The Rape of Helen (Rapto de Helena)

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The Rape of Helen (Rapto de Helena)

According to epic poetry, the abduction of Helen by Paris, son of the Trojan King Priam, was the trigger of the Trojan War. This panel, one of the most remarkable, is also the only one about the Trojan War which is present in all extant series. Tens of characters, ships and buildings are crammed into the tapestry, as was the aesthetic norm in the 15th century.

Paris and Helen

The story develops chronologically in three scenes from left to right: The first one shows Priam in his palace. The King, willing to rescue his sister Hesione from Greek hold, sends Antenor to meet her. The central scene shows the Trojan expedition pillaging the island of Citera, including the temple, where Paris finds Helen and takes her with him. The right side shows the moment when Paris arrives in Troy with his beloved and a kneeling Helen receives Priam’s blessings.


The scenes are explained through four French inscriptions on the top side of the tapestry, and four Latin ones on the bottom part, which are briefer. Still, there is remarkable difficulty in making out the different parts of the set, even when the names of the characters appear ‘roy Priant’ (Priam), ‘Hector’, ‘Eneas’, ‘Cassandra’, ‘Paris’, ‘Helanes’ (Helen)... and the city of Troy is identified by the inscription ‘troies la grant’ on top of a door with towers on both sides.

SeriesThe Trojan War

Second tapestry in the series

Model Coëtivy Master (Henry or Conrard de Vulcop)

Manufacture Tournai workshops, c. 1470

Fabric Wool and silk, 6/7 warps per cm

Size 467 x 960 cm

Location Cathedral of Zamora, Cathedral Museum

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

Exhibition Due to its large size, it is currently shown in the cathedral’s Chapter House, opposite ‘The Destruction of Troy’. It can only be visited through the Cathedral Museum.


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