This is an elaborately detailed horizontal woven wool tapestry, one in a series of six telling the story of the Persian Empire. It is approximately 14 by 20 feet and has a double edged floral border with clusters of fruit in red, cream, and blue. All people depicted in this tapestry are light skinned. A large tree with winding bluish vines bisects the center of this scene. The background is a sweeping, agrarian landscape, which includes a village with different sized buildings, rolling hills, and many trees and shrubs. There are various people at work herding horses and mules over a bridge, a pair of men walking, and other tiny figures scattered about in the distance. Most are carrying long herding instruments raised high above their heads. On our left, in the foreground, is the edge of a building with carved cherubs atop Corinthian columns. There are three bearded men dressed in elaborately draped capes with billowing folds, pleated tunics, long gartered stockings, and rounded shoes. The man nearest center of the tapestry wears a flat hat with a plume and a large bejeweled garland across his shoulders and chest. In his right hand he holds a scepter. His left arm is outstretched gesturing to a man on our right with a red beard. This red bearded man holds his hat in his hand and is leaning to our left and looking towards the man with the scepter. There is another man on the right wearing a belted robe and fur hat with a red jewel at the center. He is looking at the red bearded man, but gesturing with his right arm to the man with the scepter. Behind, and slightly above the two men on the right are two other men, one holding a lifeless baby. In the lower right center are two women with golden hair in opulent dresses with wide open sleeves and long capes. The woman on the left wears a blue dress and has a red crown embroidered on one of her sleeves. The woman on the right has large blue leaves embroidered on her cream colored cape and is holding a baby.
(active Netherlands, about 1525)
King Astyages Commands Harpagos to Take the Infant Cyrus and Slay Him,
Wool warp (6 yarns per cm); wool and silk wefts
419.1 x 602 cm (165 x 237 in.)
This tapestry belongs to a series of five depicting scenes from the life of Cyrus the Great, legendary founder of the Persian empire. Herodotus tells of an attack by Cyrus on a distant land ruled by Queen Tomyris. Cyrus sacrificed a portion of his army to entrap the enemy by leaving them behind feasting on a large banquet. Tomyris’s troops, led by her son Spargapises, attacked Cyrus’s decoy troops, then stopped to consume the remains of the food and wine. Cyrus ambushed them and captured the queen’s son. Although Cyrus freed Spargapises, he immediately took his own life.
In revenge, Tomyris led her troops against Cyrus. After defeating his army, she searched the battlefield for Cyrus’s corpse and exacted her vengeance by dipping the body in blood – giving him his “fill of blood” as she had vowed. Grand gestures and elaborate costumes were frequently employed in tapestry design. The figures are expertly situated in a landscape, which serves as the setting for other elements of the story. In this tapestry, Astyages King of the Medes has a vision that his daughter's child will rule over the whole of Asia. He orders the infant killed by his kinsman Harpagos who entrusts the murder to a herdsman [upper right]. The herdsman wife has just given birth to a stillborn baby and they decide to raise the royal baby as their own. This infant grows to become Cyrus the Great.