The Trojan War Series (La Guerra de Troya)
Zamora’s Cathedral Museum has a permanent display of four large wool and silk tapestries belonging to a series on the Trojan War. The cycle was originally comprised of eleven pieces, some of which are kept in other collections.
The episodes exhibited in Zamora correspond to ‘The Rape of Helen’, ‘Achilles’ Tent’, ‘Achilles’ Death’ and ‘The Destruction of Troy’.
Few legendary events have raised so much interest in subsequent generations as the Trojan War. Its historical origins can be traced back to the wars between the ancient Greeks – the Achaeans – and the Trojans in the 2nd millennium BC. The destruction of this wealthy city, strategically located on the Dardanelles, became the subject of an orally transmitted epic. According to most scholars, Homer transformed the epic, in the 8th century BC, into a hexameter poem comprised of 24 books and entitled The Iliad, a major work of literature.
Homer narrates the wrath of the Greek Achilles. A son of the Nereid Thetis, Achilles had been humiliated by King Agamemnon of Mycenae, commander of the Achaeans. Agamemnon took Achilles’ slave, Briseida, and so the Greek hero refused to enter into combat. Through his goddess mother, he persuaded Zeus to prevent the conquest of Troy for as long as he did not participate in the combat. Eventually, Achilles put aside his wrath; his intervention in the struggle turned out to be decisive, since he killed the Trojan hero Hector. The poem concludes with the rescue of Hector’s body.
There soon were different legends which became even more famous than the poem itself. Thus, it was speculated that the war had begun because the Trojan Paris, a son of King Priam, had absconded with the Greek Helen, wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. The episode of the Trojan Horse, conceived by Ulysses and which facilitated the assault of the city, also became one of the most popular stories.
Different legends soon arose that became even more famous than the poem itself. Thus, it was speculated that the war had begun because the Trojan Paris, son of King Priam, had absconded with the Greek Helen, wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. The episode of the Trojan Horse that facilitated the assault on the city became one of the most popular stories.
Different authors of the Roman period collected these stories and reworked them into medieval texts, such as the poem Le roman de Troie by Benoît de Sainte-Maure. Dating from 1184, this was the base for subsequent writings which inspired the most celebrated representations.
Many of these tales were produced in the court of Burgundy. In 1472 Duke Charles the Bold was the first to commission a tapestry series on the Trojan War. Others soon wanted to have their own hangings and we know that Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, Henry VII of England, King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, Charles VIII of France, Ferdinand I of Naples and Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan possessed other editions, all manufactured before 1500.
The subsequent editions, based on the cartoons by Coëtivy Master, were manufactured in Tournai. They comprised eleven tapestries, each depicting several scenes and showing the entire episode from the preliminaries to the destruction of Troy. It is very difficult to be precise about their contents, however, because the scenes are not clear-cut and there are many characters in each tapestry. However, identification of most characters via their name and inscriptions in French (at the top) and Latin (at the bottom) make it possible to follow the story.
The four pieces in Zamora Cathedral were donated by Count Alba de Aliste in 1608. He probably obtained them from the 2nd or 3rd Count of Tendilla, since their coats of arms are shown. However, they were not the first owners, or at least were not the commissioners, as their coats of arms are superimposed on the tapestry.
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 The Trojan War
Models Coëtivy Master (Henry or Conrard de Vulcop)
Manufacture Tournai workshops, c. 1470
Fabric Wool and silk, 6/7 warps per cm
Origin A donation of Count Alba de Aliste, they arrived at the cathedral in 1608
Location Cathedral of Zamora, Cathedral Museum