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, turning her into a laurel tree.
The series, consisting of five or six panels (Apollo demanding the Arrows of Love from Cupid, Daphne choosing Diana as her Ideal, Daphne imploring Peneus, Apollo pursuing Daphne, Winged Figures bringing Branches of Laurel to the River Gods and Three Nymphs Surrounding the Daphne Laurel), is today attributed to the designer Michel I Corneille (1601-1664), believed to have designed at least five tapestry series, including Tancred and Clorinda (lot 249 of this sale), in the middle of the 17th Century. The weaving of the various sets of this series is attributed to the atelier of Raphaël de la Planche and his son and successor Sébastien-François, which was established in 1633 at the Faubourg Saint-Germain. There are seven differing borders and thus probably the same amount of sets were woven, although there are only 22 recorded pieces, of which four with this type of border are known to have survived. The set was produced in different qualities at a cost of between 80 and 120 livres. The cartoons for the series are mentioned in the inventory taken by Philippe de Champaigne of the workshop of Raphaël de la Planche upon his death on 27 September 1661:
'Cinq autres pièces, aussi peintes en huile et sur toile ... représentans l' Histoire de Daphné, et prisées ensemble 50 livres'
Six full sets are mentioned at the same occasion, some of which were still on the loom at the time. It is therefore probable that the series was also woven after Raphaël's death while Sébastien-François de la Planche led the atelier, which closed in 1668.
M. Fenaille, in his Etat Général des Tapisseries de la Manufacture des Gobelins (Paris, 1923, vol. 1600-1900, p. 347) praises the series highly and writes: 'La grandeur de la composition, la richesse de l'exécution, la beauté des personnages, l'abondance et la finesse des feuillages et des fleurs, les placent parmi les plus belles tapisseries qui aient été exécutées, dignes d'être citées comme modèles aux tapissiers de tous les temps, aussi bien pour le dessin du sujet et la composition des lumières et des couleurs que pour la technique.'
A pair of panels depicting Apollo demanding the Arrows of Love from Cupid and Daphne imploring Peneus was sold from Rufford Abbey, Christie's house sale, 17 November 1938, lot 77, and a panel depicting Apollo pursuing Daphne was sold anonymously, Christie's Monaco, 5 December 1992, lot 115.