Triptych of the Birth of Christ (Tríptico del Nacimiento de Jesús)
The ‘Triptych of the Birth of Christ’ is the oldest tapestry in the Spanish royal collection. It was presented to Queen Isabella I of Castile in 1492 by Abraham Seneor, a Jewish rabbi who was under the patronage of the Catholic Monarchs after his conversion and baptism, adopting the name of Fernando o Hernán Núñez Coronel. Being a present, it was not included in the public auction held in 1505 upon the Queen’s death, and it remained linked to the royal collection as one of the most appreciated devotional pieces.
An imprint of the Birth
The figurative composition suggests a model inspired in the stylistic circles of Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden or Dirk Bouts, and it accurately reproduces the engravings of the Biblia Pauperum, illustrating the agreement and analogies among the prophecies of the Old Testament and the evangelic texts. The structure of the figurative space likewise follows the geometric and divided scheme of the imprints.
Two collateral scenes from the Old Testament flank the central scene of the Birth and the adoration of the shepherds. Moses is before the burning bush, foretelling the virginal maternity of Mary, and Aaron is incensing the altar, in an analogy of Jesus Christ as high priest in the New Testament. Kneeling, and with verses about the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, the prophets Micah and Isaiah precede the patriarchs. A vision of the Eternal Father presides over the crib, flanked by the prophets Habakkuk and Daniel, and by angels singing in praise.
An altar tapestry
This tapestry, along with the ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ in the cathedral of Sens, is one of the few preserved examples of altar tapestries which were conceived with a liturgical aim, according to a typology common to contemporary altars from Brussels.
There are four Latin inscriptions in the prophets’ phylacteries.
Two top ones, from Habakkuk: Domine audivi auditionem tuam
[I have heard your speech] (Habakkuk, 3, 2);
and Daniel: Lapis angularis is
[a rock was cut out] (Daniel, 2, 34).
And two bottom ones, from Micah:
Et. tu. bethlee(m). terra Iuda./ nequaq(am). infima. es. i(n). principib(us)./ Iuda. ex. te. e(n)i(m). exiet. dux. q(ui)./ regat. populu(m). meu(m). Miq(ueas). Vº. IIIº
[But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel] (Micah, 5, 1),
and Isaiah: Parvul(us). nat(us). e(st). nob(is). Et/ fili(us). dat(us). e(s)t. nob(is). et. vocat(ur)/ nom(men). ei(us). admirabil(is)
[For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and he will be called Wonderful] (Isaiah, 9, 6).
At his feet: Ysaias. IXº. Caº.
Aleluya can be read over the crib, in the scroll held by the angels.
- P. Junquera de Vega y C. Herrero Carretero, Catálogo de Tapices de Patrimonio Nacional. Volumen I: Siglo XVI, Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, 1986, pp. 30-31.
- C. Herrero Carretero, “Tapices donados para el culto de la Iglesia Vieja”, en Iglesia y Monarquía. IV Centenario del Monasterio de El Escorial, Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, 1986, pp. 93-116.
C. Herrero Carretero, Tapices de Isabel la Católica. Origen de la colección real española. Tapestries of Isabella the Catholic. Origin of the Spanish royal collection, Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, 2004, pp. 34-37.
Models Cartoonist from the circle of Roger van der Weyden
Manufacture Southern Netherlands, c. 1492
Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool
Size 205 x 273 cm
Location Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia
Origin Thecollection of Isabella the Catholic.
On display Tapestry Museum of the Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia. It is exhibited in the same room as the ‘Mass of St Gregory’, the series on The Life of the Virgin, and the bed hanging of ‘The History of David and Bathsheba’.
National Heritage Inv. 10005862