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This is the eighth tapestry in the series, the third in the iconographic progression. In Spanish, it is known as “Vice”, represented as a satyr, who we see in the centre of the composition, bur now it is known as “Virtue” (Virtus), by the central male character who is depicted whipping the satyr with a bundle of sticks.

Virtue whips Vice and Fortune is taken prisoner

The character of Divine Knowledge sits in the upper part of a luxurious building which appears to be a loggia, depicted as a crowned woman with a sceptre. She watched over the scene which is taking place in the centre of the tapetsry. In this scene, we see Virtue – here depicted as a man crowned with a laurel wreath – beating a tied-up Vice, who is represented as a satyr (half-man, half-goat), with sticks. Just beneath, Fortune, on the floor and blindfolded, is taken prisoner by the two Cardinal Virtues. On her left, Fortitude is depicted with her typical attribute of the broken column, and is tying up Fortune’s hands behind her back with a rope. On her right, Temperance, depicted with her mouth gagged and a watch in her left hand, holds Fortune by the neck with a chain. This iconography was designed to illustrate how the Virtues can resist unstable Fortune, especially bad Fortune. It also shows how Virtue can punish Vice under the influence of Divine Knowledge.

Authors and other Virtues

These two central scenes are looked upon by other characters in the building. In the two towers which crown the building, we find four classical authors who wrote about the Virtue’s victory and Fortune’s downfall; beneath them are medallions with some of their most famous quotations in Latin. The authors are, from left to right, Seneca, King Solomon, Horace and Plautus. Sitting at the feet of the loggia and inside it are other minor Virtues, also personified as women. These virtues together make up the two Cardinal Virtues, or are attributes of them. Thus, next to Fortitude we see: Clemency (Clementia), seated and holding an olive branch; behind her, Magnanimity (Mana Minute), half-naked and half-armed; Trust (Confianza), holding an anchor; and Assurance (Sentence) holding an enormous rock. Inside the building, looking directly at Virtue punishing Vice, we find Forbearance (Longanimitas) holding a wheel, since this virtue consists of tolerating adversity with strength of mind. In the first boat we see Constancia (Constantias) with her sceptre and Firmness (Firmitas), holding a strange contraption in her hand with an arrow driven into the centre of what seems to be a Wheel of the Zodiac. The next boat holds Patience (Pacience), with an emblem of Saint Jacob in her hands, and Meekness (Masuetude), with a branch of an apple tree. On the right-hand side of the tapestry, the virtues which make up Temperance have been depicted. Thus, next to Temperance we see Virginity (Virginitas), seated, with her attribute of a iris or lily, and behind her Chastity (Castitas), Modesty (Pudicitia) in the sense of sexual virtue, and Abstinence (Abstinentia). Inside the loggia, Perseverance (Perseverantia) watches Virtue punishing Vice. In the first boat, we see Frugality (Parcitas) and Moderation (Moderatio), while in the second we see Modesty (Modestia) and Tolerance (Tolerantia). Behind an unknown man, in the third and last boat, we see Shame (Verecundia) and Affability or Kindness (Comitas).

Prudence, Prometheus and the Zodiac

In the upper left-hand corner of the tapestry, we see Prudence. She is seated in her carriage, which was constructed in her eponymous panel (the previous one in the iconographic progression and the seventh in the National Heritage catalogue) by Liberal Arts so that she could travel into this tapestry watched over by Divine Knowledge. The carriage is drawn by the five horses who represent the five senses, which Jupiter handed to Nature, who in turn handed them to Prudence: Sight, Hearing, Smell, Touch and Taste. Reason is depicted upon the horses once again. On the opposite side, in the upper right-hand corner, we see the titan Prometheus, who, in Greek mythology, stole fire from the Gods. In the tapestry, Prometheus appears accompanied and protected by the goddess Pallas Athena and is shown stealing fire from Leo, one of the signs of the Zodiac. With this flame, Prometheus will give life, from clay, to the first man, Pandora, who appears next to a tree in the lower part. In this way we see how the signs of the Zodiac appear in the course of Prudence’s journey to Prometheus. Among these signs of the Zodiac we can identify Aquarius, part of Pisces, Taurus next to the tower of the loggia, Gemini and Cancer on either side of Divine Knowledge, Leo next to Prometheus, Virgo, and, finally, Scorpio.

Historical characters

Various historical, biblical and mythological characters have been depicted in the bottom corners of the tapestry, all of whom personify the virtues shown in the panel. In the left-hand corner, we see a group of men and women, but the only character who can be identified is Lot making his way to the building. In the right-hand corner we can make out the Queen of the Massagetae, Tomyris, the Vestal Virgin Saint Coelia Concordia (Coelia Virgo), the mythical Roman hero Horatius Cocles and the Roman Emperor Trajan carrying a standard.


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. The texts of these banners, from left to right, read:

Euecta ethereos lustrat prudentas tractus

Summi contemplans sensa profunda Dei

[Prudence, carried upwards, traverses the ethereal regions,

Contemplating the deep secrets of the supreme deity]

Castigat vicium sophia moderante servera

Virtus et lacera sors jacet una rota

[Stern Virtue punishes Vice, under the supervision of Wisdom,

And Fate lies alone on the ground, her wheel shattered]

Limosos cupiens artus animare prometheus

Suscipit etheream Pallade rege facem

[Prometheus, in his desire to give life to limbs of clay,

Takes an ethereal torch under the aegis of Pallas]

The Latin inscriptions in the medallions and banners in the background of the tapestry have been identified by Guy Delmarcel.

Under the figure of Seneca is a quotation from Seneca’s work Moral Epistles to Lucilius (87.16):

Virtus extollit hominem et supra astra mortales collocat

[Virtue exalts man and puts mortals above the stars]

Beneath the figure of King Solomon is a verse from the Bible, found in the Book of Proverbs (8.11):

Mellior est famam curtis ómnibus preciosisimis et omne desiderabile non potest ei coparari

[For wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot be compared with her]

Beneath Horace is a quotation from his Satires (I, 3.118):

Omnia adsunt bona quem penest virtus

[There should be Rule which imposes fair penalties on sinners]

Finally, beneath Plautus are two lines from his play Amphitryon (652-653):

Omnia adsunt bona quem penest virtus

[A man with Virtue has every blessing]

The banner above Fortitude contains a quotation from Seneca (Medea, 159):

Fortuna fortes metuit ignaros premit. Seneca

[Fortune fears the brave, and overwhelms the cowardly. Seneca]

The banner above Temperance contains a quotation from Saint Augustine, taken from On the Sermon on the Mount (Book II, chapter 9, 34):

Nemo frangitur adversorum molestia quie prosperorum delectationen non capit. Augustinus

[No one is broken down by the irksomeness of adversity, who is not led captive by the delight of prosperity]

The banner above Fortune, says:

Ego que omnia vinco per virtutem vincor

[I, who conquer everything, am conquered by virtue]

Series The Honours

Eighth 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 510 x 840 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. 10026283


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