Jan Moy - King Astyages Commands Harpagos to Take the Infant Cyrus and Slay Him, about 1535-1550

Workshop of Jan Moy (active Netherlands, about 1525)

King Astyages Commands Harpagos to Take the Infant Cyrus and Slay Him, about 1535-1550

Wool warp (6 yarns per cm); wool and silk wefts, 419.1 x 602 cm (165 x 237 in.)


Object details

Accession number



Human figures


Traditionally, said to have been commissioned by Pope Urban VIII Barberini (1623-1644).
Possibly commissioned by a Habsburg ruler in the first half of the 16th century.
Possibly in the collection of Archduke Albert VII of Austria (1559-1621) and Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain (1566-1633).
The series (then nine tapestries in total) was purchased by Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679) from a merchant in Viterbo on 23 November 1628.
Included in the inventory of Cardinal Francesco Barberini's Garde-robe, 1626-1631.
Included in the inventory of Cardinal Francesco Barberini's Palazzo della Cancelleria, Rome on 1 October 1649.
Included in the inventory of Cardinal Francesco Barberini's Garde-robe, Palazzo della Cancelleria, Rome, 1663.
Six Cyrus tapestries (the Gardner tapestries and a duplicate of museum no. T19e57-s, now in the collection of Princeton University Library) remained with the Barberini family until the late nineteenth century.
Purchased by the tapestry collector and scholar Charles Mather Ffoulke (1841-1909), Washington, DC from the Principessa Barberini, Rome in 1889.
Presented to Sarah Adeline Cushing, Washington by her husband Charles M. Ffoulke in 1890-1891.
Three of the Cyrus tapestries (museum nos. T19e4-s, T19e57-s, and T19e36-s) were shipped to Washington, DC in about 1891, where Isabella Gardner saw two of them in 1903.
Isabella Stewart Gardner agreed to purchase the Cyrus tapestries, as well as the Abraham series (museum nos. T19w56-s, T19w26-s, T19w48-s, T19w52-s, and T19n21-s), the Chateau and Gardens series (museum nos. T18s5-s, T18w1-s, T18e5-s, T18e35-s), and one additional tapestry (museum no. T22s3) from Sarah Adeline Cushing on 24 December 1903.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner (as scenes from the lives of Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella) from Sarah Adeline Cushing, Washington, DC for $45,000 (for the set of five tapestries) with a series of payments made from 1905 to 1906, through Charles Mather Ffoulke.
Due to the high cost of import duties, two of the Cyrus tapestries (museum nos. T19w2-s and T19w18-s) remained in Europe until 1908 in the care of Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Chadbourne (Emily R. Crane, 1871-1964). Their arrival to Boston was delayed further by a customs dispute (for more information, see Carter, pp. 231-32).


Inscribed (lower right, outer guard): weaver's mark of Jan Moy (?) [this area is heavily repaired, but the mark appears to be the same as that inscribed on musuem nos. T19w18-s and T19e36-s]
Inscribed (lower left, outer guard): Brussels mark
Inscribed (lining, removed prior to Gardner's purchase on about 18 April 1903): the monogram of Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679)
Inscribed (lining, removed prior to Gardner's purchase on about 18 April 1903): Ciro (Cyrus)


Charles M. Ffoulke et al. The Ffoulke Collection of Tapestries (New York, 1913), pp. 24-25, 88-91, no. 4. (the series as "the Archdukes Albert and Isabella"; the scene as "Albert Promising to be Godfather to a Nobleman's Child"; as middle the 16th century, Brussels)
George Leland Hunter. The Practical Book of Tapestries (Philadelphia, 1925), p. 135. (the series as "Charles V and his Intimates"; early renaissance)
Morris Carter. Isabella Stewart Gardner and Fenway Court (Boston, 1925; Reprint, Boston, 1972), pp. 215, 230, 241. (the series as "The Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella")
Ella S. Siple. "Some Recently Identified Tapestries in the Gardner Musuem in Boston." The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs (1930), pp. 241-42, no. 1, pl. II A. (the series as "Life of Cyrus"; influence of Bernard van Orley, Brussels, about 1535)
Morris Carter. "Report of the Director of the Museum." Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Annual Report (1930), p. 24.
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), pp. 150-52, no. I. (as style of Bernard van Orley, Brussels, 2nd quarter of the 16th century; the weaver's mark as unidentified)
Betty Chamberlain. “Tapestry Room” in Alfred M. Frankfurter (ed). The Gardner Collection (New York, 1946), p. 35.
"Rentschler Tapestry." Princeton Alumni Weekly (1948), p. 17. (on Princeton's tapestry, a duplicate of museum no. T19e57-s, "companion piece to a set of five tapestries in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum"; as early 16th century, Flemish)
Corinna Lindon Smith. Interesting People (Norman, Oklahoma, 1962), pp. 164, 167.
Gail Black. “Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 6, no. 13 (25 Nov. 1962), p. 2. (as Brussels, 1st half of the 16th century)
“Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 6, no. 18 (30 Dec. 1962), p. 2. (as Brussels, 16th century; the design as like that of Bernard van Orley)
William N. Mason. “Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 6, no. 34 (21 Apr. 1963), p. 2. (as Flemish, early 16th century)
Sotheby & Co. Catalogue (London, 26 May 1967), p. 17, lots 38-39. (on duplicates of museum nos. T19e18-s and T19e4-s; as attributed to Jan Moy, 16th century)
George L. Stout. Treasures from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1969), pp. 140-42, ill. (as Brussels, around the middle of the 16th century)
Tapisseries anciennes. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon (June-August, 1972), pp. 14-15. (on the Musée des Beaux-Arts's tapestry, a duplicate of museum no. T19w18-s, "an identical copy"; (as woven by Marc Crétif after cartoons by the workshop of Van Orley, Brussels, about 1530)
Jean-Paul Asselberghs. Les tapisseries flamandes aux Etats-Unis d'Amérique (Brussels, 1974), p. 12. (as Brussels, about 1535; some bear the weaver's mark of Marc Crétif)
G. Delmarcel, review of "Jules Romain: l'histoire de Scipion. Tapisseries et dessins." Bulletin Monumental (1978), p. 369. (Marc Crétif as a merchant, not weaver)
Adolph S. Cavallo. "An Introduction to the Textile Collection at Fenway Court." Fenway Court (1981), p. 8.
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 176-77. (as Flemish, workshop of Jan Moy, 16th century)
Adolph S. Cavallo. Textiles: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1986), pp. 48-55, no. 9a. (as Flemish, Brussels, 1535-1550; the mark as that of Jan Moy (?), "mutilated" by repairs)
Jennifer R. Gross et al. Threads of Dissent. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1999), p. 4. (as Flemish, 1535-1550)
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 113, 116-17, ill. (as Flemish (Brussels), workshop of Jan Moy, about 1535-1550)
Pascal-François Bertrand. Les tapisseries des Barberini et la décoration d'intérieur dans la Rome baroque (Turnhout, Belgium, 2005), pp. 28, 77, 86, 89-90, 93, 100-01, 133, 137-38, figs. 96-98, pl. 13, app. A.3.30, A.8.475, A.9.576. (as by Jan Moy, Brussels and an unidentified weaver, about 1535-1550)
Sotheby & Co. Fine Furniture, Tapestries, Ceramics, Clocks, Silver & Carpets (London, 27 April 2010), lot 12. (as 16th century, Brussels)

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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.