Fame, Good and Bad
In the upper part of the tapestry, in the centre of a luxurious building, we see Fame, personified as a woman blowing two large trumpets. She is mounted on a white elephant; both she and the elephant are crowned with laurel. In front of the elephant, the Roman general Pompey the Great and the Amazon Queen Penthesilea carry two standards in which other symbols of Fame are depicted: ears, tongues and eyes. Her two trumpets point out that Fame can be either “Good” or “Bad” and draw our vision directly to the upper corners of the tapestry. On the left-hand side, we can see the symbol attributed to Good Fame at the time the tapestry was weaved: the semigod of Greek mythology Perseus, armed and victorious, crossing the sky mounted on the flying horse Pegasus, carrying in his hand the head of Medusa with her hair of serpents. The depiction of Pegasus differs from the better-known depictions today since instead of wings the horse has a horn and surrounded by fire. This is the image which was spread by the Renaissance writer Bocaccio, who appears in the tapestry in the building next to Perseus and the horse. In Bocaccio’s telling of the myth, Perseus seduces Medusa, and Pegasus is the fruit of their affair. Furthermore, Bocaccio claimed that Medusa was the daughter of the god Neptune, who appears beneath this symbol of Good Fame. In the right-hand corner, on the other hand, we see Bad Fame depicted as a monstrous woman, ugly, semi-naked, with paws and hooves. It was Bocaccio too who inspired the lower scene, in which we see the famous harpist Arion, riding on a dolphin, and the sea god Proteus, who make their way towards the three nereids Arethusa, Glauce and Thetis.
The luxurious building in which Fame resides is filled with the depiction of thirty-one classical and medieval writers, spread over two galleries. Writers are responsible for disseminating Good or Bad Fame, or Good or Bad Renown. The ‘guest of Honour’ – nearest to Fame herself in the bottom left-hand gallery – is Petrarch, who appears wearing glasses and reading a large book. This is because the cartoonists for this cycle were inspired by his work Triumphs. Beside Petrarch, in the same gallery, we see, amongst others, Homer, Ovid, Pliny and Cicero (TVLE). Beside Bocaccio in the upper left-hand gallery we find Horace, Pronapides (the mythical tutor of Homer) and Martial. In the upper right-hand gallery the most notable people are Aristotle, Terence, Plutarch, the Venerable Bede, Quintilian and Socrates. Finally, in the lower right-hand gallery we find authors such as Plato, Virgil, Catullus, Sallust and Valerius.
The illustrious people
In the lower part of the tapestry, we find a large group of people who have achieved fame. They have been ‘resurrected’, as Petrarch considered that Fame was Victory over Death. The only ones who appear to have achieved Bad Fame are Muhammed, who appears on the floor on the right-hand side of the tapestry, beside the Roman conspirator Lucius Sergius Catalinus. Other characters also appear on horseback: Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and King David with his harp. These last figures seem to enjoy Good Fame, along with the rest of the characters who are arranged along the bottom of the tapestry. We see some figures who, on the left-hand side, are moving up the staircase towards the previous tapestry, Honour, and amongst them we can identify Hector, Helenus and Deiphobus, accompanied by Martia, the artist described by Bocaccio. On the opposite side, we can see the fathers of these princes: King Priam and his wife Hecuba, accompanied by the famous commander Agamemnon. Amongst the remaining characters, the most notable, from left to right, are: the Egyptian Goddess Isis; Samson, at the foot of the staircase and carrying a column; Socrates and Hercules, beside Samson; Achilles, kneeling in the centre; Ulysses and Penelope, Theseus and Jason; and on the right of Julius Caesar we see the Roman heroine Lucretia and Hannibal of Carthage, holding a fortress in his hands. Closing the composition are Judith, with the head of Holofernes in her hands, and the biblical King Ahasuerus, husband of Esther.
Three banners with Latin inscriptions are set into the border, which is made up of flowers and fruits on a dark background with interspesed metallic forms. According to Guy Delmarcel, the texts of these banners, from left to right, read:
Ardua pegaseo perseus ad facta volatu.
Accelerans, vivax nomen in astra tulit
[Perseus, hastening to arduous deeds on Pegasus’ flight,
Carried his name to endure into the stars]
Fama vel effractis revocat quoscumque sepulchris
Hinc laudes illinc proba cauente tuba
[Fame, with even the graves broken open, calls back everyone
With trumpet sound, now sounding praise, now sounding reproach]
Mendax fama viros, urbes, pallacia, reges
Territat, horrendi nuncia prampta mali
[Lying Rumour terrorizes men, cities, palaces and kings,
The clear messenger of terrible evil]
Series The Honours
Third tapestry in the series
Model Cartoonists from the circle of Bernard van Orley and Jan Gossaert, called of Mabuse
Manufacture Pieter van Aelst, Brussels, c.1550
Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool
Size 505 x 1030 cm
Location Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso
Origin Collection of Emperor Charles V
On display Hall of Honours, Tapestry Museum
National Heritage Inv. n. 10026280