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The Flight of Mark Antony and Cleopatra

probably Joris Rombouts (Oudenaarde, 1649 – d. after 1679)

Category

Tapestries

Date

circa 1670 - circa 1680

Materials

Tapestry, wool and silk, 6 warps per cm

Measurements

2700 x 4800 mm

Place of origin

Antwerp

Order this image

Collection

Powis Castle and Garden, Powys (Accredited Museum)

On show at

State Bedroom, Powis Castle and Garden, Powys, Wales, National Trust

NT 1181008.1

Caption

Tapestry, wool and silk, 6 warps per cm, The Flight of Mark Antony and Cleopatra from a set of two of The Story of Antony and Cleopatra, probably Joris Rombouts, Antwerp, c. 1670-1680.

Summary

Tapestry, wool and silk, 6 warps per cm, The Flight of Mark Antony and Cleopatra from a set of two of The Story of Antony and Cleopatra, probably Joris Rombouts, Antwerp, c. 1670-1680. Three life-sized figures on horseback in a landscape galloping from left to right. To the right is Cleopatra, riding a leaping brown horse and wearing golden dress with a brocaded skirt, a mantle of ermine tails and a red cloak around her shoulders and a golden crown adorned with pearls. Behind Cleopatra is Mark Antony, also on a brown horse and wearing silver scale-armour over a blue tunic and an ornate plumed helmet with gold decoration, holding a sword above his head and turning to fight off his attackers. In hot pursuit is Octavian, riding on a leopard-skin saddle, his horse foaming at the mouth, dressed in a silver breastplate over a blue leather tunic with a narrow diadem tied around his head, and holding aloft a spear. Behind the main figures are more horsemen including one blowing a trumpet and another wearing a bear’s skin on his head, whilst a fallen soldier lies on the ground before Octavian. Beneath the horses’ feet is a nondescript landscape, and to the right a view to another group of mounted soldiers in the middle distance. The borders are composed of festoons of fruit and flowers with putti at the sides and military trophies at the top. There is no lower border, and one of Octavian’s horse’s hooves breaks the frame and extends into the lower galloon.

