Large tapestry depicting Hercules carrying a celestial sphere

Style of van Orley, Bernard (Flemish, 1491-1541)


Inspired by ‘The Spheres’, an important collection of 16th century tapestries made for the Portuguese King, the wall hanging is a very desirable addition to one’s collection.


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This very large tapestry depicts an image inspired by ‘The Spheres’ series created by Bernard van Orley (1491-1541), a Flemish artist, for King John II of Portugal, who commissioned the pieces in 1530. The tapestry collection is currently held in the Royal Palace of Madrid.

'The Spheres' series consists of three tapestries. The first one, which the piece in Mayfair Gallery’s collection is inspired by depicts Hercules carrying a celestial sphere. The remaining two portray Atlas on one knee supporting the armillary sphere and the Earth under the protection of Jupiter and Juno.

The central panel of the tapestry depicts Hercules, the Roman god of strength. Dressed only in animal skin, he is seen holding a celestial sphere which acts as a symbol related to the mythological event when Atlas, who usually supported the weight of the heavens, was condemned to do so by Jupiter, the god of sky. Hercules replaced Atlas and entered a contemplative life. Inside the celestial sphere are depicted various figures such as warriors, angels and animals.

The Roman god of strength is surrounded by male and female figures dressed in traditional Roman clothing. The figures are depicted in very dynamic poses, where for example, flowing pieces of fabric are waved around. Cupid, the Roman god of love is standing near Hercules.

The scene is based in a woodland. Rocks, grass and branches can be observed from which animals, such as snakes appear. The celestial sphere is held up high by Hercules and reaches the heaves. Surrounding it are pale clouds, and other symbolic figures such as a white dove.

The main scene is framed by a wide border filled with depictions of flowers, foliage, and birds. In the top centre is written in Latin ‘MAGNA VIRTUS SED / ALIENAE OBNOXIA’.

The tapestry is woven using numerous coloured wools, giving the scene a more impactful look.

Depicting various motifs related to Roman mythology, this superbly woven tapestry would make a wonderful wall hanging for one’s interior space.


Artist / Maker
Style of van Orley, Bernard (Flemish, 1491-1541)
Country of Origin
Date of Manufacture
19th Century
19th Century
Classical, Mythological, Renaissance
Tapestry, Wool


234 cm / 92.1 inches
200 cm / 78.7 inches


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