The War of Troy Tapestry

Tapestry with scenes of the war of Troy, 1475-90. Museum no.6-1887

Tapestry with scenes of the war of Troy, Tournai, Belgium, 1475-1490. Museum no.6-1887

The War of Troy tapestry is part of one of the most important sets of tapestry still surviving from the latter part of the 15th century. The Trojan War tapestries were made in Tournai between 1460 and 1490 and are the only set of Medieval tapestries for which the original designs still exist.

This tapestry is from a much larger original set which showed a medieval version of the history of the Trojan wars. The tapestry has been cut into three vertical sections, with the two left sections being again cut horizontally. It is thought that there were originally 11 tapestries, of which this example is the ninth. Some of the other tapestries survive and the original drawings are in the Louvre in Paris.

The story of the Trojan War comes from The Iliad, one of the great epic poems of ancient Greece, but the scenes here are based on much later re-tellings. The popularity of the story is largely because rulers and noblemen saw the characters and their deeds as models for their own behaviour. The sumptuous 15th-century costumes worn by the figures in the tapestry emphasise this sense of identification. The tapestry is crammed with beautifully executed and lively scenes of battle, kings, queens, princes, warriors and horses. Contemporary costume and armour, waving banners and a military tent are depicted in exquisite detail.

Detail showing Queen Penthesilea and King Priam of Troy, from a tapestry with Scenes of the War of Troy, 1475-1490. Museum no.6-1887

Detail showing Queen Penthesilea and King Priam of Troy, from a tapestry with Scenes of the War of Troy, 1475-1490. Museum no.6-1887

Detail showing Pyrrhus recieving Achilles' armour, from a tapestry with Scenes of the War of Troy, 1475-1490. Museum no.6-1887

Detail showing Pyrrhus recieving Achilles' armour, from a tapestry with Scenes of the War of Troy, 1475-1490. Museum no.6-1887

The events unfold from left to right. On the left, the Amazon Queen Penthesilea kneels before King Priam of Troy and offers to help him repel the Greek forces that are besieging the city. Troy is depicted as a great medieval castle or walled city.

In the centre section, Queen Penthesilea's Amazon troops are ranked outside on of Troy's gates. The knights of both armies have clashed and are closely pressed together. The battle scenes reflect the arms, armour and tactics of the 15th century rather than those of the ancient Greeks.

The beardless youth on the right of the tapestry is Pyrrhus, the son of the great Greek warrior Achilles. The death of Achilles was shown in the preceding tapestry. Here Ajax presents Pyrrhus with his father's armour.

Audio: Description of the War of Troy Tapestry

Download: mp3 | ogg View transcript


Video: The War of Troy Tapestry

In this video Lynda Hillyer, Head of Tapestry Conservation in the V&A's Conservation Department, talks about how the tapestry was made and how it was conserved and cleaned.

View transcript of video

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