Vertumnus transformed into a gardener

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Vertumnus transformed into a gardener
This tapestry, the fifth in the series, shows the god’s fourth appearance before Pomona, as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses (Book XIV, 649). On this occasion we see Vertumnus transformed into a gardener. The tapestry belongs to the same National Heritage series, number 18, as the tapestries on display in the Royal Palace of Aranjuez.

A gardener

A Latin inscription in the upper border, which has now lost, described the scene: LECTURV HIC POMA PUTARES [Here he is undoubtedly picking apples]. The transformed Vertumnus approached the goddess carrying a ladder on his shoulder, pretending to be a gardener. Pomona questions him, gesturing at him, and in his other hand he carries his characteristic pruning knife.

An extraordinary orchard

The gods are situated in the foreground beneath a gallery which is held up by beautifully-designed caryatids: we see fauns dressed in oriental garb in the foreground and, behind them, sirens in golden scales. The gods’ meeting takes place in front of a dazzling circular garden. Protected by a stone banister, the orchard contains a multitude of fruit trees, which can be identified from their fruits: apples, figs, pears, several species of plum, olives, clematis and lemons amongst others. In the roof of the garden we can pick out several cherry-trees.

Pomona, goddess of orchards

In the centre of the design, a lemon graft in an apple tree presents to us a marvellous and unusual demonstration of the knowledge of Pomona, goddess of gardens. It should be pointed out that, although Ovid did not describe the gardens of Pomona, he did include lines lauding the goddess’s talent for cultivating different species in his Metamorphoses (Book XIV, 625):

“Pomona lived under the reign of this king [Proca]. No other Hamadryad, of the wood nymphs of Latium, tended the gardens more skilfully or was more devoted to the trees’ fruit, hence her name. Not for her the woods and rivers: she loved the field and the branches which bore ripe fruit. She carried a curved pruning knife, not weighed down by a javelin, with which she cut back the luxuriant growth, and lopped the branches spreading out in all directions, and inserted graft into split bark, providing sap from a different stock for the nursling.”

Mythological ornaments

This tapestry was left without its borders in 1879, when they were added to the tapestries which were intended to serve as permanent decoration in the Dining Hall of the Royal Palace of Madrid. The panel formerly showed the transformations of Cyparissus into a cypress tree on one side, and that of Myrrha into a myrrh plant on the other. In the lower border the metamorphosis of Jupiter into a satyr, taking Antiope by force, was depicted.

Series Vertumnus and Pomona

Fifth tapestry in the series

Model Circle of Pieter Coecke Van Aelst and Léonard Thiry

Manufacture Unknown workshop, Brussels, before 1550

Fabric Gold, silk and wool

Size 330 x 410 cm

Location Royal Palace of El Pardo

On display Living room of the Presidential Suite

Origin Mentioned for the first time in the inventory of Charles II

National Heritage Series 18


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