Full description

The tapestry shows Mark Antony and Cleopatra fleeing in the face of the Roman army led by Octavian, either after the sea battle of Actium or after the invasion of Alexandria by Octavian’s troops soon afterwards. According to Plutarch (Parallel Lives), when faced with Octavian’s army marching on Alexandria Mark Antony’s troops deserted him and went to fight to fight for the enemy, after which Mark Antony fled. Cleopatra was not present in any of the historical accounts but has been added here for effect. Octavian is identified by the narrow diadem he wears around his head: the diadem was a symbol of Imperial power, and refers to his future role as the first Emperor of Rome, Augustus. ‘The Flight of Mark Antony and Cleopatra’ and ‘The Triumph of Mark Antony and Cleopatra’ come from a larger design series of ‘The Story of Antony and Cleopatra’, which included at least five scenes telling the story of the love affair of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (r. 51-30 BC) and the Roman General Mark Antony (c. 83-30 BC). Although Cleopatra was regarded negatively in the Medieval period, from the sixteenth century onwards she became a popular subject in literature and the arts. The main source for her story was Plutarch’s ‘Life of Antony’ in his ‘Parallel Lives’ (c. 100), which was translated into many European languages in the course of the sixteenth century. Cleopatra inherited the throne of Egypt jointly with her brother in 51 BC. In 48 BC she met Julius Caesar and became his mistress, and with Caesar’s support she was established as sole Queen of Egypt. After Caesar’s death (44 BC) Egypt became involved in the Roman Civil War and in 41 BC Cleopatra was summoned to meet the Roman politician and General Mark Antony; she so charmed him that he stayed with her in Alexandria and they became lovers. Cleopatra’s growing claims to power made Rome uneasy, and at the same time relations between Mark Antony and Octavian, his fellow Triumvir (and later known as Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome), were disintegrating. In 33 BC Octavian and the Roman Senate declared war on Egypt, and in 31 BC the Roman Fleet routed Mark Antony’s forces and Cleopatra’s own fleet at the Battle Actium. Although there is no solid basis for the story, later accounts state that Cleopatra and Mark Antony took flight from the Battle of Actium, and this may be the subject of 1181008.1. Octavian then invaded Egypt and when Mark Antony’s troops refused to fight he fled yet again. After his defeat Mark Antony committed suicide, and when negotiations with Octavian failed Cleopatra killed herself as well, according to many accounts with the venomous bite of an asp. The designer of the tapestry series is not known, but as Forti-Grazzini notes the designsrefer to another series of Antony and Cleopatra tapestries designed in 1649-50 by Justus van Egmont (1601-1674), one of the most influential tapestry designers of the second half of the seventeenth century (Forti-Grazzini 1994, p. 350). Van Egmont’s designs were woven in Brussels and numerous editions survive dating from the 1650s and 1660s (for information on some of the surviving sets see Brosens 2008, pp. 138-165; Standen 1985, vol. 1, pp. 206-217). The wide dissemination of the series clearly sparked imitations in other cities The two tapestries at Powis have near-identical borders. The side borders include a winged putto kneeling with a golden basket of fruit on his head and a parrot perched on the fruit; a central cartouche and two golden shells, and at the top another putto seated on a golden lion mask, from which is suspended a festoon of fruit and flowers. The putti at the top corners hold blue ribbons supporting the larger swags of fruit and flowers that make up the upper borders, extending over the main field of the design. In the centre of the upper border is a military trophy composed of two shields decorated with a sun’s head and the head of a giant, a spiked club, a sword and a plumed helmet, and at either side are smaller trophies composed of flags and Roman helmets. The tapestries were woven without lower borders and retain their original dark brown galloons along the bottom edge. The two tapestries at Powis bear no makers’ marks. Forti-Grazzini convincingly suggested on the basis of style and execution that the Antony and Cleopatra series was produced in Antwerp rather than Brussels, and made an attribution to the little-known Antwerp weaver Joris Rombouts (1649 – after 1679). This is based on the records of the art dealers the Forchoudts in the late seventeenth century, which show that Joris Rombouts supplied tapestries of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ to their agent in Vienna in 1675. A set of eight tapestries of the same subject appears in a bill from Rombouts in c. 1670 (Denucé 1931, pp. 195, 276). Rombouts was born in Oudenaarde, the second-largest tapestry-producing town in the Netherlands, in 1649, and moved to Antwerp where he married the daughter of the famous tapestry merchant Peter van der Goes. Rombouts ran a successful Antwerp enterprise, producing and selling tapestries of the ‘Story of Moses’, the ‘Story of Joseph’, the ‘Story of Diana’, the ‘Story of Darius’, ‘Landscapes with Small Figures’ and ‘Landscapes’ designed by Pieter de Witte (Duverger 1977, p. 278; Denucé 1931, pp. 183, 186, 195, 276, 288). Despite his considerable activity, ‘Mark Antony and Cleopatra’ is the only surviving tapestry series that can be attributed to him with any certainty, a situation which may be due to the fact that he did not sign his work. The first author to attempt to reconstruct Rombouts’s Antony and Cleopatra series was Nello Forti-Grazzini, in a catalogue entry for a version of the ‘Flight of Mark Antony and Cleopatra’ in the Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome (Forti-Grazzini 1994, cat. no. 130, pp. 530-1). The Quirinale tapestry replicates the design of 1181008.1, but with minor differences including the omission of the soldier and shield lying on the ground beneath the horses’ feet. The Quirinale panel has similar upper borders to the two Powis tapestries with swags of fruit between flags and military paraphernalia, but the side borders are different, and are composed of a plinth supported by a lion at the bottom with herms decked in flowers in the centre and putti blowing trumpets at the top corners. The Quirinale ‘Flight’ originated in the Medici tapestry collection, and Forti-Grazzini identified two further tapestries from the same set, now dispersed: ‘Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl’ in the Palazzo della Provincia (the former Medici Palace) in Siena (Ciatti & Avanzati 1990, pp. 274, 285 and fig. 7.16), and a ‘Suicide of Cleopatra’ in the Palazzo Pitti, wrongly catalogued as the ‘Toilette of Cleopatra’ (never published; Alinari Photo no. 30652). Forti-Grazzini also speculated that two tapestries sold at Sotheby’s, London, 12 July 1968, lots 40 and 41 were also from the same design series, since the description of one of them closely matched the ‘Flight’ scene. Forti-Grazzini was unaware of the two tapestries at Powis, but the description of the second Sotheby’s tapestry closely matches the Powis Triumph, thus supporting his hypothesis. A further series of five tapestries at Sizergh Castle can be added to the two at Powis and those identified by Forti-Grazzini. Their subjects are 'The Triumph of Mark Antony and Cleopatra’, ‘Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl’, ‘The Flight of Mark Antony and Cleopatra’, ‘The Suicide of Cleopatra’, and a previously unknown subject, ‘The Meeting of Mark Antony and Cleopatra’. No record of the original purchase or commission of the two tapestries at Powis survives, but they fit so exactly into the alcove in the State Bedroom that it is highly probable they were made for this location. Comparison of the ‘Flight of Mark Antony and Cleopatra’ with the related tapestry in the Palazzo del Quirinale reveals that certain modifications have been made to the design to reduce the dimensions of the Powis version, further suggesting that this was a bespoke commission: the main field has been reduced by around a foot at the top (entailing the omission of Octavian’s raised hand, and the flag carried by one of his companions), and by a few inches at the bottom, allowing the playful detail of the horse’s hoof extending over the lower galloon, whilst in the Quirinale version the hoof is firmly planted on the ground within the border. The ‘Triumph of Mark Antony and Cleopatra’ also shows signs of having been reduced in height to fit the space, as the heads of the two main figures are very close to the upper border, and again the foot of a soldier extends into the lower galloon. Aside from the square cut from one corner of the ‘Triumph’ tapestry to make way for a door there are no signs of later alteration, again suggesting that the tapestries have not been moved. Since Rombouts was only born in 1649 the tapestries cannot date from much before 1670. Forti-Grazzini dates the related tapestry in the Quirinale to c. 1670-80 on the basis that the set is first recorded in Rombouts’s catalogue in c. 1670 and 1675, and that he is last recorded as active in 1679. The tapestries were probably commissioned by William Herbert, 3rd Lord Powis, at some point between c. 1670 and 1678, as he was imprisoned in that year for four years in the Tower of London. In his description of the State Apartments in a survey of Powis in 1772, Thomas Pritchard noted that “The Walls are hung with fine Tapestry which remains very fresh” and although no subject is mentioned this fits with the ‘Mark Antony and Cleopatra’ tapestries whose fresh colours have survived well. The 1891 inventory of Powis Castle records simply that there are four tapestries in the State Bedchamber (Hall Wateridge & Owen 1891, p. 39). In 1908 the two ‘Mark Antony and Cleopatra’ tapestries are described as “A panel of Old Flemish tapestry with life sized equestrian figures in combat, to the right a figure of a woman richly dressed attempting to escape” and “A companion panel – The triumph of the conqueror (piece cut for doorway)” (Knight, Frank & Rutley 1908, p. 39), and in the same year a Country Life photograph shows them in their current position (“T.” 1908, p. 671). In 1930 these descriptions are followed, with the annotation ‘behind the bed’ and a valuation of £600 is given jointly with the two Solomon tapestries (Supplementary Inventory 1930, p. 3). (Helen Wyld, 2010)

