The Honours series (Los Honores)

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The Honours series (Los Honores)

The tapestry series known as The Honours was woven by the acclaimed weaver from Brussels’ court, Pieter van Aelst, and was named The Fortune in the old inventories of the Royal Office of Tapestry. The weaving of this series of cloths celebrates the election of Charles of Habsburg —a son of Joanna of Castile and Philip the Handsome, and King of Spain since 1516— to the dignity of Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, and his coronation in Aachen on October 23th, 1520. The cloths illustrate the young monarch about the virtues he should practice and the vices he should avoid to win the highest reward.

The royal collection of tapestries gathers an unparalleled set of masterpieces of Flemish tapestry. Among them, the monumental series The Honours, of nine cloths, is to be highlighted. Although the series was completed in 1523, Pieter van Aelst was forced because of financial difficulty to mortgage the tapestry to the agents of the Fugger in Ambers. The weaver suggested that his creditors should in the first place offer such a precious tapestry for sale to His Imperial Highness, for whom it had been woven. This suggestion was accepted, and it was decided that the central piece of the series with the allegory of the Honour would be sent as a sample.

The tapestries were purchased during the stay of the emperor in Seville, on the occasion of his marriage to Isabella of Portugal in 1526. They were hung in the church of San Benito el Real of Valladolid in 1527 to celebrate the baptism of Prince Philip, and they were first written into the inventory taken by Gilleson de Warenghien, the weaver of the court of the emperor in Brussels, in 1544. As indicated by Charles in his will, the cloths went to his son Philip II, and were inventoried from then on in the Alcazar of Madrid.

The scene sequence of the nine cloths in The Honourstakes from the mediaeval plastic system by which analogous elements are accumulated, having figures arranged under the ideal hierarchy of the theme, of which they are “a detail.” This is the layout of the personifications of moral qualities and antagonistic vices which are embodied in many characters of classical mythology, biblical tales, the history of Antiquity and the history of the Middle Ages. Therefore, this tapestry can be classed as a woven Historia magistra vitae, or a manual of secular morals whose emblems and inscriptions are linked to the programs put up for the “Joyful Entry” of monarchs and princes. The composition of the scenes, centered on an architectural structure or temple of virtue, and structured in two overlapping levels, is a clear reflection of the ephemeral constructions and triumphal arcs erected in the cities for such occasions.

The borders of flowers and fruits over a dark background show thee top banners with Latin inscriptions alluding to the allegorical scenes in the field, and also follow a Trinitarian inner scheme, reflecting the one guiding the series.

The literary sources for this moral allegorical discourse on royal ethics were multiple. Among them, the works of Alain de Lille and Jean Lemaire des Belges are to be highlighted, not to forget classical works by Ovid, Valerius Maximus, Boccaccio and Petrarch, whose likenesses are woven on the central cloth devoted to the Temple of Honour.

The iconographic order distributes the nine tapestries in groups of three cloths. Thecenter corresponds to the triad made up by the Temple of Honour, with the stairs coming from the cloths corresponding to the temples of the Faith and the Fame running into its grandstand. This central triptych is flanked on the right by that of Fortune, Prudence and Virtue and, on the left, by that of Justice, Nobility and Infamy. This last tapestry ends the cycle with the representation of the “author” or narrator.

The iconographic analysis of The Honours proves that tapestry is a true reflection of the moral allegorical programs related to the conception of royal ethics at the beginning of the 16th c. These cloths illustrate the young monarch about the virtues he should practice and the vices he should avoid to win the highest rewards of Honour, Fame and Nobility. The anonymous iconographic program shows the Aristotelian ethics and the Stoic philosophy of the struggle of virtues against the chance of fate. Its author or authors were inspired by mediaeval works such as De Virtutibus et de Vitiis et de Donis Spiritus Sancti by Alain de Lille (circa 1150) and other contemporary works, such as Les Illustrations de Gaule and Singularitez de Troie (edited in 1510-1513) by Jean Lemaire de Belges, a humanist in the court of Margaret of Austria.

No document has been found giving the name of the cartoonists, who were probably many. No preparatory drawings have been kept either, but the series is unquestionably the work of several artists, and Bernard van Orley and Jan Gossaert de Mabuse are to be quoted among them.

Since the 50’s of the 20th century, the nine cloths in the tapestry The Honours are part of the Tapestry Museum of the Palace of San Ildefonso, where they were installed under the guidance of Enrique Lafuente Ferrari, Fine Arts Director at National Heritage.


P. Junquera de Vega y C. Herrero Carretero, Catálogo de Tapices del Patrimonio Nacional. Volumen I: Siglo XVI, Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, 1986, pp. 35 y 40.

C. Herrero Carretero, Resplendence of the Spanish Monarchy, Nueva York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991, pp. 26-39.

C. Herrero Carretero, Tapices y armaduras del Renacimiento, Madrid y Barcelona, 1992, pp. 55-64.

G. Delmarcel, Los Honores. Flemish tapestries for the Emperor Charles V, Gante, Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, Pandora, 2000, pp. 46-58.

Series The Honours

Models Cartoonists from the circle of Bernard van Orley y Jan Gossaert, called of Mabuse”

Manufacture Pieter van Aelst, Brussels, c. 1520

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Location Tapestry Museum of the Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia

Origin The collection of Emperor Charles V


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