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Mrs. George T. Marye, Jr., wife of the American Ambassador to Russia under Czar Nicholas II, acquired the tapestry in Russia shortly before the Revolution from a lady-in-waiting to the czarina (Phyllis J. Walsh, letter to Anna Gray Bennett, 28 January 1976).
Gift of Mrs. Helen Marye Thomas in memory of Mr. and Mrs. George T. Marye, Jr.
Five Centuries of Tapestry, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, 1976
National Tour: Five Centuries of Tapestry, Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York, 12/3/77- 1/29/78; Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego, 5/13/78 - 7/2/78; Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, 9/13/78 - 10/29/78
Prophecies play an important role in the Greek story of Achilles. The visit to the oracle shown in this tapestry, however, is without classical precedent. It appears to have originated in the sixteenth century with Italian scholar Natale Conti. In Conti’s work, Kalchas, the oracle, makes the double prediction that Troy cannot be taken without Achilles, and that he will die if he joins the conflict. As a result of the prophecy, Achilles is hidden in Skyros. The meeting takes place in a marble hall seen through a proscenium frame. Thetis enters from the right with her young son. Each carries an object: Thetis’s jar may hold ambrosia to make the boy invulnerable; Achilles carries a round, bright object that suggests the Apple of Discord, remote cause of the Trojan War. A fire blazes on the altar; a sacrificial lamb and vessels lie on the floor. Kalchas, the seer, moves his hand above the flames as he pronounces the fateful sentence. Acolytes on either side hold candles. A niche frames the laurel-crowned head of the priest, whose magnificent blue robe dominates the blond tonality of the panel. The central portion of the oil sketch by Jordaens was extended on all sides after serving as model for the tapestries which, therefore, preserve an earlier stage of the painting. This extension necessitated some repainting of the central portion of the model. The niche behind the priest, for example, had to be painted out before the gallery of spectators could be added. Today the original shell shape of the niche, which is prominent in the tapestry, has reasserted itself through the overpainting of the sketch, and is faintly visible to the naked eye over the priest’s head. The original position of the sacrificial lamb is also visible at the base of the altar. From Anna Gray Bennett, "Five Centuries of Tapestry: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco" (San Francisco: Chronicle Books; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1976; repr. 1992): 185 – 186.