Provenance

Accepted by HM Treasury on 21st March, 1963 in lieu of tax and conveyed to National Trust ownership on 29th November 1992

Credit line

Powis Castle, The Powis Collection (The National Trust)

Makers and roles

probably Joris Rombouts (Oudenaarde, 1649 – d. after 1679), workshop

References

Brosens, 2008: Koenraad Brosens, European Tapestries in the Art Institute of Chicago, New Haven and London 2008 Forti-Grazzini, 1994: Nello Forti-Grazzini, Gli Arazzi (Il patrimonio artistico del Quirinale), 2 vols., Rome 1994 Ciatti and Avanzati, 1990: Marco Ciatti and Elisabetta Avanzati, ‘Gli Arazzi’, in Fabio Bisogni (ed.), Il Palazzo della Provincia di Siena, Rome 1990, pp. 273-304 Standen, 1985: Edith Appleton Standen, European post-medieval tapestries and related hangings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1985 Duverger, 1977: Erik Duverger, ‘Antwerp Tapestries of the Seventeenth Century’, The Connoisseur, vol. 195 (April 1977), pp. 274-87 Denucé, 1931: Jean Denucé, Kunstuitvoer in de 17e eeuw te Antwerpen: de firma Forchoudt, Antwerp 1931 Clive, 1930: Viscount Clive Decd. Items recommended for exemption under section 40 of the Finance act 1930, 1930 "T", 1908: “T.”, ‘Powis Castle, Montgomeryshire, the seat of The Earl of Powis’, Country Life, 9 May 1908, pp. 666-672 Knight, Frank and Rutley, 1908: Messrs. Knight, Frank and Rutley, An Inventory of the Furniture and Effects at Powis Castle Welshpool, Wales. The Property of the Right Honourable the Earl of Powis. March 1908 Hall Wateridge & Owen, “Powis Castle”, Welshpool, Montgomeryshire. Inventory of the Furniture, Plate, Paintings, Jewellery, Wearing Apparel, Books, Linen, Wines, &c., &c., The Property of Edward James Herbert Earl of Powis (Deceased), June 1891

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