Assault on the town of Calais

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Assault on the town of Calais
This is the second tapestry in the Triumphs and battles of Archduke Albert series. It is also the second piece about the assault of Calais; the first, “The Surprise at Calais”, is on display in the Royal Palace of Madrid. Following the surprise, the Archduke’s army follows the order to make an assault on the town.


After crossing the English Channel on the 16th April 1596, the army surrounded and attacked the ramparts of the citadel of Calais the next day. The artillery is depicted in the foreground, while the cavalry squadrons are shown in three other areas.

The general

On the left-hand side, we see Archduke Albert, accompanied by his military staff, directing the military operation. This is the same as in the other tapestries of the series.

The border

The four corners of the border contain depictions of Medusa with her hair of serpents, as in the other tapestries in the series. Elsewhere in the border, the same motifs related to military victories are repeated: weapons, armour, palm branches of victory and laurel wreaths. Three emblems are also included, which vary between each piece in the series, and a banner with a weaved Latin inscription telling us about the scene being depicted.


The writing in the upper banner of the border is a purely indicative piece of information describing the scene: ARCIS CALETANAE MVNITISSIMAE EXPVGNATIO [The capture of the well-fortified citadel of Calais].

The emblem in the lower part is a clear reference to the origins and development of the Franco-Spanish War (1595-1598) between Philip II of Spain and Henry IV of France. It alludes to the moment when the French king betrayed his Spanish counterpart by deciding to reconquer northern France. The banner features a depiction of the death of Mettius Fufetius, the last king of Alba Longa. Livy, in his History of Rome (Book I), tells how Mettius Fufetius was defeated by the Roman king Tullus Hostilius. The confrontation between the kings was settled by means of a battle between two families of brothers, the Alban Horatii and the Roman Curiatii. In this way, Tullus Hostilius gained hegemony over Latium. Later, Tullus Hostilius sought the help of Mettius Fufettius to wage war against the Etruscan cities of Veius and Fidenae. The Alban king decided to betray Rome, and instead of lending support he attacked Tullus Hostilius. The Roman king made up his mind to kill Mettius Fufetius by quartering him, tying his limbs to four horse-drawn carriages and sending the carriages off in opposite directions. This is the scene depicted in the banner. The accompanying inscription warns the Alban king that he should have kept his word: AT TV DICTIS ALBANE MANERES.

The banner in the left-hand border shows a soldier with sword and shield, fighting with other armed men. The inscription reads: PARATUS ET PERITUS [Prepared and proficient].

The emblem in the right-hand border alludes to peace and victory. An army chief, dressed in military attire and with a lance in his right hand, offers the caduceus – a staff with intertwining serpents symbolysing Mercury – to an enemy soldier. Traditionally the caduceus was seen as a symbol of Life and Death in Medicine, but also as a symbol of Victory and Peace in War, since Mercury once saw two serpents fighting and separated them peacefully with the caduceus.

Series Triumphs and battles of Archduke Albert

Second tapestry in the series

Model Otto van Veen and Hans I Snellinck

Manufacture Martin Reynbouts, Brussels, 1597-1599

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 384 x 463 cm

Location Royal Palace of El Pardo

Origin Collection of Philip IV

On display Office of Francisco Franco

National Heritage Inv. n. 10072268


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