The Idolatry of King Solomon
Michiel Wauters (fl. 1648 - d. 1679)
circa 1660 - circa 1679
Tapestry, wool and silk, 7 warps per cm
3810 x 4720 mm
Place of origin
AntwerpOrder this image
Powis Castle and Garden, Powys (Accredited Museum)
Tapestry, wool and silk, 7 warps per cm, The Idolatry of King Solomon from a set of two of The Story of Solomon, Michiel Wauters, Antwerp, c. 1660-1679, after a design by Abraham van Diepenbeeck. King Solomon, wearing a richly brocaded blue and gold robe and a heavy jewelled necklace, kneels with his arms raised in veneration before a raised altar on the left hand side, his sceptre and crown/turban beside him on the steps of the altar. The altar is round and decorated with rams’ heads and swags of fruit and bears a golden statue of Jupiter seated and holding aloft a chalice with a golden eagle by his side. Behind Solomon one of his wives, richly dressed in a gold-edged chemise over a blue dress, a blue cloak with a jewelled clasp, and patterned cloth and jewels in her hair, rests a hand on Solomon’s shoulder, encouraging him in his idolatry. She looks back to the right of the tapestry where two more wives look on. The scene takes place on a platform with a patterned marble floor. In the background on the left are marble walls with columns, and on the right a group of armed men with an open view to large classical buildings beyond. The vertical borders are composed of herms decked in flowers, and the horizontal borders each have a carved golden altar in the centre with lambs and goats either side at the top and at the bottom parrots and cornucopia filled with fruit.
The subject of the tapestry is King Solomon’s descent into idolatry. Solomon began as an exemplary and wise ruler, and was granted judgement and understanding of men by God. He built a magnificent Temple and a Palace in Jerusalem, and ruled justly for twenty years. However according to the Biblical account the cause of his downfall was that “King Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughters of Pharoah, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites”. God warned against any communion with these women, as “surely they will turn away your heart after their gods”, but nonetheless Solomon “clave unto these in love”, and had seven hundred wives, as well as three hundred concubines (I Kings 11.1-4). As God had predicted the wives did “turn away his heart”; Solomon built altars to the strange gods of all his wives, including “Chemosh, the abomination of Moab” and “Molech the abomination of the children of Ammon”, and made offerings to them. The tapestry shows him venerating one of these Gods; the form of the golden statue does not refer specifically to any of those mentioned in the bible, but instead is accompanied by an eagle, the attribute of Zeus/Jupiter, the King of Greek and Roman gods. Solomon is being encouraged in his idolatry by one of his wives, and two more women at the right hand side indicate the multitude of his other wives and concubines. The tapestry also makes reference to the consequences of Solomon’s inconstancy, through the group of armed men in the background. In punishment for his disobedience God promised Solomon that “I will surely rend the kingdom from thee”, and he stirred Hadad the Edomite, whose people had been slain by Solomon’s father David, to gather an army and make mischief (I Kings 14-22). The two tapestries at Powis come from a larger series of the ‘Story of King Solomon’, which may have included up to eight scenes. Solomon appears in the First Book of Kings as King of Israel, the son of King David. Solomon was widely seen as an example of a wise and just ruler in the middle ages and Renaissance, but at the same time as a warning against avarice (from his proverbial wealth) and against temptation. According to the Biblical account God gave Solomon wisdom above all other men. He ruled justly for many years, and built a Temple to the Lord in Jerusalem; his prayer at the consecration of the Temple is probably the subject of 1181081. However he also “loved many strange women”, and they turned his heart towards the worship of false gods. Solomon’s descent into idolatry, the subject of 1181083, and his other sins of gathering too many wives and riches, ultimately led to the Kingdom of Israel being split in two after his death. The two Powis tapestries have similar borders with a golden altars in the upper and lower borders with goats, lambs, parrots and peacocks among cornucopia on either side. The altars, lambs and goats all refer to pagan worship and sacrifice, and are thus appropriate to the subject of the series (especially ‘The Idolatry of King Solomon’). The peacocks are less clear and have both Christian and pagan meanings (as a symbol of Christ’s rebirth, and as an attribute of the Goddess Juno). The 'Solomon' tapestries were designed by Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596-1675), a leading Antwerp painter and printmaker and one of the most prolific Flemish tapestry designers of the seventeenth century. In the last two decades of his life he produced at least ten sets of tapestry designs, all but one for Philip Wauters and his brother Michiel, the main tapestry producers in Antwerp in the late seventeenth century (Crick-Kuntziger 1935, pp. 40-41; Steadman 1982, pp. 47-49). An undated memorandum of the tapestry dealers the Forchoudts lists a number of tapestry series manufactured by the Wauters firm, including a set of eight pieces of the Story of Solomon, and specifies that the designs were by ‘Diepenbeeck’ (Denucé 1936, p. 272). Although neither of the Powis tapestries bears any form of maker’s mark or signature, they can be securely identified as products of the Wauters workshop. When cataloguing a set of three related tapestries in the 1920s, John Böttiger speculated on the basis of the