in Grotesques”

Designer Unknown Designer
Woven under the direction of Francis Poyntz British

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 509

This wickedly comic tapestry belongs to a gloriously unconventional series that tells the Story of Don Quixote within a system of so-called ‘grotesque’ ornament. Exemplifying the finest of London’s tapestry weaving, made at the apex of the city’s foray into this industry in the third quarter of the seventeenth century, this piece is a truly original combination of narrative and pattern-making – elegant, imaginative, witty, with touches of burlesque. That it retains for the most part its spectacularly bright and colorful palette makes it still more desirable.

Only three other surviving sets of this series are known (none of which are in public collections). Recent research has revealed that the set from which this comes is the only one that can be identified in contemporary archival documents. This was a royal purchase, bought by Charles II’s consort, Queen Catherine of Braganza, as a gift for the Portuguese nobleman, João de Mascarenhas, first Marquis of Fronteira, whose arms have now been identified on the tapestry. In acknowledgement of his loyalty during the Portuguese Restoration War against Spain, Mascarenhas had been granted the title of Marquis of Fronteira by Catherine of Braganza’s brothers, King Alfonso VI of Portugal and the Regent, Pedro, seven years earlier. Catherine’s gift to the Marquis was likely motivated by her appreciation of the part he had played in establishing the ultimate security of the House of Braganza on the Portuguese throne. This might well be the only intact piece to survive from its first ‘edition’.

In terms of both provenance and its remarkable condition, this is, therefore, by far the most important tapestry known from the Story of Don Quixote in Grotesques series and it is unique amongst London-woven tapestries: for both the circumstances of its production and its subsequent journey to southern Europe.

Don Quixote Tilting at Windmills, from “Don Quixote in Grotesques”, Unknown Designer, Wool, silk and precious metal-wrapped threads, British, London

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