The disturbingly hydrocephalous features of the heroes is perhaps part of the design: this particular tapestry may have been part of a series (labors?) and destined for a higher section of the wall — in which case, viewed at a sharp angle from below, body proportions would look “right”.
The most striking feature of the piece to me are the fruit-and-flower borders, exquisitely drawn, superbly woven and retaining 500 years later incredible freshness of colors. It is one of the main reasons why I keep going back to the museum.
Tapestry of the Trojan War
Flemish, Tournai, 1475-1490, wool and silk, cut down at the top and right edge.
About 10 m x 4 m.
Supplied to an unidentified patron by Pasquier Grenier; in the possession of Charles VIII of France at Amboise by 1494.
This is the ninth of a series of eleven tapestries. Events unfold left to right: on the left, Amazon Queen Penthesilea kneels before King Priam pledging to defend Troy; in the center battle ensues; on the right the beardless youth Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, receives his dead father’s armor from the hands of Ajax.
This page at the V&A website will tell you all sorts of useful things about this tapestry — such as that several different such sets existed, that the cartoons still survive, etc. What it does not tell you is how it entered the collection. Which I do not know but suspect that, if it is like most other tapestries in V&A’s possession, it will have entered it in lieu of taxes — usually death duties (a.k.a. “inheritance” or “estate” tax). In this tapestries are like palaces, all of which somehow, sooner or later, end up in governments’ hands. “Safe as houses” Polish gentry used to say about their real estate investments — which today house universities and ministries of health while the heirs vegetate in some appalling crampments.
The government, said Confucius, is worse than a tiger.