This series of the Metamorphoses, which includes an unknown number of subjects but of which twenty have been identified, was certainly never woven as a whole. Seven of the subjects, including this one, designed by Charles de Lafosse (d. 1716) are known to have been woven before 1684, while others, known as the petite tenture because of the smaller figures, were executed after paintings that were paid for between 1704 and 1714, by artists such as Louis de Boulogne (d. 1733), Nicolas Bertin (d. 1736), Antoine Coypel (d. 1722) and Charles de la Fosse. The two groups were freely combined and thus apparently regarded as a single series.
Jean Jans the Younger (d. 1723) succeeded his father, also called Jean Jans, as the head of the haute-lisse workshop at Gobelins in 1668. Interestingly he is also recorded as having a private workshop, including basse-lisse looms, called Le Grand Louis (M. Fenaille, Etat Gnral des Tapisseries de la Manufacture des Gobelins, Paris, 1903, vol. II, p. 182 and pp. 419-420). It is possible that Jans supplied tapestries to a wealthy private clientele, using the cheaper basse-lisse technique. Indeed, this series, although seven panels were supplied to Louis XIV in 1684 (now lost), appears to first have been woven for John, 5th Earl of Exeter (d. 1700) as early as 1680-1681 (now at in Queen Elisabeth's Bedroom at Burghley, Stamford, Lincolnshire). The borders of this tapestry are also more reminiscent of the late 17th Century rather than the early 18th Century.
A further tapestry from this series, depicting Diana and Actaeon is in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (E. Standen, European Post-Medieval Tapestries and Related Hangings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, pp. 316-321, cat. 48) and was the companion piece to this lot in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Amory Sibley Carhart, Tuxedo Park, New York. A tapestry from the same series and identical borders, depicting Boreas and Orynthia, was offered anonymously at Sotheby's London, 12 June 1992, lot 39.
This subject forms part of the Story of Daphne, taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I, symbolising the victory of Chastity over Love. The nymph Daphne, daughter of the river god Peneus, was the first and most celebrated love of Apollo. Cupid, spiteful because Apollo boasted that he was the better archer having slain Python and demanding that he should have Cupid's bow and arrow of love, shot Apollo with a golden-tipped arrow, making him helplessly fall in love with Daphne. Cupid also shot Daphne but with a lead-tipped arrow, condemning her to reject any suitors. Apollo pursued Daphne relentlessly and begged her to listen to his suit, but when she was finally exhausted from the constant fleeing, she pleaded with her father for protection. Just before Apollo reached her, laurel branches grew from her arms and roots from her feet, transforming her into a laurel tree.