The tapestry entitled Le Murex et l’Araignée was produced in 2008 by a group of five weavers using a cartoon designed by Gérard Garouste, a painter and sculptor born in Paris in 1946. The tapestry was commissioned by the state and orchestrated by the Centre National des Arts Plastiques in partnership with the council of Aubusson.
It took the weavers six weeks to complete the piece, using a large loom housed in the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Art de Limoges-Aubusson.
The representation is closely connected with the theme of tapestry. It makes reference to the myth of Arachne, recounted by Ovid in the Metamorphoses poem.
According to legend, Arachne was a skilful young weaver. She was so gifted that some say she was a student of Pallas (another name for the goddess, Athena). One day, she challenged Pallas to a context to see which one of them could create the most beautiful tapestry. The goddess appeared to her in the form of an old woman to warn her of the dangers of vanity.
During the competition, Arachne creates a tapestry featuring Zeus transformed into a bull to abduct the beautiful Europa. It was such a beautiful piece of work that the jealous goddess destroyed it and slashed the face of Arachne.
Humiliated, Arachne hung herself soon after. But Pallas did not want her to die. She turned her into a spider and placed the same curse on all her descendants.
Garouste has retained the most significant details of the legend and included them in the proceedings of the scene. Located in the centre of the tapestry, Arachne is using warp threads on a low-warp loom. In her right hand, she is holding a weaver’s comb, using it to compress the wool. Two weavers at work are depicted in the upper corners of the tapestry.
A spider’s web featuring a human eye is located in the bottom right hand corner, reminiscent of Arachne’s transformation, alongside a murex or sea snail, which was used in the preparation of purple dye in ancient times.
Garouste also features an extract from the text of Metamorphoses in the tapestry design. The extract contains the words of Pallas disguised as an old woman.