In 2002 the Society embarked on a nine-year project to conserve the eight panels of the Diana series of Flemish tapestries, part of the original furnishings of Anderson House. A team of conservators, most notably the staff of the Textile Conservation Laboratory at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, performed the meticulous work of cleaning, stabilizing, and repairing the delicate fibers of these four-hundred-year-old tapestries, which once again dazzle visitors to Anderson House.
These brilliant panels of wool and silk depict scenes drawn primarily from classical mythology. The series' namesake, known as Diana to the ancient Greeks and Artemis in ancient Rome, was the goddess of the moon, hunting, and childbirth. This daughter of Zeus and twin sister of Apollo, referred to as the "Virgin Huntress," was also the patroness of unmarried women and chastity.
The first four tapestries in the Diana series recall elements of Diana's legend. It is said that at Diana's birth, she asked Zeus not for robes or jewelry, but a tunic, boots, a bow, and a quiver of arrows. In the first two tapestries, Diana, with her hunting dogs at her side and a crescent moon over her head, prepares her bow and wounds a satyr. The third tapestry in the series highlights the maidens that usually accompanied Diana, as one ties the sandals of the resting goddess. Diana holds an infant in her lap in the fourth tapestry, a scene that acknowledges her love of children.
The sources for the last four tapestries, which depart from the Diana theme, are more difficult to identify. Two panels depict women fleeing from a dragon and the warrior who killed it, and two follow a man and a woman through a garden. It is unknown who created the cartoons, or painted pictures of the finished scenes, from which the Andersons' Diana series tapestries were woven, but the designs may have been drawn from several different sets of older Flemish tapestries.
Woven around 1600 in the Brussels workshop of ateliers Jacques Guebels and Jan Raes, the Diana series was commissioned by King Louis XIII of France. The town mark of Brussels and Brabant and both weavers' marks appear in the border of each tapestry. Cardinal Francesco Barberini, then serving his uncle Urban VIII as Italian legate to France, purchased the Diana series around 1630. The panels remained in the Barberini family palace in Rome until 1889, when Charles M. Ffoulke bought the Diana series and more than 130 other tapestries. Ffoulke, a Massachusetts Avenue neighbor of the Andersons, brought the tapestries to America to fill his home and those of his fellow collectors. Read More<
Around 1905 Larz Anderson purchased the Diana series from Ffoulke for $20,000 and displayed the panels in the second-floor Gallery and Dining Room of Anderson House, following the fashion of the day. An American collector, who authored a book on tapestries that the Andersons owned in their library, quipped in 1912 that "in a dining-room soft-hung with piquant scenes, even buttermilk and dog-biscuit, burnt canvasback and cold Burgundy lose half their bitterness." Old European tapestries became quite popular among American collectors during the Gilded Age, when high society decreed that the tapestries were "considered a necessity in the luxurious and elegant homes which are multiplying all over our land." Washington, D.C.'s wealthy residents and art collectors—including Ffoulke, Charles Lang Freer, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Larz Anderson—established a National Academy of Art in 1906 to study tapestries, promote their appreciation in America, and assist the Academy's members in locating and buying them.
Before their conservation in the early twenty-first century, the Diana tapestries had left Anderson House on only two occasions. In 1908 the Andersons lent some of the panels to the Corcoran Gallery of Art for an exhibition. And in 1911 the couple had the Diana series shipped to Brussels so the Andersons and their guests could enjoy the tapestries during Larz Anderson's post as American minister to Belgium. Larz remarked in his journal for December 1911 that "it seems really strange that after several hundred years, these beautiful works of art . . . should return under these circumstances to their native place."
Those several hundred years resulted in tapestries that suffered from dirt and grime on their surfaces, deteriorating silk, borders detached in places, and poor hanging systems. Thanks to a challenge gift from an anonymous member of the Society of the Cincinnati and additional funds from the Society's Museum Acquisitions and Conservation Fund, conservators cleaned and repaired the tapestries and oversaw their reinstallation in their original locations in Anderson House. The recent conservation efforts have supplied each of the Diana series panels with a new cotton lining and modern hanging system to support their display for the next hundred years and beyond. Read Less<