Tapestry of the History of Scipio: the Battle of Zama
This is the tenth and last panel in a series the cartoons for which had been copied by François Bonnemer from a Brussels tapestry in the Royal Furniture Repository. The latter was itself based on a large tapestry depicting Scipio’s military exploits, made for François I in 1535. Eight tapestries in the present series are on display at the Louvre; the other two are in the collections of the Mobilier National.
The depiction of the battle
The scene, which is based on Livy’s account of the second Punic War in his History of Rome (XXX, 33, 4-16), depicts the last battle pitting Scipio and the Roman army against the Carthaginians. Elephants in the Carthaginian army’s front lines are charging the Romans, toppling men and horses. On the left, an elephant startled by the blare of a trumpet and a horn turns on its own camp. In the foreground, Scipio, wearing a starry blue mantle, leads his men, urging them to push back the enemy with swords and javelins.The border along the sides and lower edge features a broad garland of flowers, fruits, small animals, and frolicking children. The upper part consists of an architrave, probably to comply with the dimensions requested by the first patron to commission a tapestry on this theme, the Maréchal de Saint-André, whose arms grace the upper corners.
A glimpse into art history
François I owned a twenty-two-panel tapestry depicting the heroic deeds and ultimate triumph of Scipio Africanus. “Scipio the Great”, finely woven and particularly rich in gold threads, was widely admired and copied several times. Jacques d’Albon, seigneur of Saint-André and maréchal de France since 1547, commissioned from Brussels, probably around 1558, a ten-panel history of Scipio depicting the Roman general’s heroic deeds, six of which were copied directly from the king’s tapestry. In the following century, it entered Mazarin’s and, later, Louis XIV’s collections, and, in the late seventeenth century, Louvois had it reproduced at the Gobelins, along with other Renaissance tapestries from the Royal Furniture Repository. During the Revolution, the panels were sold and dispersed. In 1797, François I’s tapestry was burned along with other tapestries from the Royal Furniture Repository in order to recover the precious metals. This “copy” was preserved in the national collections and offers a partial but relatively accurate glimpse of the famous tapestry, since destroyed.
An innovative composition
Most of the models for the tapestry can be attributed to Giulio Romano, an artist who did a great deal of decorative painting in Italy, as well as drawings for tapestries. His colleague, Gian Francesco Penni, made preliminary cartoons for the artists who painted the full-scale cartoons. Several institutions, including the Louvre, have drawings Giulio made of the victory, as well as studies that can be related to the heroic deeds. The composition of the Battle of Zama tapestry is both original and bold. Traditionally, battle scenes had been presented in profile. Here, the artist shows the enemy bearing down on the viewer, putting him on the same plane as the Roman vanguard, thereby drawing him into the heart of the battle.
Jules Romain. L’Histoire de Scipion. Tapisseries et dessins, Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 1978.Lefebure Amaury, La galerie de Scipion, feuillet Louvre 6 27Lefebure Amaury, “La Bataille de Zama, tapisserie d’après Jules Romain”, in Carthage, l’histoire, sa trace et son écho, Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 1995, pp.164-169.