Tarquinius Priscus

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Tarquinius Priscus

This is a wonderful 15th-century tapestry, and the only extant piece of a series which was in all likelihood focused on Roman History. It arrived at the cathedral in the early 17th century, together with the four panels 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 in the other pieces. This indicates they would have belonged to that family before they belonged to the Count of Alba de Aliste, who was 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 century, the tapestry has no border. Three successive inscriptions narrate the events represented by innumerable figures, but the different 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 at the Janiculum Hill in Rome, an eagle snatched his cap, surprising everyone except his wife, Tanaquil, who took it for a good omen. Continuing the story, the central scene, separated from the former one by a strip of towers forming part of the city walls, shows Tarquinius being 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 worker 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 a sign of victory, the king raises his arm holding 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 (markedly different 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.


F. Martín Avedillo, Los tapices de la catedral de Zamora, Zamora, 1989.

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

Series Unknown. Roman history?

Manufacture Brussels' workshops?, 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

On display Cathedral Museum


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