The supplication of Mestra

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The supplication of Mestra
This tapestry depicts the first part of the story of Mestra, a young woman of extraordinary beauty and the lover of the Neptune. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book VIII), she was granted the gift of transmutation by Neptune, and was sold as a slave over and over again by her father, Erysichthon, so that he could sate the eternal hunger which he received as a punishment for felling the goddess Ceres’ sacred grove. Thanks to this gift, she was always able to escape from the house of the person who had bought her and return to her own home, only to be sold once more and thus continue to provide her father with food. A replica of this tapestry is kept in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels.

The goddess’ punishment

This tapestry, the first based on the story of Mestra, shows the punishment which the goddess Ceres imposed on the girl’s father Erysichthon for ordering the felling of a her sacred holm oak grove. Ceres’ punishment was to place insatiable hunger in the stomach of Erysichthon, forcing him to sell all his possessions to fill his appetite. Eventually, he even had to sell his daughter Mestra, who sought the help of the god Neptune. We see Erysichthon on the left-hand side of the main scene, his gestures making clear the punishment: in his right hand he holds some type of food, and with his left hand he points to his insatiable stomach. The original cause of the punishment is depicted in the upper left-hand corner, where Erysichthon sacrilegiously orders the destruction of the image of Ceres and her sacred grove.

A daughter is sold

The inscription at the top of the central part of the tapestry, which is filled with characters, reads: Heriesiton Neptuni Mestra. This tells us about the protagonists of this first part of the story while making clear which myth is being depicted. The tapestry shows the moment when Mestra, kneeling in the centre of the composition, is sold by her father while receiving the help of Neptune, who appears as a majestic character accompanied by a young man reaching out to Mestra as she pleads. The same two characters are also found in a tapestry in the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, where a court scene is depicted; although it is from the same background and period as the present tapestry, it has nothing to do with the actual story of Mestra.


One of the people watching the scene seems to be Mercury, characterized by his conical helmet. His presence in the scene may be due to the fact that he was the father of Autolycus, the future husband of Mestra, according to Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book XI). Furthermore, a putto – a young child representing Cupid – crowns the pulpit on the right-hand side of the tapestry, also wearing a conical helmet. This putto could be an allusion, indicating Autolycus’ lineage, to the young lovers.

Series Mythological

Model Jan van Roome

Manufacture Brussels

Composition Silk and wool

Size 345 x 534 cm

Location Diocesan and Comarcal Museum of Lleida

Origin Donated to La Seu Vella, Lleida by Bishop Jaime Conchillos, 1536

On display Museum of Lleida, La Seu Vella Room

Inventory number 2033


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