PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN LADY
The written inspiration for this tapestry series comes from a Renaissance epic titled Histoire de la Reine Arthemise (History of Queen Artemisia) composed by a wealthy Parisian apothecary Nicolas Houel in about 1561-1562. An art collector and amateur poet, Houel observed Queen Catherine de’ Medici’s rise to power, and hoping to win her favour, he decided to create for her a classical alter ego. The composite character of Queen Artemisia of Caria was derived from the stories of two ancient queens of Caria named Artemisia (if the Aegean coast of modern-day Turkey). Artemisia I was the mother of Lygdamis, Xerxes’s ally against the Greeks and fought in the battle of Salamis in 480 BC. The second, and main inspiration for the epic, was Artemisia II, who in 353 BC built one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, an elaborate Mausoleum constructed in the memory of her loving husband Mausolus in her capital city of Halicarnassus. Houel wrote his epic ostensibly about the ancient queen Artemisia, using episodes in his story to create parallels with the then French Queen Regent, emblematically glorifying Catherine in art and literature. Catherine was pleased with this prose, as it demonstrated her devotion to her husband and her capabilities to àrule successfully, and her adopting this alter-ego effectively became an attempt to overcome the economic and religious turmoil of 16th century France.
On her order, from 1563 to 1570, Houel composed this story into sonnets and Antoine Caron, the prominent French illustrator and northern mannerist artist from the School of Fontainebleau, and other prominent Italian and French artists from the period illustrated designs for scene in the story with beautiful decorative borders suitable for transposition into tapestry, together producing a total of seventy-five different subjects from the series.
The later 16th century saw a decline in French tapestry making due to the Wars of Religion. King Henry IV’s attempted revival of the technique at the very beginning of the 17th century, and the Artemisia series were the first to be woven, much in keeping with the trend to glorify ‘strong women from antiquity’. In 1601 King Henry IV invited two Flemish master weavers Marc der Comans and Frans Van der Plancken to come to Paris and weave in their Flemish-style (banning the import of foreign tapestries with forest scenes and verdure tapestries to support the two weavers). Adopting French versions of their names, Marc de Comans and Francois de la Planche started separate workshops in Faubourg Saint-Antoine, but soon after they were securely established in Faubourg Saint-Marcel. By 1607 the King granted them a fifteen year monopoly on all low-warp tapestry weaving and sales in France. Thus the majority of Artemisia tapestries known today were made by the workshop of Marc de Comans and Francois de la Planche in Faubourg Saint-Marcel. In fact, this series was so immensely popular at Faubourg Saint-Marcel that in their 1627 inventory, the workshop had seventy-eight Artemisia tapestries on their looms or in their warehouse, and an additional twenty-four cartoons from the series in storage.
Two other version of this scene, from two other series of the Queen Artemisia tapestries based on the original drawing by Caron, can be found in the Louvre (Paris) and at the Timken Museum (San Diego) respectively. Interestingly, all three were produced in the Faubourg Saint-Marcel workshops of Marc de Comans and Francois de la Planche, but none of the three tapestries use the Caron drawing in its entirely and choose to reduce it to different sizes (another reason given for the popularity of this series was that the scene could be altered to any dimensions required and would thus be suitable for any setting). The version in the Louvre has a decorative border in very much the Fontainebleau style of cut leather motifs but also features cartouches in monochrome, a trend popular in the tapestry borders of the first half of the 17th century. This version has a larger visual field and thus has additional figures. On the left, it shows Artemisia twisting her left hand behind her back and heads of a lady and a bearded man appear over her shoulder. On the right is a man dressed in military attire with a wreath over his head, a sword in his left hand, handing a petition over to the envoy closer to the queen. Over his shoulder are two women standing on top of a short flight of stairs, pointing and looking towards the reading of petitions. In addition, unlike the other two versions, the Louvre example has trees and sky in the top right quadrant but the wooden casket used for storing petitions placed at the feet of Lygdamis has been omitted from this weaving. The version in Timken Museum of San Diego is comparatively closer to the version offered for sale here. Although it is not as wide as the Louvre example (possibly also an entre-fenêtre), it does show Artemisia’s arm tucked behind her back on the left along with only one female head over her shoulder and towards the right it depicts only the man in military attire and the wreath. This version has an ornate border only on the top and bottom edges with the ducal arms of Emanuel of Savoy and monogram of Artemisia and Mausolus on the top and bottom panel respectively. Interestingly the version offered for sale shows more lavish use of metallic threads than the other two. The Louvre example does not have any metallic thread and while the Timken Museum example makes use of silver-gilt thread, it is used sparingly. This difference is most starkly noticeable in the colonnade in the background. A handful of narrow pieces, with the arms of Savoy are known, of which four are in the Timken Art Gallery, two owned by the city of Paris, and one in a private collection, all from a set acquired by Duke Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy between 1615-1620, of which others in the set are in public or private collections.
For a set of eight metal-thread tapestries of the series, woven for Henri IV, woven pre 1610 Faubourg, after Henri Lerambert and Laurent Guyot, the borders with royal arms, emblems and monograms, and with the fleur-de-lys and Paris factory mark, and unidentified mark FM, from the property of the Hon. Philip Howard (by descent from the 4th Earl of Carlisle, Castle Howard, by 1759), see Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 1999, lots 32-39.
For a mid-17th century French weaving, depicting Artemisia and attendants inspecting the plans for her late husband Mausolus' memorial, within a scrolling acanthus border, see Christie's, London, 3 November 2016, lot 218. Sotheby's, London, 26 October 2016, lot 1236, offered a Flemish Artemisia tapestry with an 'Elements' border.
For comprehensive discussion of this distinctive tapestry series and variations of the subject, see Candace J. Adelson, European Tapestry in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, New York, 1994, Chp. 16, Ten tapestries from the series Stories of Queen Artemisia, pp.161-288.
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