Offering to an unknown god

Jan Frans Cornelissen workshop; Abraham van Diepenbeeck1622 - 1687

Museu de São Roque

Museu de São Roque
Lisboa, Portugal

This tapestry was made in Antwerp, in Jan Frans Cornelissen’s workshop, probably based on a card by Flemish painter Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596-1675). The Identification of the theme is facilitated by reading the inscriptions on the tapestry. On the left hand side, at the top of the border one reads “PAX AUG” – Pax Augustus –, on the opposite side “VIC.AUG” – Victoria Augustus . Still on the border, on the right hand side there is a banner with the initials: “SPQR” – Senatus Populusquae romanus (The Senate and the Roman People). Finally, in the top corners of the border there are two eagles with a crown of laurel, as the symbol of the Roman Empire. Equally there is the inscription “IGNOTO DEO” (to an unknown god) on the altar over which the sacred fire burns. These elements allow the scene to be identified: Augustus (63 B.C. - 14 A.D.), the first emperor of Rome and responsible for imposing Pax Romana (or Augustus peace), offering a sacrifice to the unknown god. Augustus is represented at the centre of the composition as emperor, with the boots of a Roman officer. The Emperor places a branch of laurel on the altar. In front of him a high priest holds the sacred jar which contained the liquid (wine, milk, honey or blood) for the libation (a devotional action which involved the spilling of a liquid over the altar as an offering to a god). In his right hand, the priest holds other devotional object used in the libation. Surrounding the Emperor and the high priest there are other priests and their assistants, two of which are musicians. Following the Emperor there is a procession of women and men who carry offerings and torches. This worship existed in Ancient Greece and Rome, mentioned in the New Testament, namely in the book of Acts of the Apostles (Act 18:22,23) precisely when St. Paul pointed the Unknown God as being the true God of the Christians.


  • Title: Offering to an unknown god
  • Creator Lifespan: Unknown
  • Creator Nationality: Flemish; Flemish
  • Creator Gender: Male; Male
  • Date: 1622 - 1687
  • Physical Dimensions: w527,5 x h388 cm
  • Provenance: Museu de São Roque/Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa
  • Type: Tapestry
  • Rights: Museu de São Roque/Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa
  • External Link: Museu de São Roque/Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa
  • Medium: Polychrome silk, gold and silver threads
  • Tapestry-maker; Painter: Jan Frans Cornelissen workshop; Abraham van Diepenbeeck
  • Manufactured: Antwerp, Flanders

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