Tarquinius Priscus

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Tarquinius Priscus

This is a wonderful tapestry from the 15th c., and the only piece of a series which was in all likelihood focused on Roman History. It arrived at the cathedral in the early 17th c., together with the four cloths of The Trojan War. The escutcheon of the II or III Count of Tendilla was woven on top of it some time after its manufacture, as with the other cloths. This indicates they would have belonged to that family before they belonged to the Count of Alba de Aliste, who is the donor to the cathedral.

History of a Roman king

Four scenes display the history of the Roman King Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, also called Tarquin the Elder (c. 616-c. 578 BC). Tradition holds him as the 5th Roman king, although he might have been the actual founder of the city. The author of the cartoon followed the tale by Livy freely, probably via one of the many French translations made in the Middle Ages.

In the fashion of its time

In the manner of the 15th c., the tapestry has no border. Three successive inscriptions narrate the events represented by innumerable figures; however, the scenes are clearly distinguished. The left side shows Lucius riding his horse into Rome, surrounded by a numerous court (Tarquinius was later added to his name, since he came from the Etruscan city of Tarquinii).

The eagle, the coronation and the battle

On his arrival to mount Janiculo, an eagle snatched his cap to everyone's surprise but his wife's, Tanaquil, who took it for a good omen. Accordingly, the central scene, separated from the former one by a strip of towers belonging to the city walls, shows how Tarquinius is crowned as King of Rome. The inscription states that the city was embellished with tall, strong walls, and that sewage was built. This aspect is represented in the lower part: King “Priscus Tarquinus” visits the master who erects the walls, while one navvy carries a stone on his shoulder, and another one works in the sewers. The last episode is also separated from the previous one, in this case by a section of the wall. It shows the battle between the victorious Romans led by Tarquinius Priscus and the Sabines. In sign of victory, the king raises his arm with a spear, broken when stabbing the throat of his opponent, just as an elephant archer is about to shoot an arrow.

Tournai or Brussels

Although it might have been woven in Tournai, the quality of the cloth with its close-knit weft, the detail in the figures which sets them apart from Tournai's caricatural faces, the careful representation of space inducing a certain three-dimensional sensation, and the clear separation among the different episodes, all point to the possibility that it could have been manufactured in Brussels.


MARTÍN AVEDILLO, F., Los tapices de la catedral de Zamora, Zamora, 1989.

ASSELBERGHS, J.-P., Los tapices flamencos de la catedral de Zamora, Salamanca, 1999.

Series Unknown. Roman history?

Manufacture Brussels' workshops?

Date c.1475

Fabric Wool and silk, 6 warps per cm

Origin A donation of Count Alba de Aliste, it arrived at the cathedral in 1608

Location Cathedral of Zamora (Cathedral Museum)


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