The Horses of Diomedes
The Eighth Labour of Hercules
There are two different accounts about the Eighth Labour of Hercules. The older tells that the hero made the journey by land, while the other version links the journey – this time made by sea – to the foundation of the city of Abdera. In the tapestry we see boats by the shore, but there is no reference to a city.
Mares interpreted as horses
Eurystheus had ordered Hercules to capture four mares owned by Diomedes who fed off human flesh. We even know their names: Podagros, Lampon, Xanthos and Deimos. However, the cartoonist did not bear the fact that they were mares in mind, and depicted four horses instead (we know this because the sexual organs of three of them are clearly visible). As a result, the cloth has come to be known as “The Horses of Diomedes”, directly contradicting the legend.
Hercules defeated Diomedes and delivered him to his animals with his hands tied. The horses then devoured him, as shown in the tapestry. With the horses satiated, Hercules subdued them and led them with him to Eurystheus who offered them to the goddess Hera.
The weaver’s mark
The panel is, like the rest of the cycle, framed by a border of fruit and flowers with parrots in the bottom corners. It is also surrounded by a selvage in which the weaver’s mark, identified as that of Willem Dermoyen, appears.
Series The Labours of Hercules
Third tapestry in the extant series
Manufacture Willem Dermoyen, Brussels, c. 1528
Fabric Silk and wool
Size 350 x 400 cm
Location Royal Palace of Madrid
Origin Collection of Philip II
On display Royal Armoury