The martyrdom of Saint Paul as represented here follows, with certain minor variations, the account given in the Golden Legend. The scene takes place in a hilly, wooded landscape. A city (Rome) appears in the distance. In the foreground, an executioner has just severed St. Paul's head which...
The martyrdom of Saint Paul as represented here follows, with certain minor variations, the account given in the Golden Legend. The scene takes place in a hilly, wooded landscape. A city (Rome) appears in the distance. In the foreground, an executioner has just severed St. Paul's head which lies, eyes bound, in the lower right corner of the field. It rests above one of the three springs which, according to legend, sprang up after being touched by the severed Saint's head. Behind the executioner and the kneeling body of Saint Paul stand two groups of figures: pagans at the left, Christians at the right. Nero, clad in golden armor, stands in the center of the group of pagans. In the sky, a half-figure of God the Father receives the Saint's soul, represented as a nude infant, held in a sheet and borne aloft by two angels. Three inscriptions appear on the tapestry. In a scroll displayed across the top center: COMENT SAINT POL A ESTE DECOLE HORS ROME SA TESTE SEPAREE DU CORPS FIST TROIX SAULX ("How Saint Paul was beheaded outside Rome. His head, separated from the body, made three jumps.") The second inscription, drawn from the Epistle to the Philippians, appears on a scroll at the left of the severed head: MICHI VIVE XPS EST ET MORI LUCRU ("for me life is Christ and death is gain.") The third inscription appears repeated eight times in various parts of the tapestry, written on miniature scrolls: PAIX ("Peace") Near the mouth of the severed head, the letters I H S appear. These letters were visible in 1852. The letters shown here are a contraction of the name of Jesus as written in Greek. It seems likely that the three letters were not part of the original design. Two coats of arms relating to Guillaume de Hellande (Bishop of Beauvais, 1466-1462) are shown in the four corners of the tapestry. The shield in the upper left and lower right corners bears the arms of his father, Robert de Hellande, quartered with those of his mother, Jeanne de Montmorency. In the upper right and lower left corners appears a shield displaying the arms of the Bishopric of Beauvais.
About 1460, commissioned by Guillaume de Hellande (d. 1462), Bishop of Beauvais, for the cathedral of Beauvais; about 1793, removed from the cathedral [see note 1]. 1844, returned to the cathedral by M. Mansard, Voisinlieu (near Beauvais) [see note 2]; 1906, given back to the Mansard family [see note 3]. 1925, Arnold, Seligmann, Rey and Co., New York [see note 4]. William Randolph Hearst (b. 1863 - d. 1951), New York. 1938, Arnold, Seligmann Rey and Co., New York; 1938; sold by Arnold, Seligmann Rey to the MFA for $35,000. (Accession Date: April 16, 1938) NOTES:  This was part of a series of narrative tapestries depicting the Life of Saint Peter, presented by Guillaume de Hellande to the cathedral in commemoration of the truce signed at Tours during the Hundred Years' War. The series was dismantled and removed from the church during the French Revolution. See Pierre Constant Barraud, "Notice sur les tapisseries de la Cathédrale de Beauvais," Mémoires de la Société Académique du Département de l'Oise 2 (1852): 167-172.  Five tapestries from the series, which had been used to cover the walls of the criminal court, were returned to the cathedral in that year, and Mr. Mansard returned this tapestry at the same time. See Barraud 1852 (as above, n. 1), p. 172.  Marthe Crick-Kuntziger, "A Fragment of Guillaume de Hellande's Tapestries," Burlington Magazine 45, no. 260 (November, 1924), pp. 225-226.  George Leland Hunter, "Notes on Various Works of Art," Burlington Magazine 46, no. 265 (April, 1925), p. 193.
Francis Bartlett Donation of 1912
French or Franco-Flemish, about 1460