Victory of the Eucharist over pagan sacrifices
In this tapestry, the fourth of the series, an angel bursts into a Roman temple during the celebration of a pagan sacrifice, carrying the Eucharistic chalice. It thus represents the victory of Christianity over ancient pagan sacrifices. The composition uses the same technique as in other panels of the series, that of the false tapestry hanging between columns, which here are solomonic columns. Rubens displays his firm knowledge of Classical Antiquity in this scene, depicting characters who he had already made use of in previous works.
The celebration of pagan sacrifices
Inside a Roman temple, a group of men can be seen sacrificing an ox in honour of Jupiter, whose figure can be seen in the background where two priests are making an offering. Several priests take part in the sacrifice, and the cultrariois kneeling, holding the ox by its horns and with the culter (knife) kept in his belt. In the foreground, we see the popa, standing, wearing a short skirt and with his torso bare, as was normal. This priest was the one responsible for leading the animal to the altar and for finishing the sacrifice with the axe which he holds in his left hand. Behind him, two more characters appear, both showing their shock at the arrival of the angel, who arrives with dazzling light. These two people can be identified as the provider of the sacrifice and the priest, who has his head covered, who were both present at all sacrifices. Lying on the ground, a startled musician has dropped his lyre, and on his side a child – the tibicen, or flautist who accompanied the priests with music – attempts to hold onto the altar around which we see other objects related to the sacrifice. These objects include the patera, a wide and shallow plate used to drink from during rituals; the incense-holder; and the golden amphora which holds the wine which will be poured into a sort of basin flanked by two sheep heads. The group of characters is completed with the figure of the victimario, who was responsible for lighting the fire. Holding a torch, he turns towards the figure of the angel.
A tapestry within a tapestry
The use of the false tapestry is especially obvious in the upper part of the tapestry: the panel is held up by three angels, aided by a wreath of fruits, and two large rings, between two solomonic columns. In the lower part of the panel, the base is decorated with scrolls and vines.
The creative process
Both the inicial draft and the cartoon have been lost. Only the model remains, which is very similar to the finished tapestry. It is kept in the Museo del Prado.
The marks of the weaver and place of manufacture can be seen in the lower selvage: IAN RAES BdB. The monograms of Jacques Fobert and Hans Vervoert can be seen in the right-hand selvage.
Series The Triumph of the Eucharist
Fourth tapestry in the series
Model Peter Paul Rubens, 1626-1628
Manufacture Jan II Raes, Jacob II Geubels, Hans Vervoert, Jacques Fobert. Brussels, 1627-1632
Fabric Silk and wool
Size 490 x 670 cm
Location Monastery of the Descalzas Reales
Origin Collection of the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales
On display Hall of Tapestries
National Heritage Inv. 00610319