History of the Series:
This tapestry almost certainly belongs to a Gobelins set that was executed privately by one of the Gobelins weavers. M. Fenaille records that tapestries forming part of The Metamorphoses had been privately woven by Gobelins merchants since the founding of the Manufacture in 1662 (Etat Général des Tapisseries de la Manufacture des Gobelins, Paris, 1904, vol. III, p. 121). The designs of these tapestries were based on models that had already been used in the ateliers of the Comans and Raphaël de la Planche. A set from this series containing gold-thread and bearing the inventory mark '92' was bought by the King in 1684 but is today lost.
Those seven initial subjects were later expanded by further fifteen panels, known as the petite tenture, that were in part based on paintings paid for between 1704 and 1706, but the series was certainly never woven as a whole. Those subjects appear to have initially only been woven for private commissions and Gobelins only records the first official production of seven of these subjects in 1714 for Louis XIV. The cartoons were at that point, however, already in need of restoration before they could be used for the weaving.
This subject was neither mentioned among the subjects that formed part of the original seven tapestries nor of the immediate additions of 1704 - 1706, but forms part of a group that has appeared in conjunction with other tapestries of the series.
A tapestry with nearly identical borders, being more reminiscent of the late 17th Century rather than the early 18th Century, and depicting Diana and Actaeon, woven by Jean Jans the Younger, is in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Standen, European Post-Medieval Tapestries and Related hangings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, vol. II, cat. 48, pp. 316 - 321). A further tapestry with identical border and from the same series and also signed by Jans was sold from the property of Mrs. Gaby Salomon in these Rooms, 2 December 1971, lot 152, and again from the property of Coastal States Petroleum (UK) Limited in these Rooms, 30 September 1999, lot 170 (£ 56,500). A panel of this subject is in the Calais Musée des Beaux-Arts, while one was sold anonymously at Sotheby Parke Bernet, Los Angeles, 30 October 1978, lot 30 and another at Sotheby's New York, 29 November 1980, lot 451.
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 (Fenaille, op. cit., 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 appears to have first been woven for John, 5th Earl of Exeter (d. 1700) as early as 1680 - 1681 (now at Queen Elisabeth's Bedroom at Burghley, Stamford, Lincolnshire).
Diana, the huntress and moon goddess, is here in the unusual role of lover and has fallen for the beautiful youth Endymion. There are several variants to the myth and one describes that Endymion had been sent to sleep by Jupiter in return for having been granted eternal youth and immortality, while another explains it as a punishment by Jupiter for Endymion having fallen in love with Jupiter's wife, Juno. He was visited nightly by Diana who bore him 50 daughters while he lay asleep in a cave on Mount Latmus in Caria. Another myth tells that Endymion was put to sleep by Diana herself so that she might enjoy his beauty undisturbed. He is here shown sleeping the arms of Morpheus, the god of dreams.