The Drowning of Britomartis from Scenes from the Story of Diana
Probably designed by Jean Cousin the Elder (French, Souci (?) ca. 1490–ca. 1560 Paris (?))
Related to engravings by Étienne Delaune (French, Orléans 1518/19–1583 Strasbourg)
Possibly woven in the workshop directed by Pierre Blasse the Younger (French, active 1540–60)
Possibly woven in the workshop directed by Jacques Langlois (French, active 1540–60)
French, probably Paris
Wool, silk (16-18 warps per inch, 7-8 per cm.)
H. 183 x W. 114 inches (464.8 x 289.6 cm)
Gift of the children of Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, 1942
Not on view
This tapestry is from a set depicting scenes from the story of Diana probably made for the château of Anet, about forty miles west of Paris, which was the chief residence of Henry II's mistress, Diane de Poitiers. She herself, born in 1499, was named after the goddess, a sign that the Renaissance, with its emulation of classical antiquity, had come to France.
The inscription in French verse on the upper border of the tapestry tells the story depicted:
Britomartis, pursued by Minos, who wished to take her by force in the woods, greatly preferred to end her life in the sea rather than submit to his outrageous will. Accordingly, wishing to give her fame for her death, Phoebe [Diana] invested fishnets and snares, with which the body was brought to a holy place, and since then the Greeks have called her Dictynna ["fishnet"]. O holy death, that gave such a valuable thing to the world by means of such a misfortune!
Diana stands in the center of the tapestry, a crescent on a support above her forehead. To the right, the drowning Britomartis raises one hand above the water. In the middle distance, Minos, king of Crete, stands looking into the water with his arms raised in astonishment, while Britomartis' body is being fished out of the water to the right. In the left background we see Minos pursuing Britomartis, and farther back, to the right, Diana hands a net to two men.
The version of the story shown here is not precisely that found in the writings of any classical author, and the invention of the net by Diana does not seem to be a classical idea at all. It is here in order to glorify Diane de Poitiers, who is portrayed in the guise of the goddess. The borders of the tapestry are marked by the Greek character delta and other symbols of Diane.
Inscription: BRITOMARTE PAR MINOS POVRSVIVIE/QVI PAR LES BOYS A FORCE LA VEVT PREDRE/AIMA TROP MIEVX EN MER FINIR LA VIE/QV'A SO VOVLOIR OVTRAVGEVX CODESCEDRE/LORS POR SA MORT, VOVLAT GLOIRE LVY REDRE/PHOEBE LES RETZ ET, FILEZ INVENTA/DONT AV LIEV SAINT LE CORPS ON RAPORTA/ET PVIS LES GRECS DICTYNNA, LONT NOMEE/O SAINT MORT, QVI AV MODE APPORTA/PAR TEL MALHEVR CHOSE TANT ESTIMEE.
[Britomartis, pursued by Minos, who wished to take her by force in the woods, greatly preferred to end her life in the sea rather than to submit to his outrageous will. Accordingly, wishing to give her fame for her death, Phoebe [Diana] invented fishnets and snares, with which the body was brought to a holy place, and since the Greeks have called her Dictynna [fishnet]. O holy death, that gave such a valuable thing to the world by means of such a misfortune!]
(on banderoles): SIC IMMOTA MANET [Thus she remains unmoved)]; NON FRVSTRA IVPITER AMBAS [Not in vain (gave) Jupiter both]
(on cartouche): HOC TVA MORS VALVIT [Thy death produced this]
Commissioned by Diane de Poitiers , possibly for Château of Anet (by 1555) ; Grillo family , Genoa ; possibly Émile Peyre (before 1898) ; William C. Whitney , New York (about 1900) ; James Henry Smith , New York (1904–10; sale, American Art Association, New York, January 18–21, 1910, nos. 406 & 407); Harry Payne Whitney , New York (until 1942; sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, April 29–30, 1942, no. 135; bought in)
Artist: Jean Cousin the Elder (French, Souci (?) ca. 1490–ca. 1560 Paris (?))Date: 16th centuryMedium: Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, heightened with white, over slight traces of black chalkAccession: 63.117On view in:Not on view
Artist: Jean Cousin the Elder (French, Souci (?) ca. 1490–ca. 1560 Paris (?))Date: ca.1543Medium: Pen and brown ink, brush and gray wash, with white gouache, over black chalkAccession: 2001.106On view in:Not on view