An important Flemish historical tapestry Jan Frans Cornelissen or Anna Maria Wauters the design attributed to Abraham van Diepenbeeck (Flemish, 1596-1675) Antwerp, second half 17th century
Woven in silks and wools, depicting "The Roman Ambassadors Offering the Throne to Numa Pompilius," lacking lower border. size approximately 10ft 6in x 18ft 7in (320 x 566cm)
The scene depicted here relates how the ambassadors from Rome came to offer the symbols of power to Numa Pompilius in circa 715 BC. After the death of the first king of Rome, Romulus, the Romans and the Sabines elected Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC) as his successor. Numa refused at first, but let himself be persuaded by his entourage, as personified here by the man standing behind Numa, pointing to the allegory of Fortune in the clouds above.
Although no drawings or cartoons exist for this tapestry (as is the case for most Flemish tapestries), it is possible to attribute its weaving to the workshops of Antwerp. In a long series of documents and letters from 1669 to 1685, the particular subject is mentioned several times as being made in the workshop of Jan Frans Cornelissen, and after his death in 1678, in that of his niece and successor Anne Maria Wauters.
The complete set of the Life of Numa Pompilius contained between six and eight subjects. It was woven in different heights, from four to five Flemish ells (27.2in / 69cm). The tapestry presented here measures four and one half ells in height. Sets were exported to Frankfurt, Vienna, London and Lisbon, in general through an art dealer, Forchont, with agents and branches throughout Europe.
The designs for this suite, as well as for one closely related to it, the Story of Octavianus Augustus (also by the same workshop), can be attributed with certainty to the painter Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596-1675). Van Diepenbeeck worked for several Antwerp tapestry workshops, and at least ten tapestry series can be attributed to him.
Numa Pompilius, compared to other suites like Octavianus Augustus, appears only rarely on the art market. The only known complete set to be offered in a public sale was at the American Art Galleries in New York, 7-10 November 1923, lots 888-892. The lower border was missing from all of these pieces. The tapestry that matched the present subject had a heavier border, and was lacking the allegory of Fortune. The same tapestry, or one very similar to it, was offered at Sant'Agostino Auctions in Turin, 25-26 October 1993, lot 184.
Another version of the same subject, but with larger dimensions (height 15ft 9in / 480cm), belonged to the House of Savoy and is conserved in the Palazzo del Quirinale in Rome.
We would like to thank Guy Delmarcel, Professor Emeritus of the Catholic University of Leuven, for the above information.
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