This tapestry from the Netherlands is intricately woven with wool and silk wefts and depicts Queen Tomyris’s rejection of Cyrus’s proposal of marriage. It is done in tan, blue, and green, with burgundy highlights. The main figures, Queen Tomyris and Cyrus, are prominent the center of the foreground. Queen Tomyris stands to our left and is dressed in a long tan and burgundy brocade gown with a dark blue cape around her shoulders. She has pale skin and her brown hair is fashioned in an up-do with a pale burgundy crown atop her head. She holds a reddish scepter in her hand to our left and her arm to our right is outstretched toward Cyrus who is kneeling in front of her. Cyrus is seen in profile with pale skin and light brown beard and hair. He wears a dark blue doublet with patterned, flowing sleeves, light blue knee britches, and red knee-high boots. His arm to our right is upstretched and he holds his red hat with a white plume in his left hand. There are three maidens behind Queen Tomyris who are dressed in burgundy, pale pink, and green dresses. Further behind them is a male and female couple who are in conversation behind a low brick wall. Cyrus’s valet and tan horse stand behind him. In the distance are troops, on foot and horseback, crossing a bridge. There are trees visible throughout the hilly landscape; some palm and others with dark green foliage. To our left is a tan building in the background that has a tower and many rounded archways. A border consisting of a leaf and floral motif surrounds this tapestry.
(active Netherlands, about 1525)
Queen Tomyris Rejects Cyrus's Proposal of Marriage,
Wool warp (6 yarns per cm); wool and silk wefts
431.8 x 472.4 cm (170 x 186 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, Queen Tomyris rejects Cyrus's marriage proposal while his troops advance in the background.