The Loves of Mercury and Herse A Tapestry Series by Willem de Pannemaker at the Museo del Prado

. June 1, 2010 . 1 Comment

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. Open June 01 – September 26, 2010.

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.

Image: Cecrops welcomes Mercury, Manufactured by Willem de Pannemaker. Gold, silver, silk and wool thread, 435 x 551 cm. Brussels, ca.1570. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.

Category: Fine Art

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  1. teresa riggins says:

    I have a wall hanging that was made in the uk from traditional tapestries. can you give me any info on this? the name is TO MY ONLY DESIRE The original was made by Willem Pannemaker in 1470… thank you for you time teresa

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