SEVEN
SPENSER'S PALACE OF ART

SPENSER'S House of Busyrane, like his earlier Castle Joyous, is an art gallery, anticipating in lavish detail Tennyson Palace of Art. But the display is tapestry rather than painting. The loves of the gods are hung around the walls--Jove's affairs with Helle, Antiope, Europa, Leda, Danaë, Semele, Alcmene; Apollo's pursuit of Daphne; Mars and Venus; some eighteen stanzas in all. For such tapestries he finds ample precedents among earlier poets, especially Ovid,1 who was an inexhaustible source of pictorial matter to all the Renaissance painters, tapestry makers, poets. The central focus for tapestry in Ovid is the Arachne episode in Metamorphosis 6, which Spenser retells with considerable freedom in Muiopotmos.

The extraordinary sense of texture in the Busyrane hangings has been often observed:

Woven with gold and silke so close and nere,
That the rich metall lurked privily,
As faining to be hid from envious eye;
Yet here, and there, and every where unwares
It shewd it selfe, and shone unwillingly;
Like a discolourd Snake, whose hidden snares
Through the greene grass his long bright burnisht back
declares.2

These tapestries are part of the evil though beautiful magic (the snake image is warning) that vanishes when Britomart breaks the spell; but nothing magical is intended in the hangings of Mercilla's House, where the quality of workmanship and texture is equally rare:

-223-

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