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The Tapestry Above the Grand Staircase

Categories: Blog, Collections, House

This large tapestry can be seen above the Grand Staircase as you make your way to the Ballroom.

By Selena McGonnell

Compiling more research on a piece can be both interesting and rewarding. It can provide a chance to clarify a description, and in one special case change the narrative completely. The large tapestry above the grand staircase was previously labeled, “The Rape of the Sabine Women. However, based on my research, it is actually depicting a battle of Alexander the Great, most likely the Battle of Sogdian Rock, the last stronghold of the Persian Empire. The scene represents the story of Alexander, how he met and fell in love with his second wife, Roxane. So instead of a tragedy, the tapestry is actually showing the beginnings of a love story. The change of narrative is based off of a few key figures in the tapestry: the central rider and his dark horse, the architecture, as well as the border of Latin phrases.

In the tapestry, there is a fair-haired man in Persian clothing riding a dark horse, and according to historians Alexander the Great had fair hair and a dark war horse named Bucephalus. Alexander began wearing Persian clothing soon after he conquered Persepolis, the Persian capital and believed that the best way to control his new people was to act and dress like one of them. Sogdian Rock was a fortress of the Persian Empire and the last place to surrender to Alexander, and only did so because he agreed to marry their local princess, Roxane, whom it is said that he had fallen in love with on sight. It is apparently always a good idea to marry the local princess of the place you are invading. On each side of the tapestry is the Latin phrase, “Amor Vincet Omnia,” which means “Love Conquers All,” strongly referring to Alexander and Roxane. Research suggests that one of the classical female figures is Roxane, possibly the lady in blue staring at Alexander. The stone fortress in the background most likely represents Sogdian Rock, with Alexander’s army advancing the left, and the Bactrian soldiers defending their fortress on the right.