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This tapestry, devoted to Nobility, is the fourth in the series, or the eighth when ordered by their iconographic progression. It contains explicit references to the Habsburg dynasty and to the coronation of Emperor Charles V, which took place in Aachen on the 23rd October 1520. Two large columns split the tapestry into three scenes, each one devoted to one aspect of Nobility.

Theological Nobility

In the central panel of the tapestry, a baldaquin is held up by four angels. The inscription on it reads THEOLOGICA NOBILITAS, making clear the theme of this panel: Theological Nobility, or Nobility of divine origin. The baldaquin itself separates the panel into two scenes. In the lower scene, the anointing of David by the prophet Samuel is depicted. Samuel pours drops of oil over David, through which God names him King of Israel. A group of biblical, religious and historical characters surrounds the king: the Hebrew judge and warrior Gideon, the biblical heroine Queen Esther, the biblical hero Judas Maccabeus, Moses, Abraham, the prophet Simeon and Saint Helena, mother of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine. In the upper scene, surrounded by cherubim and angels, the Virgin Mary is crowned as Queen of Heaven by the Holy Trinity. Both scenes allude to the coronation of Charles V as Emperor, since it was the Pope who was responsible for placing the imperial crown on the head of the newly-elected emperor. Charles V himself was crowned by Pope Clement VII in Bologna on the 22nd February 1530. In this way, the tapestry intends to demonstrate that Charles V was chosen as emperor through the Grace of God.

Natural Nobility

The left-hand part of the tapestry is devoted to Natural Nobility, as indicated by the woman in the upper part who is holding the sceptre and crown (NOBILITAS NATURALIS). Natural Nobility is only acquired through one’s own merits, that is, through personal virtue as opposed to through heredity. Beside her, we see the god Apollo, here a symbol of fortune, upon a three-headed monster representing time past, time present and time future. Below this, we can identify Trajan on his throne, the personification of self-acquired Nobility and Justice. Trajan, the governor and just judge, points us back to the previous tapestry in the iconographic progression, that of Justice as a royal virtue (the ninth in the National Heritage catalogue). At Trajan’s feet two characters appear in conversation: Agathocles, who, despite his humble origins, became tyrant of Syracuse and, later, a just king; and Marcus Atilius Regulus, a Roman consul of plebeian birth. Beside them we see the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, a symbol of the fight against dictatorship, and Hortensia, the famous Roman speaker and defender of women. In the lower part, the drunkenness of Noah is depicted. According to the biblical story, Noah planted some vines after the Great Flood, became drunk from the resulting wine, and was later found naked. One son, Ham, laughed at his father, while other two sons, Shem and Japheth, tended to him and covered him. This passage is included in the tapestry to symbolise filial respect for one’s parents, and thus acts as a lesson to the new emperor about his ancestors. To the right of Noah, we find the prophet Tobias, also a symbol of filial respect, watching the anointing of David from the column.

Civic Nobility

The right-hand side of the tapestry is devoted to Nobility which is conferred by common agreement of the people: Civic Nobility. Here it is personified in the upper part by a woman carrying a sceptre and the imperial escutcheon bearing the Habsburg twin-headed eagle. Beneath this we see Joseph’s triumphant entrance into Egypt, in a carriage drawn by two white horses, a symbol of wisdom and royal justice. It is clear that this scene is a reference to Charles V’s entrances into Flemish and German cities in 1519 and 1520. According to Guy Delmarcel, the lower part contains what is meant to be a depiction of the medieval story of the Brabant Swan Knight. On the left hand side, we see Julius Caesar handing a coat of arms to a young man named Brabo, who would become the first Duke of Brabant. Julius Caesar appears again in the central part, ordaining a young man called Octavian as a knight, in the presence of King Charles and Svana, the young woman who is offering the golden chain to the young knight.


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:

Mens generosa, licet titulis non fulget avistis

Sepe refert gestis nomina clara probis

[The nobly born spirit, even if it does not shine with ancestral titles,

Often produces famous names by virtuous deeds]

Cui pia supremi cure est cultura tonantis

Hunc beat eterna nobilitate deus

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

Him the god blesses with eternal nobility]

Regiaque ingenuis pietas insignibus ornat

Quemlibet, illustres ac habet inter heros

[Devotion to his royal duties adorns anyone with inborn honours

And ranks him among the illustrious heroes]

Beneath the scene of the Coronation of the Virgin, a phylactery contains the inscription taken from the book of the propher Samuel (1 Samuel 2, 30). In the Catholic Bible of Northern Europe this corresponds to the first Book of Kings, as can be seen in the inscription:

Dicit Dominus, Quicumque me honoroficaverit glorficabo eum. Qui autem me contemmunt, erunt ignobiles. Primum Regum, cap. 20

[The Lord saith, for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed. 1 Kings 20]

Two further small banners are found at top of the columns flanking the central scene, there are sentences of Saint Hieronymus and Horace:

Suma apud deum nobilitas est clarum esse virtutibus. Hieronymus

[For God the greatest nobility is to be famous for virtues. Jerome]

Principibus placuisse non ultima laus est. Horatius

[To have pleased princes is not the highest praise. Horace]

The banner on Trajan’s canopy in the left-hand side scene contains the inscription:

Satius est me

Meis rebus gestis florere

Quam maiorum opnione

niti et vita vivere

ut sint posteris meis

[It is better for me to live by my past deeds

than to depend on the reputation of my ancestors,

and to live in such a way that my deeds

pass on to my descendants]

Series The Honours

Fourth 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 500 x 860 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. 10026278


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