The Drowning of Britomartis from Scenes from the Story of Diana

Designer: Probably designed by Jean Cousin the Elder (French, Souci (?) ca. 1490–ca. 1560 Paris (?))

Artist: Related to engravings by Étienne Delaune (French, Orléans 1518/19–1583 Strasbourg)

Maker: Possibly woven in the workshop directed by Pierre Blasse the Younger (French, active 1540–60)

Maker: Possibly woven in the workshop directed by Jacques Langlois (French, active 1540–60)

Date: 1547–59

Culture: French, probably Paris

Medium: Wool, silk (16-18 warps per inch, 7-8 per cm.)

Dimensions: H. 183 x W. 114 inches (464.8 x 289.6 cm)

Classification: Textiles-Tapestries

Credit Line: Gift of the children of Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, 1942

Accession Number: 42.57.1


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.