Fortune. The way to the Honours (La Fortuna. Camino de los Honores)

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Fortune. The way to the Honours (La Fortuna. Camino de los Honores)

The fifth piece in the Honours series is dedicated to the goddess Fortuna, who scatters roses to her favourites and stones to her victims. The date of the coronation of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor is woven at the front of Niobe’s ship, on the right of the tapestry.

The Temple of Fortuna

The goddess Fortuna rides blindfolded through the sky, scattering roses over the fortunate with her right hand, and throwing stones at her victims with the left one. The temple and the wheel of Fortune, governed by a woman, are in the central axis underneath her, unstable over the tempestuous waters of the sea. Just as changing is the Moon, which is represented in her different phases on the pennants of Julius Caesar and Romulda, the standard bearers of the goddess. The crown, the sceptre and the sword, imperial attributes, round off the wheel.

The unfortunate and the fortunate

There are people on both sides of the central axis: the unfortunate despair on the right, wounded by Vulcan’s rays; the fortunate are on the left, presided over by Phoebus. All of them are personifications and moral examples of the central theme, extracted from mythology, ancient history and biblical history. Each figure is identified both by characterizing attributes and by Latin names, which are woven in the field of the tapestry. Around the central wheel of fortune, leaning on present, PRESENS, we can read PROSPERITAS, HONOR, ADVERSITAS, PAVPERITAS on the surrounding banners. The two wheels of the future, as indicated by their banners, FVTVRUM, border on it to the left and right.


The three banners of the upper border imitate phylacteries of red and yellow silk with golden letters which read

Omnia vel voto longe meliora feruntur

Ipsaque Mors presens, Sorte favente, fugit.

[Undoubtedly, when an old wish comes true it’s all the better,

And even risk of dead can be conjured up, if favoured by luck].

Hinc espargens Fortuna rosas, hinc saxa volutans

Ludit et arbitrio cuncta suopte regit.

[Fortune scatters roses here and rolls stones over there,

For it commands all at her wish and free will].

Nil nisi triste cadit quibus est fortuna sinistra

Milleque funestis Mors venit atra modis.

[Only sadness find those of adverse Fortune,

And thousands of unfortunate receive Death in her black clothes].

Three more banners appear on the field of the tapestry.

One occupies the central portico of the Temple of Fortune, with a quotation by Sallust: Fortuna/ in omni re domina/tur. Salusti.

[Fortune commands in all. Sallust]

A quotation by Seneca (from his tragedy Thyestes, Act III, vv. 615-616) appears where Croesus is tied to the pyre, to the left): Nemo confidat nimium secundis/ Nemo desperet meliora lapsis,

[Let none be over-confident when fortune smiles; let none despair of better things when fortune fails.]

And there is another one collapsing with the cracked column of the right, also by Seneca (Thyestes, Act III, vv. 621-622): Res deus nostras celeri/ citatas turbine versa

[God keeps all mortal things in swift whirl turning].

Series The Honours

Fifth tapestry in the series

Model Cartoonists from the circle of Bernard van Orley and Jan Gossaert de Mabuse

Manufacture Pieter van Aelst, Brussels, 1550

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 490 x 860 cm

Location Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia

Origin Collection of Emperor Charles V

On display Room of the Honours. Tapestry Museum of the Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia


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