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  • Place of origin:

    Mortlake (woven)

  • Date:

    1620-1625 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Mortlake Tapestry Factory (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wool, silk and metal thread

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery, case WS

Object Type
This tapestry is from a set that was intended to be portable. It would have been carried between the palaces of Charles I (ruled 1625-1649) when he changed his current residence. In this period they would have been attached to the walls by their top edge only.

People & Places
The tapestry workshop at Mortlake near London was established by Francis Crane (1579-1636) under the patronage of James I (ruled 1603-1625). Fifty Flemish weavers and their families were brought there in 1620. Through their skill and the advantages of Royal involvement, during its first twenty years the workshop produced some of the finest tapestries in Europe.

Subjects Depicted
The scene is from the mythological story of Vulcan, the god of fire, and Venus, the goddess of love. The tale was told in The Odyssey by the Greek poet Homer. Venus and her lover Mars, the god of war, have been imprisoned by her husband Vulcan, who sits in judgement. Neptune, god of the sea, and Cupid, god of love, plead for the lovers, while the Three Graces weep for them.

Materials & Making
The areas of flesh on the figures were the most skilled and therefore the most expensive parts of the tapestry to weave. The V&A has a tapestry with another version of this scene in which Neptune and Cupid are both clothed. Presumably this was commissioned by a client who could not afford so much expense.

Physical description

Tapestry of 'Vulcan and Venus; Neptune and Cupid plead for the lovers'. The scene shows the middle of a hall in Vulcan's palace where Neptune stands looking back over his shoulder at the three Graces who bewail the plight of Venus. In front of Neptune, Cupid approaches Vulcan, asking for the release of Mars and Venus. Vulcan sits at the far right beneath a canopy of state between bulbous columns with renaissance decoration.
In the background, at the right, an open archway reveals classical buildings in the distance and the small figure of a man. Behind Neptune is a closed perspective of columns and pilasters. Through a window in the top left corner, Vulcan is seen rehearsing his wife and her lover from the net.

The border shows; top centre - winged boys support a cartouche with the Prince of Wales' feathers. Bottom centre - Sphynxes flank the 'Sceptra Favent Artes' motif. Sides centre - Interlaced 'c's with a princely coronet. Top corners - Frame with trumpet. Bottom corners - Satyr with pan-pipes and bagpipe.

Four medallions with Ceres are at the sides, four medallions with gods of the elements - Juno, Jupiter, Cybele and Neptune, are at the top and bottom.

Place of Origin

Mortlake (woven)


1620-1625 (made)


Mortlake Tapestry Factory (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Wool, silk and metal thread

Marks and inscriptions

The borders inscribed with Charles's monogram of interlaced CC, and a Latin motto meaning 'Royal authority supports the Arts' or 'The Arts support Royal authority'


Height: 453 cm, Width: 578 cm

Object history note

Made as part of a set for Charles, Prince of Wales, later Charles I (1600-1649); they probably hung at St James's Palace, London, Charles's principal residence when Prince of WalesMade under the direction of Philip de Maecht (died 1655); the design based on 16th century tapestries made in Flanders (now Belgium), the borders are based on French designs
Woven in the tapestry workshop at Mortlake, near London

Descriptive line

Tapestry, 'Vulcan and Venus', Mortlake, England, ca. 1620-1625.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
This tapestry was one of a set of nine woven for Charles I, when he was Prince of Wales, that tell the mythical story of the love affair of the Roman gods Mars and Venus, the wife of Vulcan. Such tapestries were extremely expensive and were considered essential to furnish palace interiors. They could be moved from palace to palace to create grand, decorative effects for special occasions. The Mortlake tapestry workshop was set up by Francis Crane (1579-1636) under James I and Prince Charles in 1619. It employed weavers from Flanders (now Belgium). [27/03/2003]




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