A design for a set of compositions illustrating the Story of Artemisia, a fable composed in honor of Catherine de Medicis (1519-89), Regent of France, by the Parisian apothecary, philanthropist and scholar Nicolas Houel.
Artemisia was the Queen of Caria in Asia Minor in circa 355 B.C., the widow of Mausolus of Halicarnassus and mother of the future King Lygdamis. Houel's fable identifies Artemisia with Catherine, who ruled as Regent following the death of her husband King Henry II (1518-1559). Henry appears as Mausolus and their son the future King Charles IX (1550-1574) as Lygdamis.
The story was split into 74 stanzas recounting incidents from the life of Artemisia, and was presented to the Queen by Houel in 1562. The whole was divided into four parts of which two described Mausolus' magnificent funeral leading up to the construction of the great Mausoleum, the tomb that became one the Seven Wonders of the World. A small number of these poems were immediately rendered as drawings by Niccolò dell'Abate, although the majority were treated later by Antoine Caron (circa 1520-1599), and a smaller number by Henri Lerambert (circa 1550-1610). Many of the designs were transformed into tapestries after 1601 during the reign of King Henry IV, a project continued by his widow Marie de Medicis and then by Anna of Austria, widow of King Louis XIII (M. Fenaille, État Générale des Tapisseries de la Manufacture des Gobelins depuis son origine jusqu'á nos jours, 1600-1900, Paris, 1923, pp. 109-212).
The verso of the 18th Century mount of the present drawing records Houel's poem, describing how the body of Mausolus was presented to the court as a king in command, seated on a throne and holding a scepter. It goes on to say that the most beautiful women regretted the loss of the king, but that neither their grace nor their beauty nor their entreaties could bring him back. The group to the left of the drawing recurs in a composition depicting The Surrender of the Town of Le Havre painted at the end of the Gallerie d'Ulysse at Fontainebleau, now lost but known through a copy in Montauban published by J.C. Boyer, 'La reddition de la ville du Havre de Niccolò dell'Abate, la composition manquante de la Galerie d'Ulysse', Le Revue de l'Art, 1999, pp. 71-72.
We are grateful to Sylvie Béguin for her help in writing this entry,