The Triumph of the Seven Virtues
The Triumph of PRUDENCE
Far-sighted Prudence measures the limits of things, distinguishing clearly between good and evil.
The Triumph of TEMPERANCE
Moderation of the soul restrains illicit ardors and restricts you, Plutus, Lyaeus, Venus.
The Triumph of HOPE
Although the horrible presence of death may burst in Sure, however, is Hope in goodness of God.
The Triumph of FAITH
The holy Faith trusts in the divine Word and honors God with all the respect due Him.
The Triumph of CHARITY
He who cherishes with his whole heart the heavenly Powers accomplishes all deeds that Piety dictates.
The Triumph of JUSTICE
Astraea, advising that what is righteous be placed before what is useful, orders that each man's right be rendered with a just balance
The series of tapestries The Triumph of the Seven Virtues celebrating theological and cardinal virtues was created in a Brussels workshop in the 1520s. Before the work on the series began, a didactic program was created to serve as an iconographic guidance to the artists, who worked on the design and cartoons for the tapestry. The literary program of the series might have been compiled by one of the humanists at the court of Margaret of Austria. The program was designed to illustrate the complex idea of the world as well as religious and moral values.
The allegorical plots of the medieval didactic literature were commonly used in the tapestries of the 15-16th centuries, primarily in series. Thanks to the thorough research by the prominent expert on medieval and Renaissance tapestries, Genevieve Souchal, the series of tapestries The Triumph of the Seven Virtues was reconstructed (1). And while the author of the literary program and the name of the artist who created the design has not been established due to missing documentary sources, the work by the renowned researcher of Dutch tapestries, Guy Delmarcel, recreated the historical context behind The Triumph of the Seven Virtues tapestry series (2).
Carpets depicting virtues were made in Brussels back at the turn of the 16th century. The most prominent objects among similar allegorical works include the series Honors (1520–1525), created in Brussels for Charles V (1500–1558), Triumphs by Petrarch (1507–1510) and The Moralities (1515).
Designed to impress the masses, the textile series with their monumental representation ability and dramatic exaggerations had a profound advantage over traditional frescoes and paintings on boards. Tapestries made to decorate staterooms of palaces and castles acted as an integral part of the general design becoming the best means to communicate their owners’ wealth, power and status. The intricate composition and the precise lay-out of the complex image that included multiple figures clearly calls for a close scrutinizing view, while the plot, similarly, demands a close “reading”.
Seventeen separate pieces from various editions of The Triumph of the Seven Virtues tapestry series can now be found at eleven museums and private collections. The series was popular, so at least five editions were created until 1535. Tapestry editions covering the same virtues have identical compositions. They are worked out as triumphal processions with carts carrying personified virtues. The Triumph of Hope is the only tapestry in the series to show the allegorical virtue in a boat. The banderoles in the upper border of every tapestry contain a two-line verse in Latin summing up the plot of the image. Eight out of the 17 tapestries have the Brussels mark on the lower border of the selvage — a coat of arms between two letters “B” (Brussels — Brabant). This mark denoting one of the capitals of the Duchy of Brabant was established by the Brussels magistrate on May 16, 1528.
(1) Souchal G. “The Triumph of the Seven Virtues”: Reconstruction of a Brussels Series (ca. 1520–1535) // Acts of the Tapestry Symposium. November 1976. The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco / ed. by A. Bennett. San Francisco, 1979. P. 103–154.
(2) Delmarcel G. “The Triumph of the Seven Virtues” and Related Brussels Tapestries of the Early Renaissance. // Acts of the Tapestry Symposium. November 1976. The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco / ed. by A. Bennett. San Francisco, 1979. P. 155–170.