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Tapestries Pre-Gobelins

( Originally Published 1930 )



THE third great era of tapestry production. To Louis XIV is credited the flowering of the art. He established the Royal Manufactory of Furniture of the Crown in 1662 to 1667, and it took its name of the Gobelins from the private residence in which it was housed. At its formation it was intended for the manufacture of every sort of interior furnishing, but later became limited to the weaving of tapestries.

Behind this bald statement of a significant event in 1662, there is much of interest. Even the imperious Louis XIV could not have called into instant being this marvelously creative factory had there not been previous essays in the arts which he there assembled.

Turning a backward view we find that Francis I had concerned himself with an atelier for tapestries in France. Through all his life of change, of war, of imprisonment, or of flattering attention he had ever appreciated beauty. Being associated with all of Europe's rulers he strove to introduce into France what-ever he saw of beauty outside. As he lived in the time when the Renaissance was sweeping over Europe, scattering its seeds on each country in turn, it was but natural that he should gratify ambition by setting tasks for his own people, teaching them new ways in decoration. Tapestries being then a necessity of kings and nobles as well as of prosperous merchants, he obtained satisfaction by establishing high-warp looms in the palace of which he was so fond, the wooded domain of Fontainebleau.

It was short lived, this factory, but there is one set woven here which all may see for it hangs at the museum connected with the Gobelins in Paris. It is called the History of Diana, and knowing the fondness of the King for Diane de Poitiers a bit of romance is disassociable from the hanging.

After Francis' death Catherine de' Medici kept occupied the looms for her own gratification, but her husband Henry II ran to Paris with his ambitions and made a sort of charity or social-service work of tapestry weaving. He had looms set up in the Hospital of La Trinite, an orphan asylum, and had the children trained in weaving. Two things make this venture of interest, one was the weaving a few years later of a set drawn in the florid manner of Giulio Romano which was called the History of Mausolus and Artemisia. The heroine was intended to represent Catherine de' Medici in the luxury of woe as widow. The other note of interest is that this same tapestry factory of La Trinite was one of the group gathered together to form the Gobelins.

Still looking for the germs of the industry that assumed such importance under Louis XIV, one falls upon the picturesque figures of Henri IV, that great king of Navarre who came to the throne by such a narrow margin of chance, a chance that was furthered by the death, encouraged or natural, of three other heirs.

It was he who threw out over France the Edict of Nantes which was to stop the steady persecution of Protestants which had grown insupportable and all in the name of religion. By the relief gained through this famous Edict, France recovered those of her weavers who had fled to other countries, for the French are never entirely happy out of France.

Weavers came also from Flanders, and thus Henri had at once the material needed for establishing tapes-try looms in Paris. He began as early as 1597, having then been reigning but eight years. And here he invited Maurice du Bourg the most talented tapissier who was educated at the old orphanage factory of La Trinite.

Soon he had the Flemish weavers of Paris in his em-ploy with their renowned masters Francois de la Planche and Marc Comans. In this he was fortunate for these men had proved their ability by conducting their factories as profitable business enterprises, and even establishing ateliers at Tours and at Amiens. It was they who helped James I of England to establish the Mortlake factory.

It was because the tapestry factories were always private enterprises that the art lived precariously, for rarely is the artist a business man. Henri IV was the first monarch to realize that the State should assume the financial responsibility and leave the artist and artist weaver unembarrassed by the need of funds. Notwithstanding the contentions of his prime minister Sully that agriculture was the salvation of France and the arts were questionable luxuries, Henri established a tapestry factory in the Tuileries with Du Bourg about 1607 and that also was one of the group which Louis XIV gathered together to form the Gobelins. It had the distinction of being the first tapestry factory owned and operated by the State. There was also another as famous known as Les Tournelles in honor of the district where it was first established, though it changed its name with its habitat when moved to the Faubourg St. Marceau.

In all, the king, Henri IV, supported five tapestry works in Paris. But except that they were all occupied in producing fine hangings there was no unity among them. It took the autocratic mind of Louis XIV to pick them all up like scattered bits and bind them together in one cooperative whole. But let us not forget in giving him the glory that the paternal Henri of Navarre had indicated the way.

For a clue to the style of tapestry that led up to what is called confusingly the French Renaissance it should be remembered that Greco-Roman styles of the true Renaissance had still a preeminent place in art. They were however enfeebled by constant copying with no new elements introduced. It seemed impossible for an artist to draw a fine design without giving the restraint of the Greco-Roman. The loosening of this mode was the task of artists not yet on the field. We are able to find an occasional tapestry of the factories of Henri IV, and see it holding to the old traditions making no attempt at introducing innovations.

Coming a little nearer to the time of the establishment of the Gobelins, the factory at Maincy north of Paris is discovered, and this if one reads between the lines of historic fact, would seem to have had a large influence in developing the desire of Louis XIV to reign over factories of his own. It was the factory belonging to Nicolas Foucquet, Superintendent of Finance. This resplendent and ambitious gentleman established and maintained a tapestry factory the products of which were for himself alone, for the decoration of the great salons at Vaux and to make regal gifts where such gifts were advantageous.

The factory, established in 1658, lasted but three or four years, but in that time attained importance. It is here we hear of Le Brun as chief cartoonist, Le Brun the greatest decorative artist of France, he who was called to be the head of the Gobelins. The Hunt of Meleager now on view in Paris at the Gobelins was one of his works while master at Foucquet's private factory.

Foucquet was accused of diverting public funds. His tapestry looms were taken to Paris and blended with the ever-accumulating foundation stones of the Gobelins. His weavers, Flemish all, were taken over by the crown and Le Brun, the great Le Brun went to Paris as first artist of the Court. Colbert took then the office of the obliterated Foucquet and stood beside the king and state ever after.



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