The Horses of Diomedes

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The Horses of Diomedes
In a fertile landscape, a horse on the left and Hercules on the right present to us the main scene: the death of Diomedes, King of Thrace, devoured by his own steeds. Behind this, we see the battle between Hercules, brandishing his mace, and Diomedes, with his henchmen. Two boats confirm how the hero arrived in Thrace, a region to the north of the Aegean Sea.

The Eighth Labour of Hercules

There are two different accounts about the Eighth Labour of Hercules. The older tells that the hero made the journey by land, while the other version links the journey – this time made by sea – to the foundation of the city of Abdera. In the tapestry we see boats by the shore, but there is no reference to a city.

Mares interpreted as horses

Eurystheus had ordered Hercules to capture four mares owned by Diomedes who fed off human flesh. We even know their names: Podagros, Lampon, Xanthos and Deimos. However, the cartoonist did not bear the fact that they were mares in mind, and depicted four horses instead (we know this because the sexual organs of three of them are clearly visible). As a result, the cloth has come to be known as “The Horses of Diomedes”, directly contradicting the legend.

Diomedes Devoured

Hercules defeated Diomedes and delivered him to his animals with his hands tied. The horses then devoured him, as shown in the tapestry. With the horses satiated, Hercules subdued them and led them with him to Eurystheus who offered them to the goddess Hera.

The weaver’s mark

The panel is, like the rest of the cycle, framed by a border of fruit and flowers with parrots in the bottom corners. It is also surrounded by a selvage in which the weaver’s mark, identified as that of Willem Dermoyen, appears.

Series The Labours of Hercules

Third tapestry in the extant series

Model Unknown

Manufacture Willem Dermoyen, Brussels, c. 1528

Fabric Silk and wool

Size 350 x 400 cm

Location Royal Palace of Madrid

Origin Collection of Philip II

On display Royal Armoury


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