Vertumnus transformed into an old woman

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Vertumnus transformed into an old woman
This tapestry, the sixth in the series, used to be joined to the seventh, creating a single composition which represented two scenes related to Vertumnus’ transformation into an old woman. As it is conserved nowadays, this sixth tapestry would be the right-hand half of the original composition, in which Vertumnus appears telling Pomona the story of Iphis and Anaxarete. The scene, in Ovid’s tale, appears straight after Vertumnus, in the guise of an old woman, manages to approach and kiss the goddess (depicted in the seventh tapestry of the series). The tapestry was divided in 1879, when they were all modified to be used as permanent decoration for the State Dining Room of the Palace. For the same reason, the inscription in the upper border and the left-hand edge do not match the current composition.

The bogus old woman

Disguised as an old woman, Vertumnus attempts to convince Pomona to accept his courting by telling her the story of Iphis and Anaxarete. Iphis, a young boy with humble origins, loved Anaxarete with all his heart. Anaxarete was a noble young girl who was known for her coldness and cruelty. Iphis, despairing because of her repeated rejection, ended up hanging himself in the door of her house, and he was granted vengeance by the gods, who transformed Anaxarete into a stone statue. The original tapestry contained the following inscription in the upper border: PO[S]TREMO FIT ANVS FALLAX [Finally, he transforms himself into an old lying woman].

A vine and an elm tree

Beneath the vault of a pergola, Vertumnus sits opposite Pomona and points out to her with his cane a vine twisting itself around an elm tree. According to the lines from Ovid, the image of these plants supporting one another alludes to the benefits of marriage.

An allegory of matrimony

In the traditional sixteenth- and seventeenth-century iconography of the depiction of Vertumnus and Pomona’s love, this episode sparked the most interest among artists. The popularity of this image originates in that it was used in the first printed and illustrated editions of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. At the end of the sixteenth century, the scene had a specific meaning: it acted as an allegory of matrimony.

An extravagant setting

Putting the sixth and seventh tapestries together, we can easily see the extravagance and architectural complexity of the setting. As usual, in the foreground we see the gods underneath a gallery covered with vegetation, this time a vine full of grapes. Many types of petrified creatures are rooted in the pedestals, decorated with images of grotesques, and they hold up the classical pediments. Arranged on top of the stone railing, we note especially the monumental and magnificent bowls and baskets full of various plant species.

The abduction of Ganymede and other myths

The borders of this sixth tapestry were made up from the borders of a tapestry in National Heritage Series 18. In the central lower, the abduction of Ganymede by Jupiter is depicted. In the side border we find, on the left, the transformations of Baucis and Philemon, and, on the right, the myth of Luecothea.

Series Vertumnus and Pomona

Sixth tapestry in the series

Model Circle of Pieter Coeck van Aelst

Manufacture Wilhelm Pannemaker, Brussels, c. 1545-1550

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 430 x 365 cm

Location Royal Palace of Madrid

On display State Dining Room

National Heritage Series 16


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