The Triumph of the Church
This is the largest tapestry in the series, and has the most complex composition. The Church is depicted as a seated woman in a golden chariot, like a Roman Emperor returning triumphantly from battle. As she proceeds, she destroys her enemies and directs Ignorance and Blindness towards the light. Rubens conceived this panel to occupy a principal place in the monastery church, and it is an amalgamation of the whole iconographic program of the series, centred on the defence of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The Church Triumphant
A group of characters in procession can be seen walking from the left to the right. They are accompanied by a triumphal carriage. Rubens created a composition deeply reflecting the Counter-Reformation, with several elements and symbols which emphasise the idea of triumph. The Church is depicted as a women dressed in papal clothes, carrying a monstrance with the Host in her hands. An angel crowns her with the papal tiara. She moves seated in a chariot pulled by white horses, whose reins are held by a small angel, divine love, who sits at the front of the vehicle, guided by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
Next to the horses, a group of four women walk along. They have been identified by some scholars as the four cardinal virtues. Three of them hold the horses, while the fourth precedes them, holding up a labarum or standard. They lack attributes, except for the one who wears lionskin on her head and shoulders, which would identify her with Fortitude. Some scholars have identified the woman who holds the head of one of the horses as Temperance.
This group by the horses is completed by two angels playing trumpets and a third carrying the laurel wreath and palm, both symbols of victory. Behind the horses, another two characters, with laurel wreaths, celebrate the passing of the cortège. Finally, mounted on one of the horses, an angel holds up the umbraculum, a papal parasol with the keys of Saint Peter, the symbol of the Papacy.
Truth as a guide
Beside the carriage we see two people walking, who have been identified as Blindness and Ignorance. The first has his eyes blindfolded and walks uncertainly, while the other, crestfallen, is a man with ass’s ears, a personification of ignorance. Behind them, Truth – depicted as a women with a lamp – accompanies them, acting as a guide.
The Church conquers her enemies
Crushed under the wheels of the carriage, we see three figures who represent: Anger (a man lying under the front wheels, with a coarse face and a lit torch); Discord (trapped between the two wheels, and personified as a man with his head covered with snakes); and, beneath the back wheels, Hatred, showing signs of pain and foaming at the mouth.
The symbolism of Eternity
In the lower central part of the panel we see the globe, surrounded by the ouroboros, a serpent eating its tail, a symbol of eternity. On top of the globe sit a rudder, a palm and an oak branch, representing good government, victory and fortitude.
A tapestry within a tapestry
The panel is conceived as a tapestry within a tapestry, a technique devised by Rubens for many panels in this series. The false tapestry is held between solomonic columns, held in the upper part by two angels with a garland of fruits. We can see in this garland bunches of grapes, pomegranates and quince.
The creative process
The first draft is kept in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and the later model in the Museo del Prado. The cartoon was lost in the fire at the Royal Palace of Coudenberg in Brussels in 1731.
The marks of the weaver and place of manufacture can be seen in the lower selvage: IAN RAES BdB.
In the central and upper part of the panel, a banner reads: ECCLESSIAE TRIUMPHUS [The Triumph of the Church]
Series The Triumph of the Eucharist
Eighth tapestry in the series
Model Peter Paul Rubens, 1626-1628
Manufacture Jan II Raes, Brussels, 1627-1632
Fabric Silk and wool
Size 480 x 750 cm
Location Monastery of the Descalzas Reales
Origin Collection of the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales
On display Hall of Tapestries
National Heritage Inv. 00610325