The Twelve Ages of Man: The First Three Ages of Man (Birth-18), or Spring

Probably after a design by the Workshop of Bernard van Orley (Netherlandish, Brussels ca. 1492–1541/42 Brussels)

Author of inscriptions possibly Jerome van Busleyden (Hieronymus Buslidius) (ca. 1470–1517)
ca. 1515
Flemish, Brussels
Wool, silk (16-20 warps per inch, 6-8 per cm.)
H. 163 x W. 284 inches (414 x 721.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of The Hearst Foundation in memory of William Randolph Hearst, 1953
Accession Number:
  • Description

    The first of a set of four tapestries illustrating the life of man as divided into twelve periods of six years. Venus, in the center, stands for the springtime of life; the symbols and occupations of three months, January, February, and March, represent the years from birth to eighteen. The stories show Moses, as a child, choosing a burning coal instead of a piece of gold; a Roman boy, Papirius, explaining to the Senators how he had tricked his mother in order to conceal their secrets; and the youthful Alexander astonishing the Persian ambassadors by his shrewdness.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: (border, upper left) Ut riget informis sub Aquari sydere tellus / Sic primis annis mente stupescit homo.
    [As the ugly earth freezes under the constellation of the Water-bearer, so man is benumbed in mind in his first years.]

    (upper left) "Trasecas" [for Thrascias, NNW wind], "Aquilo" [NE wind]

    (center, left) Disciderat Moses raptam de fronte coronam. / Sed pueru insontem prunula morsa docet.
    [Moses had broken the crown stolen from (Pharaoh's) brow, but the bite of a burning coal shows the boy innocent.]

    (border, upper center) At gemini sensim dissolunt [for dissolvunt] pascua Pisces
    Annus ut obtusum septimus ingenium.
    [But the twin Fishes gradually thaw out the meadows, as does the seventh year the dull mind.]

    (upper center) "Notus" [S wind]

    (center) Du tractata cupit mater rescire senatus. / A Pretextato luditur illa suo.
    [When the mother wishes to know what has been discussed in the Senate, her boy in his youthful toga praetextata, mocks her.]

    (border, lower center) Subdita lascive Veneri si tempera nescis / In placido regnat candida vere Cypris.
    [If thou knowest not the season ruled by wanton Venus, the radiant Cyprian reigns in tranquil Spring.]

    (border, upper right) Luxuriosa putat foecundi germina veris / Martius, ut pueri Pedia stulticiam.
    [March prunes the rand sprouts of fecund Spring, as Education does the foolishness of a boy.]

    (center, right) Reddit Alexader resposu a perside missis / Tam docte, ut pueri verba stupeda foret.
    [Alexander replied so skillfully to the Persian envoys that they were astounded by the works of the boy.]

  • Provenance

    possibly commissioned by Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain ; A. Sanchez (until 1930; sold to Lionel Harris) ; Lionel Harris (from 1930) ; [ Spanish Art Gallery, London (until 1933; sold to French & Co.) ] ; [ French and Co., New York (1933–34; sold to William Randolph Hearst) ] ; William Randolph Hearst (1934–51) ; [ Saks Fifth Avenue with Gimbel Bros./Hammer Galleries, 1941 ] ; William Randolph Hearst Foundation (until 1953; to MMA)

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History