The central coat-of-arms is topped by a helm with ermine mantling and the crest of bear and ragged staff. Supporters are, to the left, a green lion, to the right, a white lion. To either side, an elaborate fountain in a naturalistic landscape has at its top the bear and ragged staff crest. The landscape is enclosed in a narrow wreath which is in turn surrounded by elaborate strapwork with masks and draperies.
The ground is covered by verdure, with flower stems and moths in the upper part and at the bottom a strip of plant-covered grass with small ponds, many birds, eels and serpents.
Among the birds are ducks, turkeys, partridges, quail, a heron, a hawk or egret and a strange wading bird with a very short neck. The plumage of the male partridge is bright red with blue markings on the back, blue head and neck.
Wide guardstripes with grotesques in yellow and white on a red ground flank a once-yellow border with swags of fruit and flowers linked by strapwork.
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (about 1532-1588), who was at one time Elizabeth I's favourite courtier, commissioned this tapestry. His coat of arms in the middle proclaims his power and noble birth. The tapestry includes fashionable decoration of foliage, birds and other creatures with Renaissance fountains, based on contemporary engravings. [27/03/2003]
Tapestry of woven wool and silk, 'Arms of the Earl of Leicester', possibly made in Warwickshire, ca. 1585.
Most tapestries were made to be bought 'off the peg' and the maker had no specific purchaser in mind . Tapestries commissioned by a particular person or family constituted only a small part of the total tapestry production. They were at the very top end of the luxury market and made a direct display of the owner's wealth and status. This example, showing the arms of the Dudley family at the centre, was probably made for Leicester House, the London home of Elizabeth I's favourite Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (about 1532-1588).
The sophisticated design makes it difficult to confirm that this tapestry was made in the Sheldon workshop in Barcheston, Warwickshire, although this was once thought to be the case. The tapestry shows much greater expertise both in design and execution than most of their products, for example the Judgement of Paris tapestry (T.310-1920) produced possibly a decade later and considered to be from that workshop.
Much of the design was based on prints to be found in a well-known architectural manual, while the birds and flowers are woven in styles commonly seen in the southern Netherlands. Even if this tapestry was made in the Sheldon workshop, it seems very likely that tapestry designers and weavers from the Northern Netherlands must have been very closely involved in its production, because their skills were highly developed and the tapestry was commissioned by such an illustrious client.