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Alexander Visiting Diogenes

possibly Mortlake Tapestry Manufactory

Category

Tapestries

Date

circa 1680 - circa 1690

Materials

Tapestry, wool and silk, 7½ warps per cm

Measurements

1.90 m (H); 4.65 m (W)

Place of origin

England

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Collection

Speke Hall, Merseyside (Accredited Museum)

NT 1197391.1

Caption

Five of the finest tapestries at Speke Hall are from the workshops at Mortlake, produced around 1700. They include this intriguing example purchased by Adelaide Watt depicting the Greek philosopher Diogenes living in a barrel – and famously snubbing Alexander the Great.

Summary

Tapestry, wool and silk, 7½ warps per cm, Alexander Visiting Diogenes from a set of two of The Life of Diogenes, English, possibly Mortlake, c. 1680-1690. In the centre of the tapestry Diogenes sits by the barrel that was his home, gesturing with one arm to Alexander who approaches with a group of soldiers and attendants. Alexander had visited the philosopher and said he would grant him any favour, to which Diogenes replied 'get out of my light' (Diogenes Laertius 1925, 6.38). The setting is a landscape, with a river to the left and ruined buildings and columns to the right. The tapestry has no borders but is otherwise intact.

Full description

The philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (412/403–324/321 BC) was considered, along with Antisthenes, the founder of Cynicism. His nickname ‘Cynic’, literally ‘doglike’, reflects the highly unconventional lifestyle he lived and advocated. Diogenes re-evaluating mankind’s relation to both nature and civilization, and redefined the individual’s freedom and self-sufficiency. None of Diogenes's written works survives, but he quickly became an established literary figure and numerous anecdotes arose relating to his eccentricities. The two tapestries at Speke come from a series of seven scenes from the life of Diogenes, with the subjects 'Plato's Academy', 'Diogenes in Meditation', 'Diogenes Beside his Barrel', 'Diogenes Washing Plants', 'Diogenes Discarding his Cup', 'Diogenes Writing on the Wall' and 'Alexander Visiting Diogenes'. The subjects were taken from Diogenes Laertius's 'The Lives of the Philosophers', written in the 3rd century AD and the main source for Diogenes's life. The text was published in Latin in London in 1664 (See Diogenes Laertius 1925). The designs for four of the tapestries, and their Latin inscriptions, derive from etchings by Salvator Rosa published in 1662, and the other three designs were composed by an unknown artist in Rosa's style (Hefford 2010, p. 240). The 'Diogenes' tapestries were made at Mortlake and/or smaller London workshops at the end of the seventeenth century. The Speke tapestries have lost their borders and therefore any signatures they may have had, but other examples survive with the maker's mark of a red cross on a white shield, first used at Mortlake from 1619 but was adopted by other tapestry workshops in the London area after 1660. A fragment at Llanerchaeron from a tapestry of 'Diogenes Discarding his Cup' bears the red cross mark in conjunction with the initials IR, which may stand for Jan Rosset, who worked at Mortlake, or possibly John Ridges, an upholsterer active in London in the 1670s and 1680s (Hefford, 1985; Hefford 2010, p. 240; Hefford 2002, p. 55). The 'Diogenes' series can be definitely dated to after 1662 when Salvator Rosa's etchings were published. With their extensive, elegaic landscapes they are closer in spirit to tapestry designs of the 1670s onwards. The earliest record of the series comes in 1683 when a set of 'Dioguines hangings' was bought for Charles II, although the details of the purchase have been lost. 'Five pieces of tapestry hangings of the Story of Diogenes' were repaired for the crown by the Yeoman Arrasworker, John Vanderbank, in 1692, and in 1696 Vanderbank relined five pieces. In March of that year six Diogenes tapestries, 11 feet high, were in the Standing Wardrobe at St James's Palace. These records probably relate to a set of five that survive in the Royal Collection at Holyroodhouse. The original lining of one of these panels is marked '6:ps 11 FOOT DIOGENES', and the reverse of another bears the crowned 'IR' stamp used by King James II (r. 1685-1688), indicating that the set entered the royal collection before or during his reign (Swain 1988, pp. 12-16). Numerous sets and partial sets of 'Diogenes' tapestries survive including, within the National Trust's collections, a set of four which has seen significant alteration to fit the walls of the Tapestry Room at Belton House, Lincolnshire (no. 437003), a single panel of 'Plato's Academy' in the Chapel at Chirk Castle, Wrexham (no. 1171322), two tapestries of 'Alexander Visiting Diogenes' and 'Plato's Academy' at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire (nos. 454596, 454597), and a fragment, mentioned above, from 'Diogenes Discarding his Cup' at Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion (no. 548684). One of the 'Diogenes' tapestries, 'Alexander Visiting Diogenes', is mentioned in a 1917 inventory of Speke when it was stored in an oak chest in St Raymond's Bedroom, with a note that it was 'formerly on wall in Corridor'. The tapestry appears again in the 1964 inventory hanging in the Blue Bedroom. (Helen Wyld, 2012)

Provenance

Miss Adeleide Watt (1857-1921); Trustees of the late Miss Adeleide Watt, 1921-1942; National Trust from 1943

Credit line

Speke Hall, the Adeleide Watt Collection (The National Trust)

Makers and roles

possibly Mortlake Tapestry Manufactory , workshop after Salvator Rosa (Arenella, Naples 1615 – Rome 1673), designer

References

Hefford, 2010: Wendy Hefford, ‘The English Tapestries’, in Guy Delmarcel, Nicole de Reyniès and Wendy Hefford, The Toms Collection Tapestries of the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries, Zürich 2010, pp. 239-294 Hefford, 2002: Wendy Hefford, ‘Flemish Tapestry Weavers in England: 1550-1775’, in Guy Delmarcel (ed.), Flemish Tapestry Weavers Abroad, Leuven 2002, pp. 43-61 Swain, 1988: Margaret Swain, Tapestries and Textiles at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the Royal Collection, London 1988 Hefford, 1985: Wendy Hefford, 'The Diogenes Tapestries and the Stamford Legend', Bulletin du Liaison du Centre International des Textiles anciens, nos. 59-60, 1984 II, (1985), pp. 67-79 Belton, 1983: unpublished report on the Belton MSS (Lincolnshire Archives), 1983 (copy at Belton House) Diogenes Laertius, 1925: Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, trans. Robert Hicks, London and New York 1925

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