Vertumnus and Pomona Series

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Vertumnus and Pomona Series
The tapestries of Vertumnus and Pomona are, without a doubt, the greatest artistic representations of the tale as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses (Book XIV, 623-771). According to the poet, the goddess lived a reclusive life in her land, where she devoted herself exclusively to her duties: the tending of her gardens. She was distrustful of the creatures of the woods and did not let outsiders – especially male ones – into her orchards. Ovid tells how Vertumnus, the god of the seasons who fell in love with Pomona, manages to approach the goddess and seduce her using his special power, the ability to transform himself into whatever form he desires. The Habsburg tapestry collections contained at least four series of the story of Vertumnus and Pomona, weaved in gold, silver, silk and wool. The series currently on display in the Royal Palace of Aranjuez is one of these, series 18 in the National Heritage catalogue.

Each tapestry depicts the transformations of Vertumnus, who appears before Pomona under different disguises. Seven of the eight tapestries of this series survive today. After appearing as a harvester (tapestries I and II), a labourer (tapestry III; lost), a pruner (tapestry IV), a gardener (tapestry V), a soldier (tapestry VI) and a fisherman (tapestry VII), Vertumnus, disguised as an old woman, wins the trust of Pomona, and manages to convince her to accept his love. The union of the two gods is celebrated in the final tapestry (tapestry VIII). Latin inscriptions in banners at the upper edges of the tapestries introduce and make clear what is being represented.

In the four series owned by the Habsburgs, the borders of the tapestries are unusual with regard to the norms of Brussels tapestry-weaving in this period, since they contain ornaments with strange motifs related to the principal theme of the tapestry. In the central medallions of the lower borders we see several stories related to the metamorphoses and loves of the god Jupiter, while in the side borders a selection of tales are depicted, inspired by Ovid’s text and othe pictoral sources, of people transformed into plants.

In the tapestries, the setting of the tale is Pomona’s marvellous garden, which is notable for the way it is innovatively depicted: a sort of stage with a sense of perspective. When all the tapestries are displayed together in one room, one beside another, they form a monumental interior garden – about 40m x 5m – in which figures of hot baths and caryatids stand out, holding up the exquisite pergolae. The compositions of these tapestries reflect the interest which was sparked by gardens in Renaissance courts, and the influence of iconographic programs first used on frescoes in northern Italy. However, the spectacular and luxurious settings in which the loves of Vertumnus and Pomona are told are related to the new forms of the “architectural” garden which appears in literature such as the Poliphilo’s Dream, written by Francesco Colonna and printed by the celebrated Aldo Manucio in Venice in 1499.

In the four Vertumnus and Pomona series which the Habsburgs owned, the borders have a characteristic design, creating the illusion that the tapestries are framed. However, the borders of the tapestries of series 18 are notable for having their own design, formed of algae and acanthus leaves on a blue background, with mascarons in the corners.

National Heritage holds two further series on Vertumnus and Pomona,series 16 and 17 in their catalogue. A final series is split between the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (seven tapestries) and the Gulbenkian Collection, Lisbon (one tapestry). Several later copies are also known.

The series originally contained eight panels, of which only seven survive today. In 1879 two of the series’ tapestries were modified and transformed – along with those of series 16 – to permanently decorate the State Dining Room of the Royal Palace of Madrid. For a long time, series 18 was thought to be the first edition of the tapestries (editio princeps). However, it is in fact difficult to prove that it is older than series 16, since each series has its own unique characteristics and dimensions. In the royal inventories, this current series appears for the first time in that of Charles II.

This series was weaved in Brussels in a workshop whose mark has not yet been identified, and was probably weaved just before 1550. From a stylistic point of view, the designs are befitting of a cultural context marked by intense artistic restlessness: as well as having integrated Italian forms, the series whows an exceptional assimilation of forms from the Fontainebleau school. Léonard Thiry, known as the key figure in the diffusion of this current in the Low Countries before 1550, probably took part in the designing of the tapestries, along with Pieter Coecke. We can also suppose that artists specializing in the depiction of plant species also contributed.


P. Junquera de Vega y C. Herrero Carretero, Catálogo de Tapices del Patrimonio Nacional. Volumen I: Siglo XVI, Madrid, 1986, pp. 105-133.

C. Paredes, “Du jardin de Vénus au jardin de Pomone”, Revue Belge d’archéologie et d’histoire de l’art, LXVIII (1999), pp. 75-112

C. Paredes, Vertumne et Pomone. Une fable et son décor dans une tapisserie bruxelloise du XVIe siècle. Université Libre de Bruxelles, 2005. Unpublished doctoral thesis

C. Paredes, “Le jardin dans le château, Imaginaire et réalité du verger de Pomone dans une série de tapisseries bruxelloises”, in Le château, autour et alentours XIV-XVIe siècles. Paysage, parc, jardin et domaine, J.-M. Cauchies and J. Guisset (dirs.), Brepols publishers, 2008, pp. 237-251

Series Vertumnus and Pomona

Models Circle of Pieter Coecke Van Aelst and Léonard Thiry

Manufacture Unknown workshop, Brussels, before 1550

Fabric Gold, silk and wool

Location Royal Palace of El Pardo

Origin Mentioned for the first time in the inventory of Charles II


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