This section is from the book "Tapestries; Their Origin, History And Renaissance", by George Leland Hunter. Also available from Amazon: Tapestries; Their Origin, History, And Renaissance.
"Acts of the Apostles. A set of low-warp tapestry of wool and silk enriched with gold, made in England, design of Raphael, representing the Acts of the Apostles, in a border with red ground and with cartouches in which there are medallions and colour of gilded bronze where are represented different stories of the New Testament, accompanied by angles and by figures with festoons of flowers and fruit. In the middle of the top border are the arms of England supported by a lion and a unicorn. Contains 40 aunes [French ell of 46 3/4 inches] in total length by 4 1/3 aunes high, in seven pieces." Louis XIV also had two other sets of the Acts of the Apostles with gold and attributed to England, no. 30 in seven pieces 3 1/3 aunes high and no. 35 in four pieces 4 1/3 aunes high. No. 30 had a simpler border than no. 34, and neither bore the royal arms of England. According to page 26 of Muentz Vatican there now remain in the French National Collection 15 out of the 18 pieces enumerated above. Müntz was mistaken in saying that Louis XIV owned only two sets of Mortlake Acts of the Apostles, and in taking his transcription from the inventory, he omitted Mortlake tapestry no. 34, which is the most important set that has survived (See plate no. 93).
The identity of this set of tapestries is made certain not only by the very exact description of the border Contained in the inventory, but also by the Mortlake shield, and the monogram of Sir Francis Crane, that appear in the selvage of some of the pieces. Also, by the Car. re. reg. Mortl., which unabbreviated reads Carolo rege regnante Mortlake, and means At Mortlake in the reign of King Charles.
Tradition says that Rubens, having seen the Raphael cartoons in Brussels, persuaded Charles I to buy them about 1630. I prefer to follow Sir Francis Crane who, in 1623, in his letter of remonstrance to King James about money matters, quoted earlier in this chapter, says definitely and specifically that Prince Charles had already ordered him to send to Genoa for these Raphael drawings.
Tradition also says that Antoine Van Dyck, the fashionable portrait painter of the Court of Charles I designed the borders of the Acts of the Apostles sets woven at Mortlake. I can find no facts to support the tradition and am inclined to give Francis Cleyn credit for these and other borders, including those used on the first Vulcan and Venus sets, and the Hero and Leander set now in Sweden.
There is undeniably a striking similarity of style between all of these borders, and we know that the Hero and Leander ones are Cleyn's. Indeed, one of the most attractive features of Mortlake tapestries is those distinctive borders that indicate a strong personality at the art helm. If Cleyn erred in the direction of too pronounced relief and shadow effects, he was not the only XVII century master to do so.
The set of six pieces picturing the Story of Hero and Leander is described in the inventory of the year 1656, of the tapestries of the Swedish King Charles Gustave as "beautiful tapestries of fine quality, new, enriched with gold and silver, which were given to His Royal Majesty (as a wedding present) by Count Johan (Axelstierna)." Five of the original set of six pieces are still in the possession of the Swedish Crown (See plate no. 121).
To Americans, the Vulcan and Venus sets woven at Mortlake, are of especial interest, because concrete examples are on exhibition at the Metropolitan
Hero And Leander
Plate no. 121. Scene from the Story of Hero and Leander, a Mortlake tapestry designed by Francis Cleyn, in the Swedish Royal Collection together with four others of the original set of six. The set was given to the Swedish King, Charles Gustave as a wedding present by Count Johan Axelstierna and is described in the inventory of the year 1656 as "beautiful tapestries of fine quality, enriched with gold and silver." Next to the Acts of the Apostles set in the French National Collection, this is the most interesting Mortlake set that survives. It is a pity that the British National Collection is so poor in Mortlake tapestries.
Museum, one lent by Mrs. A. von Zedlitz, the other three by Mr. Philip Hiss. The first (See plate no. 107), illustrates the Complaint of Vulcan to Jupiter; the last three, Venus and Cupid, the Duenna Warning Vulcan, Vulcan entering with the Net (See plate no. 123). The first is 14 feet 3 inches high by 15 feet 8; the others, 13 feet 5 by 8; 13 feet 9 1/2 by 8 feet 2, 13 feet 9 by 8 feet 4. The first belongs to the first Mortlake set of Vulcan and Venus, described in a previous paragraph of this chapter.
An interesting set of Vulcan and Venus, woven at Mortlake in the early days, is one presented to Charles Gustave King of Sweden, in 1657 by the French King Louis XIV through his ambassador Terlon. The contemporary inventory in French in the Swedish archives is reprinted on page 73 of volume IV of Boettiger Swedish. Vulcan at the Forge, the smallest of the set, 4.25 metres by 3.22 is the only one that survives complete in the Royal Swedish Collection. Like the Hero and Leander set in the same collection, it shows in the selvage the Mortlake mark with Philip de Maecht's monogram and also that of Sir Francis Crane.
A most interesting fact about the Swedish Vulcan and Venus tapestries is that before they belonged to Louis XIV they were the property of Cardinal Mazarin, and are described with sizes in the inventory prepared in 1653, and first published in London in 1861 by Henri d'Orleans, the Duke d'Aumale (Mazarin Inventory). The description reads in English:
Vulcan And Venus
Plate no. 123. Two Mortlake Vulcan and Venus tapestries, the one on the left in the French National Collection, the one on the right lent to the Metropolitan Museum by Mr. Philip Hiss. The subject of the first is Mars putting on his Armor with Cupid above on the left just letting go the dart that was to cause all the trouble. The subject of the second is Vulcan entering with the Net that so effectively accomplishes its purpose.