This Flemish tapestry tells the story of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian empire in the 6th century BCE. The tapestry is woven in an overall color palette of red, blue, green, cream, and brown although the colors are faded and the threads are worn. All of the figures are light-skinned. In this scene, Cyrus appears as a young man. He is standing to the right of center in a verdant landscape. To our right, on either side of him, are two richly dressed men. They wear short tunics and robes with red stockings and ribbon garters tied at their knees. Two men and a large, thin, greyhound like dog run approach Cyrus on our left. They each are wearing tall boots and have instruments for hunting. The man furthest to the left holds a long spear and the dog’s rope. The other man, closest to Cyrus, has snares and a crescent shaped hunting horn hanging from his side. He holds out, at arm's length, a dead hare. Two couples sit or stroll among the trees in the middle distance at our left. In the center background, a hunt with hounds takes place in the distance near a large house at the edge of a patch of woods. The action takes place on a rolling lawn dotted with realistic flowers and ripe berry vines. The tapestry has a wide border of clusters of flowers and fruits connected with flowering vines on a red and cream striped ribbon.
(active Netherlands, about 1525)
A Messenger from Harpagos Brings Cyrus a Letter Concealed in a Hare,
Wool warp (6 yarns per cm); wool and silk wefts
424.2 x 457.2 cm (167 x 180 in.)
The five episodes in this set are based on the ancient Greek writer Herodotus’s account of the life of the founder of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great. In this tapestry, we see Cyrus as a young man (at right), receiving a letter hidden inside a rabbit. This secret message launched his empire
building, telling him the time was right to unseat his grandfather and claim his kingdom. The background for this drama is a bucolic landscape, with couples strolling and a hunt taking place. All of the figures wear fashionable clothing of the mid-16th century, making connections between
political scheming of the past and present. Flanders was the most important center for tapestry manufacture, the costliest of art forms. Because of their size and complexity, tapestries involved large amounts of skilled labor and expensive materials to produce. Often commissioned as a series, tapestries offered storytelling on a grand scale.