This tapestry depicts one of Francesco Petrarch's Triumphs. The idea of the triumph as an allegory was described by Dante in Purgatory and later by Petrarch (d. 1374) in his Trionfi, where he sets out the philosophical and moral values which are held by him. The first depictions based on his poems appeared in the late 14th century on cassoni and in book illustrations. Although only the first triumph, that of Love, is described as standing on a chariot, the imagery later extended to all of the triumphs, who in his book always succeed over the preceeding triumph. He describes how man in his youth indulges in the sensual pleasures of Love, but how reason regains control in the form of Chastity. Then Death separates the body from its soul and triumphs over Chastity. Since worthy deeds never die in memory, Fame triumphs over Death (examples of famous protagonists named in the tapestry are Pompeius, Scipio, Socrates, Judas Macabe, Arthus and Loys, Hyppolite, Penthesliea, Thamaris, Hecube and Hector). Fame is overcome by Time as civilisations fall, and finally Eternity triumphs over Time.
The first treatment of the Triumphs in tapestry may be the set of three Fama tapestries that Philip the Bold commissioned from the Paris merchand Pierre de Beaumetz in 1399. A more elaborate version illustrated in a series of six main subjects appears to first have been woven with gold-thread for Giovanni de' Medici in Lille after Italian designs between 1441 and 1455. The series was so talked about that it was exhibited in Anvers before being sent to Italy. It was probably from such commissions that the subject entered the northern tapestry vocabulary. From the late 15th century onwards this subject can be found in tapestries at the northern courts. A set of the Triumphs of the early 16th century, which is probably based on this first weaving of the subject, is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (J. Jobi, ed., The Art of Tapestry, Lausanne, 1965, pp. 74 - 75).
(H. Smit, et al., Tapestry in the Renaissance, Art and Magnificence, New York, 2002, cat. 13, pp. 151 - 156)
LÉON DE SOMZÉE
Léon de Somzée (d. 1904), owner of Companie Général pour l'Eclairage et Chauffage par le Gaz, built a fabled collection of old master paintings, sculptures, antiquities and tapestries that was largely sold off in his sale of 20 - 25 May 1904 and that of his wife on 28 May 1907 in Brussels.
The design of this triumph is based on the aforementioned example in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (L. Baldass, Die Wiener Gobelinssammlung Vienna, 1920, cat. 4. p. 2), and another also previously in the Somzée collection in the Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis te Brussel (M. Crick-Kuntziger, Catalogus van de Wandtapijten Brussels, 1956, cat. 22, plate 30) and later evolved into a complex iconography placed in the design tradition of Jan van Roome of Brussels. These later examples of The Triumph of Fame generally dated to between 1507 and 1525 are in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (H. Smit, et al, Tapestry in the Renaissance, Art and Magnificence, New York, 2002, cat. 13, pp. 151 - 156), the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (G. Wingfield Digby, The Tapestry Collection, Medieval and Renaissance, London, 1980, cat. 24, pp. 37 - 38) and at Hampton Court Palace (H.C. Marillier, The Tapestries at Hampton Court Palace, London, 1962, p. 21, plate 16).