Triumph of Avarice

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Willem de Pannemaker
ca. 1534-1536
Wool, silk, and gilt-metal wrapped thread.
12 x 24 feet (4.43 x 15 m)
Bequest of J.P. Morgan, Jr., 1943.

This is the only surviving tapestry of a series of seven depicting the Seven Deadly Sins. The series was designed by Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550) and woven in the Brussels workshop of Willem de Pannemaker (ca. 1510-1581). The set was purchased by Henry VIII in the mid-1530s, and the weaving likely was commissioned by him from cartoons that may have been designed by Coecke for a speculative venture funded by merchants in Antwerp. The appearance of the series as a whole is known today from duplicate weavings in the Spanish royal collection and at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, along with a manuscript description of the complex iconography in Madrid.
Each panel of the original series depicted one of the Seven Deadly Sins being drawn in a triumphal chariot, represented in a highly animated composition of twisting forms and grotesque figures. In Triumph of Avarice, the winged and taloned Avarice emerges from Hell at the left in a chariot drawn by a griffin, in whose wake follow Death, Betrayal, Simony, and Larceny. King Midas rides at center, with King Croesus and the ancient Greek king Polymestor in the background, and with Pygmalion on horseback at right. Manius Curius Dentatus, an incorruptible Roman who refused wealth when it was offered to him, raises his hand in the background, while the angel of generosity presides over the entire scene. 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." The intention was to use the vice of gluttony to inspire in the viewer the virtue of temperance. The tapestry was hung in the East Room of the Morgan Library in1906 and remains a focal point of the room.

Quotations: "SEMPER EGET SEDENS MEDIIS CEU TANTALUS UNEIS INTER ANHELATAS SEMPER AVARUS OPES. SEMPER AVARUS EGET." (Horace. Epistles I, 2, 56). "QUAERAT AVARUS OPES." (Ovid. Amores 2, 10, 33. Also 1, 12, 26; 3, 7, 50). "EGET SEMPER QUI AVARUS EST." (Jerome, St. Epistles 100, 15). "POMA...QUAERIT ET IDEM SEMPER EGET." (Ovid. Ibex. 179). "EGENS BENIGNAE TANTALUS SEMPER DAPIS." (Horace. Epodes 16, 66). Also has the mark of Willem de Pannemaker (the manufacturer), the mark of Brussels, and Peter Coecke's signature.
Henry VIII of England (1491-1547), Hampton Court Palace; purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan from Jacques Seligman, 1 September 1906; by descent to J.P. Morgan, Jr.; his bequest to the library.