THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
The following two lots almost certainly belong to a Gobelins set that was executed privately by one of the Gobelins weavers. The first records mentioning the series are the correspondences between the 5th Earl of Exeter with his steward and upholsterer for Burghley House, Lincolnshire, discussing the purchase of made-to-order tapestries of this design from Jean Jans in 1680 and 1681. The next documentary evidence is in the French Royal inventory of 1684 that lists seven Gobelins tapestries (no. '92') of the Metamorphoses woven with gold-thread. Unfortunately none of the early inventories list the subjects so that only five of the original seven subjects have been identified. They appear to include Diana and Acteon, a copy of which is in the Burghley set, and Apollo and Daphne, the name of which is mentioned in the Royal inventory of 1684.
The original seven subjects were then expanded by a further fifteen panels, known as petite tenture, that were in part based on paintings paid for between 1704 and 1706 by such artists as Jean Baptiste de Fontenay, Louis de Boulogne, Nicolas Bertin, Antoine Coypel and Charles de la Fosse. The old and new designs were freely combined, but the full series was certainly never woven as a whole. These tapestries appear to have initially only been woven for private patrons and Gobelins only records the first official production of seven of these subjects for Louis XIV in 1714. That set was only finished in 1720, which suggests that it was probably only commissioned to give employment to weavers at the time. By 1714, when that series was ordered, the cartoons already had to be restored before they could be used for the weaving. The cartoons for the series are last mentioned in 1736 as ruined. It can thus be assumed that the series was woven between 1680 and 1736.
Although Jean Jans is believed to have championed this set and possibly to have commissioned drawings for the series at his own cost, it is impossible to attribute the weaving of the offered lots to him. Various examples of the series bear signatures of other of his contemporaries, who possibly also wove these tapestries in their private workshops, but possibly also in the official workshops of the Gobelins for private commissions. Both alternatives have precedents and are discussed in legal documents at the time.
When this set was originally offered in 1955, it comprised 6 scenes (Diana and Actaeon, Apollo and Daphne, Venus and Adonis, Acis and Galatea, Pan and Syrinx and Bacchus crowning Ariadne). The composition of the set of six tapestries reveals that at least five tapestries belong to the first group woven as of 1680. The sixth panel, Venus and Adonis, is attributed to Louis de Boulogne and may thus also belong to the early group. This would indicate that the offered lot was most probably woven between 1680 and 1704, before the new subjects were added.
(E. Standen, 'Ovid's Metamorphoses: A Gobelins Tapestry Series', Metropolitan Museum Journal, 1988, pp. 149 - 191)