THE IMPERIALE FAMILY
The palazzo of the Imperiale family, the principi di Sant'Angelo, was decorated by Luca Cambiaso and Giovanni Battista Castello, il Bergamasco. However, the principal room of the palace was prepared to display tapestries that are now lost. As patrons for the series either Vincenzo, who built the palazzo between 1555 and 1560, or his son Giovanni Giacomo Imperiale may be considered. An inventory of 1648, upon the death of Giovanni Giacomo's son Giovanni Vincenzo Imperiale, makes summarily mention of a series of tapestries that may refer to this series: 'Pezzi di Tapessarie di Fiandra con l'arma Imperiale n. 29 incluso il sopra porta'. Interestingly a sale in Paris of the property of Mademoiselle Grand de Dedem on 27 and 28 May 1921 contains as lots 252 - 256 a set of five tapestries of the Story of Cyrus the Great with the arms of the Imperiale. Unfortunately the individual subjects are not recorded, however, the measurements are given and it appears as if lot 254 may be this tapestry. The measurement was indicated to be 280 cm x 260 cm, however, all other tapestries in this group have a height of 330 cm, so it may be that the height for this tapestry was recorded mistakenly as 280 cm.
We are thankful to Piero Boccardo for his help in identifying the coat-of-arms and for the information on the Imperiale family.
HISTORY OF THE SERIES
This tapestry forms part of a series depicting The Story of Cyrus the Great. Two closely related sets are in the Spanish Royal collection in the Palacio de Aranjuez (P. Junquera de Vega and C. Herrero Carretero, Catalogo de Tapices del Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1986, vol. I, cats. 39 and 40, pp. 279 - 296, including a panel of this design on p. 287). The first set, and probably the editio princeps woven before 1560, bears the weaver's signatures of Jan van Tieghem and Nicolas Leyniers. The cartoons for the series had previously been attributed to Giovanni Stradano (d. 1605) and Michiel Coxcie (d. 1592), but in the catalogue of the Spanish Royal collection the series is convincingly attributed to Maerten van Heemskerck (d. 1574), a Flemish painted in the Roman school.
Cyrus (circa 585 - circa 529 B.C.), regarded father of the ancient Persians, was the grandson of Astyages, King of Medes. Astyages dreamt that the baby would overthrow him, so ordered him slain, but he was rescued by shepherds. Astyages found the boy at 10 but allowed him to live because of his outstanding qualities. Cyrus, when older, revolted against his grandfather, who marched against the rebel. Astyages' army, however, deserted him and surrendered to Cyrus in 550 B.C. Now, as a leader, he conquered wide lands including Babylonia, which brought Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine under one rule. The subject of this tapestry depicts Cyrus in his first year of reign with a scribe at his side holding the proclamation he makes to the Israelites commanding them to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. Benjamin, the priests and the Levites lead them; those that remain offer their silver, gold, goods and beasts. Cyrus orders Mithredath, the treasurer, to present the Sacred Vessels, which Nebuchadnezzar plundered, to the Prince of Judah (Ezra, Chapter I).
The only other weaving of this subject by Tieghem recorded in the 16th century besides the Spanish set was for the Earl of Hessen-Kassel in 1570 73 (now lost). However, borders of nearly identical design can be found on a set illustrating The Story of Jacob that is signed by Tieghem (L. von Wilckens, Drei unbekannte Jakobsteppiche aus der Manufaktur des Jan van Tiegen, Miscellanea Jozef Duverger, Gent, 1968, vol. II, pp. 779 - 786).
A set of four tapestries of this design by Jan van Tieghem from the property of Lord Wantage, Lockinge House, and by descent to the Countess of Clanwilliam, was sold at Christie's London, 8 November 1979, lot 150, this subject being panel 150a. Another set of four is in the collection of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat House, Warminster, while another panel of identical subject was sold anonymously at Sotheby's London, 30 November 1990, lot 27.