The subject is taken from the story of the Death of Ananias from the New Testament. The apostles persuaded wealthy men to give up their goods for the poor. One such man, Ananias, who kept back half of the money for himself, was punished by Peter with death for his deceitfulness.
The cartoons for the Acts of the Apostles tapestry series were designed by Raphael (d. 1520) between 1514 and 1516 for the Sistine Chapel. Pope Leo X, who was ordaned in 1513, took a particular liking to the work of Raphael, and put him, among others, in charge of the production of tapestry cartoons including this series. When the ten cartoons were completed, an assistant accompanied the set to Anvers to survey the production of the tapestries in Pieter van Aelst's (d. 1532) atelier. This tapestry set, woven in gold, silk and wool, was hung in time for Christmas 1519 and remain in the Vatican. The cartoons, which by tradition could be kept by the atelier after completion of a tapestry, do not appear to have been rewoven by Aelst prior to his death in 1532. The cartoons disappeared thereafter, but a number of Acts were produced by many weavers in Brussels until they were officially rediscovered by Rubens, who sold seven of them to Charles I of England in circa 1623. They remain today at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
The earliest surviving copies after the same cartoons were woven by Jan van Tieghem and two further unidentified weavers. They were woven after 1528, when the Brussels town mark of these tapestries became compulsory, but before 1557 when Ercole Gonzaga's second testament, which mentions the set, was drawn up. Thereafter numerous series are known to have been woven throughout the Lowlands in the 16th and 17th Centuries. When Charles I purchased the seven cartoons, he had them reproduced at Mortlake, with an additional cartoon designed in England.
The Mobilier de la Couronne under Louis XIV owned several sets of the series, woven in Brussels, Mortlake and Paris. The first Paris weavings of this series appeared before the 'Acts' were woven at Mortlake. There is a set with a fleur-de-lys and the arms of Claude de Bellièvre, Archbishop of Lyon between 1604 and 1612, to the borders recorded by M. Fenaille, Etat général des Tapisseries de la Manufacture des Gobelins, Paris, 1923, vol. 1662-1699, p. 44. The Royal Gobelins Tapestry Manufacture is only noted to have woven one set of ten tapestries of the 'Acts' between 1667 and 1669, based on models purchased in 1667, while the Royal Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory is known to have woven at least two sets. The Paris versions all appear to be exact copies of the cartoons, while the Flemish and Mortlake tapestries, as this lot, are in reverse. It is interesting to note the unusual, and possibly unique, setting of this scene in an open landscape, while the cartoon places the subject in a classical interior.
Two Brussels versions of this subject, one circa 1560 and the other by Jacob Geubels II and early 17th Century, in the Royal Spanish Collection, are illustrated in P. Junquera de Vega and C. Diaz Gallegos, Catalogo de Tapices de Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1986, vol. I, p. 67, fig. IV, and vol. II, p. 66, fig. IV, respectively.