From tapestries
Jump to: navigation, search

This is the ninth and final tapestry in the series as ordered by National Heritage, and the seventh in the iconographic progression. It is devoted to Justice, and in it we find personifications of other virtues, who appear as sumptuously dressed women, as well as historical, biblical and mythological examples who have passed into history either for their just characters or for their vice and punishment in hell.

The throne of Justice

Justice, one of the Cardinal Virtues, is found in the centre of the tapestry. She is personified as a crowned woman sitting on a throne, with her classical attributes: the sword and scales. Justice rewards the just and punishes the wicked; thus, at her feet, we find a handcuffed Emperor Nero taken prisoner. On either side, holding up the baldaquin on which the throne is placed, and carrying two standards with the Queen Bee (the symbol of Royal Justice), we find two characters known for the virtue of Justice. On the left, we see Queen Tomyris and Scipio Africanus on the right. And, as in the other pieces in the series, we see once more the figure of Fortitude on the left, holding up a tower and pulling a dragon out of it, and Temperance on the right, holding a watch and glasses. Sitting in a semicircular structure in the lower part of the throne, we see some of the virtues which make up Fortitude and Temperance. On the left, we see Harmony, Observance and Truth, and on the right we see Shame (Verecundia), Good Faith (Fiducia) and Mercy.

Golden chains as a reward

In the lower part of the tapestry we see a large group of historical, biblical and mythological characters being admitted to the building where the throne of Justice is located. They are there to receive their rewards, and in the centre we see three other virtues hand over the said reward: a gold chain. Grace is hanging one over the shoulders of King David, having just given one to Jacob. On the left, Reverence holds the chain destined for Rebecca in her hands, while her husband Isaac waits his turn. Behind them are Isaac’s parents, Abraham and Sarah. On the right, Dignity is charged with handing the chains to two exemplary women from the Old Testament: Rachel, the second wife of Jacob, and Esther, Queen of Persia. In each of the lower corners of the tapestry we see other characters who hope to receive such a prize. On the left, the characters include the mythological Princess Camilla, the last Athenian king, Codrus, the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius and the biblical character Judith, who is entering under the arch. The group on the right includes the Roman matron Veturia, who looks upon the throne of Justice, followed by a woman who is named in the inscription as Placelia (this could be a reference to the Roman Empress Aelia Flavia Facila, who was of Hispanic origin), and the first wife of Theodosius the Great. We can also identify the politician and Roman soldier Marcus Furius Camilus, the legendary lawmaker Lycurgus of Sparta and, finally, the biblical prophetess Deborah.

The punished and their punishments

In the upper corners of the tapestry, outside the building of Justice, we see those who are punished for their notorious wickedness. In the left-hand corner, we see the mythological fall of Phaëton. The impulsive son of the God Apollo/Helios (the Sun), he drove his father’s carriage but lost control, thus falling to the Earth and burning it, creating the deserts. In this particular depiction, we see the Jupiter punishing Phaëton, who is seen falling from the carriage along with the horses of the god Apollo: Phlegon (Phleson – Flame), Aethon (Ethons – Blaze), Pyrois (Pyrons – Fire) and Eous (Eons – Dawn). The upper right-hand corner features various landscapes depicting Hades, the hell of mythology. We see the god Jupiter punishing Ixion, King of Thessaly, who tried to seduce Hera, the wife of the god Zeus; this observes the punishment from a cloud with his name written in Latin: Juno. Ixion’s sentence is depicted just to the left, where we see him naked and tied to a wheel with serpents. The Danaïdes also appear with their jugs: these were the fifty daughters of King Danaus who were condemned to fill a bottomless cask with water as punishment for killing their husbands. The blind king Phineus also appears: his sentence was that every time he went to eat, the Harpies (depicted as birds with human heads) stole his food or filled it with their excrement. Knocked down, with a bird devouring his liver, we see the lecherous Tityos; he received this punishment for attempting to rape the goddess Artemisa. Finally, we see the haughty, miserly and lying Sisyphus, condemned to roll an immense boulder up to the summit of a mountain over and over again, only to see it roll back down. These scenes are watched over from a balcony of the building of Justice by a woman whose accompanying inscription reads Tiithea, who Delmarcel has identified as the wife of the biblical Noah.


Three banners with Latin inscriptions are set into the border, which is made up of flowers and fruits on a dark background with interspesed metallic forms. The texts of these banners, from left to right, read:

Motus ob audaces Phaetontis Juppiter ausus

Turbat in ultrices ora cadentis aquas

[Jupiter, moved by Phaëton’s rash attempts,

Throws his countenance into confusion

As he falls into the vengeful waters]

Cui pia supremi cure est cultura tonantis

Hunc beat eterna nobilitate Deus

[He whose pious care is to honour the supreme Thunderer,

Is blessed by God with eternal eternal nobility]

Sisyphus Ixion Tityus Phineus Danai grex

Seva luunt iustis cirmina suppliciis

[Sisyphus, Ixion, Tityus, Phineus, and the Danaïdes

Atone for their savage crimes with just penalties]

In the background of the tapestry we find further inscriptions. At the left-hand entrance to the building we see a banner with the following quotation from Cicero, taken from his work On the Laws (Book I, 28):

Nihil est profecto prestabilius qu[am] plane intelligi nos ad justicia esse natos. Cicero

[Indeed nothing is more important than to thoroughly understand that man was born for justice.]

At the right-hand entrance to the building, in another banner, we read an inscription taken from the Old Testament, Psalms 106, 3:

Beati qui custoduit indiciu et faciut justiciam omni tempore. Psal. CV.

[Blessed are they that keep judgement, and he that doeth righteousness at all times]

Finally, on the throne of Justice we read:

Justis remuneror protejo bonos, castigo nocetes

[I reward the just, I protect the good, I punish evil]

Series The Honours

Ninth tapestry in the series

Model Cartoonists from the circle of Bernard van Orley and Jan Gossaert, called of Mabuse

Manufacture Pieter van Aelst, Brussels, c.1550

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 495 x 840 cm

Location Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso

Origin Collection of Emperor Charles V

On display Hall of Honours, Tapestry Museum

National Heritage Inv. n. 10026282


Personal tools