Stop 36. Triumph of Avarice Tapestry


Woven by Willem de Pannemaker (Flemish, ca. 1510–1581), after a design by Pieter Coecke van Aelst (Flemish, 1502–1550)
Wool, silk, and gilt-metal wrapped thread
12 x 24 feet (4.43 x 15 m)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1906


Austėja Mackelaitė, Annette and Oscar de la Renta Assistant Curator
The Triumph of Avarice is the only surviving tapestry from a series depicting the seven deadly sins that once belonged to the English king Henry VIII. The series was designed by Netherlandish artist Pieter Coecke van Aelst and woven with gilt-metallic thread in the Brussels workshop of Willem de Pannemaker. The king’s set was likely the first weaving of that series, dating to circa 1535.

As recounted in a sixteenth-century description, the Triumph of Avarice is full of historical references to the consequences of greed. At left, the winged and taloned Avarice emerges from Hell in a chariot drawn by a griffin; in her wake are Death, Betrayal, Simony (or the selling of pardons), and Larceny. At center, King Midas, with his donkey ears, rides on horseback, carrying a branch. The powerful ruler had been granted his wish of turning everything he touched into gold, which ultimately led to his demise. In the background are King Croesus, famed for his fortune, and Polymestor, the ancient Greek ruler who killed King Priam’s son in order to steal his treasure. On horseback at right is Pygmalion, whose digging symbolizes the search for earthly treasures.

Strewn on the ground are the bodies of three victims who died because of their gluttony. The cartouche at top bears a Latin inscription reminding the viewer, “As Tantalus is ever thirsty in the midst of water, so is the miser always desirous of riches.”