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Woman in Court Dress

Franco-Flemish, Late Gothic
ca. 1450 - 1475
220.98 cm x 167.64 cm (87 in. x 66 in.)
wool on wool and linen

On view


This largely restored tapestry is possibly made of two fragments—a female figure on a background of flowers and leaves (millefleurs) and the inscription above—which originally may not have been associated. The fragmentary and reworked Latin inscription refers to several of the Nine Heroines, a group of women chosen as counterparts to the Nine Heroes. A tentative reading of the inscription would be, in translation: “Lampheto conquered the land of Marsepis [or Thamyris?] and there was the redoubtable Dephile, Semiramis famous conqueror, … and Penthisilea. Hercules … by me Sinoppe, valiant lady, and Menelippe finally who conquered.” A stylized flower at the left may be the weaver’s “signature.”

The woman holds a book and is depicted in fifteenth-century Flemish court dress with a conical and veiled headdress (hennin). The scholar J.-P. Asselberghs and others believed that this figure represents Hypolyta, Queen of the Amazons, because of the reference to Hercules with whom she was paired. However, Hypolyta is usually associated with a sword and not a book.

The curved arrangement of flowers at the left of the tapestry, the three-quarter pose of the figure, and the figure’s gesturing right arm all suggest that the tapestry originally had at the left a central element encircled by flowers. If this reconstruction is correct, the inscription is unlikely to have been originally associated with the tapestry and the figure is unlikely to be Hypolyta. The Blisses, who purchased the tapestry in Paris early in their marriage, must not have believed in the Hypolyta attribution because they always identified the tapestry simply as “La Dame au Hennin.”

J. Carder

Demotte, G.-J. La Tapisserie gothique. Paris: 1921-1924, 9, pl. 160.

Thompson, Arthur P. "Inventory and Appraisal of the Personal Property Owned by the Hon. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss." privately printed, Washington, DC: 7/29/1938, 66, no. 212.

Asselberghs, Jean-Paul. Les tapisseries flamandes aux Etats-Unis d'Amerique. Brussels: 1974, 44.

Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 308f, ill.

Exhibition History
William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Kansas City, KS, 3/13/1942-10/18/1944.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Georges Joseph Demotte (1877-1923), Paris (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 6/3/1912.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 6/3/1912-11/29/1940.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.