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The Loves of Mercury and Herse. A Tapestry Series by Willem de Pannemaker Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Museo del Prado will be exhibiting the eight mythological tapestries that comprise the only complete surviving example of this series on the loves of Mercury and Herse, one of the 246 tales recounted in the 15 books of Ovid’s great poem known as the Metamorphoses. For the first time since their dispersion in the early 20th century, the exhibition reunites these eight tapestry panels by Willem de Pannemaker, tapestry-maker and supplier to the royal courts of the Flemish Renaissance.

The Loves of Mercury and Herse. A Tapestry Series by Willem de Pannemaker

The exhibition reconstructs the iconographic sequence of Ovid’s tale of the loves of Mercury and Herse, reuniting the eight tapestries on this story made by Pannemaker. The panels are now divided between the private collection of the Fundación Casa Ducal de Medinaceli, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Museo del Prado, all of which own two tapestries each, while the remaining two are in the private collections of the Casa de Alba and the Dukes of Cardona.

As recent research undertaken for the purposes of this exhibition has revealed, from 1603 onwards this series of The Wedding of Mercury, woven by Willem de Pannemaker – tapestry-maker and supplier to the royal courts of the Flemish Renaissance – was in the collection of Francisco de Sandoval y Rojas, 1st Duke of Lerma and favourite of Philip III. Pannemaker’s allegorical/mythological tapestries, whose compositions are heavily indebted to those of Raphael, reveal the Duke’s particular preference for tapestry and for Flemish and Italian art, a taste also manifested in the rest of his collection. With this in mind, the exhibition will also include the Portrait of the Duke of Lerma on Horseback by Rubens, also of 1603.

Ovid’s story of love and jealousy, the main protagonists of which are Mercury, Herse and Aglauros, can be followed in the eight panels of this tapestry series. Mercury’s descent to earth, his encounter with Aglauros, Herse and Pandrosos (daughters of Cecrops, King of Attica), the seduction of Herse, and the transformation or metamorphosis of Aglauros, brought about by Mercury, are the key episodes in these panels. They are framed by splendid borders designed for the tapestry series of The Acts of the Apostles, which was based on designs by Raphael and made for the Sistine Chapel.

Willem de Pannemaker was active from 1535 to 1581. Born into the leading family of tapestry weavers in Brussels, Pannemaker was the most celebrated tapestry-maker of the Flemish Renaissance. He worked for the aristocracy and the principal European courts of the 16th century, supplying those of Charles I of Spain (the Emperor Charles V of Germany) and his son Philip II with magnificent tapestries.

The Mercury and Herse Series. Tapestries woven with gold

The exhibition reunites the eight tapestries that comprise the only known example of this set. They were woven in the second half of the 16th century with large amounts of gold and silver thread in order to emphasise the sense of relief and the luminosity and splendour of the eight panels. The first tapestry in the series includes the date of 1570.

In addition to being a symbol of wealth and power, the enormous cost of such a commission makes it possible to describe this series as nothing less than a jewel, in the sense of being both a great work of art and a costly treasure. The high value placed on the series in the inventories of its original owners, the dukes of Lerma, and again in those of the Medinaceli family, to whom it passed by inheritance in 1673, confirm this. The series remained together in the Casa Medinaceli until it was broken up in 1909.

The intensity and brilliance of the colouring, the richness and abundance of the gold and silver thread, the classical and Renaissance style of the scenes, rigorous use of geometrical perspective, rich, elaborate ornamentation, Flemish emphasis on detail in the accessories and landscape, and the humanistic treatment of both the male and female figures all make The Wedding of Mercury one of the most beautiful tapestry series of the entire 16th century, only comparable with tapestries from the royal Habsburg collection.

Most of the panels underwent conservation treatment prior to the exhibition with the aim of displaying them in the finest condition possible. In some cases this work was undertaken at the Fundación Real Fábrica de Tapices, Madrid, under the direction of Ana Schöbel, head of the Fundación’s Textile Conservation Studio, and supervised by the Museo del Prado’s Restoration Department.

The Catalogue

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes two important essays. The first, A “costly tapestry series” reunited: “The Wedding of Mercury” from the Collection of the Duke of Lerma, by Concha Herrero Carretero, discusses the art of tapestry weaving, its reception in Renaissance and Baroque Spain as an “art of kings”, and the presence of tapestries in royal and aristocratic collections such as that of Francisco de Sandoval y Rojas, 1st Duke of Lerma. Finally, the text discusses the status of tapestry as artistic patrimony from the 19th century onwards.

The second essay, The Attribution of the Cartoons for the Story of Mercury and Herse, by Nello Forti Grazzini, examines the influence of Raphael and his school on Flemish tapestry-making. The text also presents the hypothesis that the possible designers of the (now lost) cartoons for this series, which clearly reveal Italian influence derived from the school of Giulio Romano, were Lodi da Cremona and Benedetto Pagni.

The catalogue includes entries on all the works included in the exhibition.

Monographic course

The Museo del Prado has organised a monographic course in conjunction with the exhibition and scheduled to take place from 13 to 15 July. Recognised by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, it involves the participation of leading experts in tapestry-making, including Iain Buchanan, Elizabeth Cleland, Fernando Checa, Nicole Dacos, Nello Forti, Concha Herrero, Ana Schöbel, Jean Vittet and Miguel Ángel Zalama.

List of Works in the Exhibition

1. Mercury enamoured of Herse
Manufactured by Willem de Pannemaker
Gold, silver, silk and wool thread, 444 x 728 cm
Brussels, 1570
Colección Casa Ducal de Alba
2. Mercury and Herse together
Manufactured by Willem de Pannemaker
Gold, silver, silk and wool thread, 443 x 672 cm
Brussels, ca.1570
Museo Nacional del Prado
3. Aglauros detains Mercury
Manufactured by Willem de Pannemaker
Gold, silver, silk and wool thread, 437 x 603 cm
Brussels, ca.1570
Colección Duque de Lerma, depositado en la Casa Ducal de Medinaceli
4. Cecrops welcomes Mercury
Manufactured by Willem de Pannemaker
Gold, silver, silk and wool thread, 435 x 551 cm
Brussels, ca.1570
Museo Nacional del Prado
5. Aglauros corrupted by Envy
Manufactured by Willem de Pannemaker
Gold, silver, silk and wool thread, 440 x 650 cm
Brussels, ca.1570
Colección Duques de Cardona
6. The Dance in Cecrops’ Palace
Manufactured by Willem de Pannemaker
Gold, silver, silk and wool thread, 436 x 607 cm
Brussels, ca.1570
Colección Fundación Casa Ducal de Medinaceli
7. Herse’s nuptial Chamber
Manufactured by Willem de Pannemaker
Gold, silver, silk and wool thread, 437 x 541 cm
Brussels, ca.1570
Metropolitan Museum of Art
8. The Metamorphosis of Aglauros and Mercury’s Departure
Manufactured by Willem de Pannemaker
Gold, silver, silk and wool thread, 450 x 716 cm
Brussels, ca.1570
Metropolitan Museum of Art
9. Equestrian portrait of Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, Duke of Lerma
Peter Paul Rubens
Oil on canvas, 283 x 200 cm
1603
Museo Nacional del Prado
10. Four engravings of the loggias of the Vatican
Giovanni Battista Volpato
Etching and burin, 108 x 47.8 cm
1775 – 1776
Museo Nacional del Prado
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