dyes and colours used that they may be of Antwerp manufacture (Böttiger 1928, pp. 85-89). In 1935 Marthe Crick-Kuntziger identified the three Stockholm tapestries as the only surviving examples of a series produced by the Antwerp tapestry producer and dealer Michel Wauters (fl. 1660 – d. 1679), whose posthumous inventory included the cartoons for an eight-piece set of ‘Solomon’ tapestries (Crick-Kuntziger 1935, p. 41; Denucé 1932, p 302). The records of the firm Forchoudt, dealers based in Antwerp but with offices throughout Europe, reveal that large numbers of Wauters tapestries were shipped to Vienna, Rome, Stockholm, Lisbon and London in the years between 1660 and 1700. English patrons appear to have been particularly keen to acquire the large biblical and historical series produced by the Wauters, and large numbers of their tapestries survive in collections in this country – including over 30 tapestries within the National Trust alone. Indeed, tapestries bearing the ciphers of Michiel and Philip Wauters are so common in English collections that one early twentieth-century tapestry historian concluded that these weavers must have been operating in England (Marillier 1930). Michiel Wauters’s inventory and the records of the Forchoudt firm reveal that the Wauters owned at least twenty sets of cartoons from which they produced tapestry sets. The ‘Solomon’ series appears to have been one of their less popular editions, mentioned only once in the firm’s correspondence, in an undated memorandum for the Forchoudt’s Vienna office (quoted above). Although this memorandum does not mention the name of the producer of the tapestries, the remaining fourteen series listed are all known Wauters designs. The two tapestries at Powis can be dated to between c. 1660, when Michiel and Philip Wauters began their activity, and 1679 when both brothers died. The two tapestries at Powis are one of only two sets of Wauters ‘Solomon’ tapestries known to survive. The second was in a private collection in Sweden in 1928 and included three subjects: ‘The Anointing of King Solomon’, ‘Solomon and the Queen of Sheba’, and ‘The Idolatry of King Solomon’, the latter repeating a design that also appears at Powis. The Stockholm tapestries have similar borders to the two at Powis but with minor differences, notably imitation stone mouldings at the corners instead of blank cartouches, differently-shaped plinths at the centre of the lower borders, and the addition of garlands of flowers hanging from the urns at the bottom of the lateral borders. Together the two sets include four scenes, out of a total of eight that are recorded in the documents of the Wauters and Forchoudt firms. Other tapestries in the set may have represented the Judgement of Solomon, the Building of the Temple, or the Marriage of Solomon and the Daughters of Pharoah, all common subjects in narrative cycles of the Story of King Solomon. It is not known how long the two tapestries have hung in the State Bedroom at Powis. A description of the room in 1772 by Thomas Pritchard mentions simply that there were tapestries on the walls but no subjects are described (Pritchard 1772); the first definite reference to the Solomon series in this location is only in 1908, with the descriptions “An old Flemish tapestry panel with life size figures – a King supplicating before a mythological deity – with a wide border of flowers, fruit etc.”, and “A companion panel – a Queen [sic!] at prayer” (Knight, Frank & Rutley 1908, p. 39). Neither tapestry fits exactly into its current location: ‘The Idolatry of King Solomon’ is 6 inches shorter than the wall height, and around 6 inches too wide, so that it has been folded under at one side, whilst ‘King Solomon at Prayer’ extends awkwardly into the window niche, and has a strip of unrelated tapestry attached down one side suggesting it has been altered to fit its current location. Despite this the two tapestries are of a similar date to the ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ tapestries which also hang in the State Bedchamber, and it is possible that they were acquired by the 3rd Lord Powis at around the same time (that is between his accession in 1667 and his imprisonment in 1678), even if they were not originally intended for this room. (Helen Wyld, 2010)
Accepted by HM Treasury on 21st March, 1963 in lieu of tax and conveyed to National Trust ownership in 1992.
Powis Castle, The Powis Collection (The National Trust)
Makers and roles
Michiel Wauters (fl. 1648 - d. 1679), workshop Abraham Jansz. van Diepenbeeck ('s Hertogenbosch 1596 - Antwerp 1675) , designer
David W. Steadman, Abraham van Diepenbeeck, seventeenth century Flemish painter, Michigan, 1982 Denucé, 1936: Jean Denucé, Antwerpsche tapijtkunst en handel, Antwerp 1936 Crick-Kuntziger, 1935: Marthe Crick-Kuntziger, 'Contribution à l'histoire de la tapisserie anversoise: les marques et les tentures des Wauters', in Revue belge d'archéologie et d'histoire de l'art, 5, 1935, pp. 35-44 Denucé, 1932: Jean Denucé, De Antwerpsche “Konstkamers”: inventarissen van kunstverzamelingen te Antwerpen in de 16e en 17e eeuwen, Antwerp 1932 Denucé, 1931: Jean Denucé, Kunstuitvoer in de 17e eeuw te Antwerpen: de firma Forchoudt, Antwerp 1931 Marillier, 1930: Henry C Marillier, English Tapestries of the Eighteenth Century, London 1930 Clive, 1930: Viscount Clive Decd. Items recommended for exemption under section 40 of the Finance act 1930, 1930 Böttiger, 1928: Johann Böttiger, Tapisseries à figures des XVIe et XVIIe siècles appartenant à des collections privées de la Suède : inventaire descriptif, 2 vols., Stockholm 1928 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 Pritchard, 1772: Thomas Pritchard, A Description of the Present State of Powis Castle annex’d to the Plans and Sections delivered to the Earl of Powis in February 1772