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The Bear Hunt
The Bear Hunt
Date:
1575–1580
Location:
Not on display
Century:
Media:
Wool, Silk; Tapestry Weave
Dimensions:
360.7 x 299.7 cm (142 x 118 in.)
Object Type:
Country:
Continent:
Europe
Culture/People:
Flemish
Provenance:

Galerie Georges Petit, 4 December 1925, no. 105

Accession Number:
44.27
Acquisition Date:
1944-06-19
Credit Line:

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer Fleishhacker

Exhibition History:

Five Centuries of Tapestry, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, 1976
National Tour: Five Centuries of Tapestry, Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York, 12/3/77- 1/29/78; Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, 5/13/78 - 7/2/78; Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, 9/13/78 - 10/29/78
Gallery Rotation, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, 1988 and later

Hunting was a preoccupation and a passion among the pleasure-loving nobility of Renaissance Europe. The importance of hunting is attested by the frequency with which it appears in the tapestries destined for noble patrons. The eye descends from the majestic snowcapped mountains at the top of the panel through slopes dotted with round trees and buildings to a chateau at the foot of the hill. Towers, gables, and an arcade overlook a formal garden with a pond at left and a herm-guarded pergola at right. This vista is framed by the thick and minutely described foliage of trees rooted in the clearing, where the final moments of the hunt take place. The action is separated from the picture plane by a repoussoir of large-scale plants rendered with a botanist’s accuracy. Two peasant huntsmen with spears rush at the bear, which is sitting upon a third hunter equipped with a shield. Set upon by the dogs, the bear has pinned one of the tormentors to its side and holds up a free paw in supplication or in defiance. A second bear approaches from the left. Another huntsman with a spear hurries toward the bear. He is accompanied by a hatless, richly dressed hunter, obviously the master, who loads his gun from a powder horn, preparing for the kill. The hunter pours from a larger powder horn that holds coarse powder for the charge itself. The fact that all the action is left-handed is a result of low-warp weaving. The grotesque elements in the compartmented border, recalling those introduced by Raphael fifty years before, are combined freely with flower-filled vases and small scenes. Depicted in the cartouches are (left) strolling couples and riders in a landscape similar to that of the central panel; (right) the killing of pigs; (top) another couple strolling before a castle and formal garden; (bottom) Orpheus playing his lyre before Pluto, Persephone, and Cerberus. The allegorical figures in the corners are (clockwise from upper left) Peace, Justice, Prudence, and Abundance. Minerva, the figure of Peace, wears a short military tunic, but her peaceful aspects are emphasized. Her shield is underfoot and her element is tossed aside. She holds a spear in her right hand, a book in her left. A lion’s skin is draped over her shoulder and covers her head. Justice balances Good against Evil; the cross outweighs the jewels in her pair of scales. Prudence studies her image intently in the mirror (“Know thyself”), as she holds the serpent of eternity, which bites its own tail. Opposite is the graceful figure of Abundance, her cornucopia filled with flowers. From Anna Gray Bennett, "Five Centuries of Tapestry: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco" (San Francisco: Chronicle Books; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1976; repr. 1992): pp. 149 – 151.