'The Meeting of Hero and Leander at the Temple of Venus, Sestos' c1660 – 70

English (Mortlake)

Woven in wool and silk, 286 x 311cm
Accession Number LL5464

English (Mortlake) 'The Meeting of Hero and Leander at the Temple of Venus, Sestos'

Leverhulme acquired the Mortlake tapestry series in 1918. It was sold from Stella Hall, near Newcastle, by the family of the industrialist Sir Joseph Cowen (1800 – 1873). The set may have been woven for the hall (demolished in 1955). In the 17th century it was the home of the Tempests, a wealthy Catholic courtier family, loyal throughout the reigns of the Stuart kings. This was when the Mortlake tapestry works was at the height of its fame and production.

The Thames-side Mortlake works had been established in 1619 under royal patronage and made use of the weaving skills of immigrant Flemish workers. These workers were highly skilled in depicting natural textures and effects such as flesh and water.

The gallery owns a complete set of six of one of the most popular tapestry series woven at the Mortlake works. It illustrates the ancient Greek story of the tragic love of the priestess Hero for Leander. Leander swam the dangerous currents of the Hellespont, the straits between Europe and Asia at the Bosphorus, in order to see his love, but was drowned one stormy night.

Mortlake’s chief designer Francis Cleyn designed the series in 1625 and the first set was woven for James I.