The whimsical imagery of four tapestries in the permanent collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum and currently on display at the Getty Center is perplexing. Created in France at the Beauvais manufactory between 1690 and 1730, these charming hangings, unlike most French tapestries of the period, appear to be purely decorative, with no narrative thread, no theological moral, and no allegorical symbolism. They belong to a series called the Grotesques, inspired by ancient frescos discovered during the excavation of the Roman emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea, or Golden House, but the origins of their mysterious subject matter have long eluded art historians. Based on seven years of research, Conundrum: Puzzles in the Grotesques Tapestry Series reveals for the first time that the artist responsible for these designs, Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (1636– 1699), actually incorporated dozens of motifs and vignettes from a surprising range of sources: antique statuary, Renaissance prints, Mannerist tapestry, and Baroque art, as well as contemporary seventeenth-century urban festivals, court spectacle, and theater.
Conundrum illustrates the most interesting of these sources alongside full-color details and overall views of the four tapestries. The book’s informative and engaging essay identifies and decodes the tapestries’ intriguing visual puzzles, enlightening our understanding and appreciation of the series’ unexpectedly rich intellectual underpinnings.