TheTapestryBook, byHelen Churchill Candee. http://www.justdogstrollers.com/26151-h/26151-h/26151-h.htm 118 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 See larger image CHAIR COVERING Beauvais Tapestry. First Empire But the familiar garlands and scrolls adapted from the Greek, that were woven for the court of Marie Antoinette, these are ever old and ever new, like all things vital. On a background of solid colour, pale and tawny, is curved the foliated scroll to reach the length of a sofa, and with this is associated garlands or sprays of flowers that any flower-lover would worship. Nothing more graceful nor more tasteful could be conceived, and by such work is the Beauvais factory best known, and on such lines might it well continue. P CHAPTER XV AUBUSSON ERHAPS because of certain old and elegant carpets lying under-foot in the glow and shadows of old drawing-rooms that we love, the name of Aubusson is one of interesting meaning. And yet history of tapestry weaving at Aubusson lacks the importance that gilds the Gobelins and Beauvais. It just escaped that sine qua non, the dower of a king’s favour. But let us be chronological, and not anticipate.
TheTapestryBook, byHelen Churchill Candee. http://www.justdogstrollers.com/26151-h/26151-h/26151-h.htm 119 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 If antiquity is the thing, Aubusson claims it. There is in the town this interesting tradition that when the invincible Charles Martel beat the enemies of Christianity and hammered out the word peace with his sword-blade, a lot of the subdued Saracens from Spain remained in the neighbourhood. It was at Poitiers in 732 that the final blow was given to show the hordes of North Africa that while a part of Spain might be theirs, they must stop below the Pyrenees. When swords are put by, the empty hand turns to its accustomed crafts of peace. Poitiers is a weary journey from Africa if the land ways are hostile, and all to be traversed afoot. Rather than return, the conquered Saracens stayed, so runs the legend of Aubusson, and quite naturally fell into their home-craft of weaving. They had a pretty gift indeed to bestow, for at that time, as in ages before, the world’s best fabrics came from the luxurious East. And so the Saracens, defeated at Poitiers by Charles Martel, wandered to nearby Aubusson, wove their cloths and gave the town the chance to set its earliest looms at a date far back in the past. The centuries went on, however, without much left in the way of history-fabric or woven fabric until we approach the time when tapestry-history begins all over France, like sparse flowers glowing here and there in the early spring wood. When the Great Louis, with Colbert at his sumptuous side, was by way of patronising magnificently those arts which contributed to his own splendour, he set his all-seeing eye upon Aubusson, and thought to make it a royal factory. He was far from establishing it—that was more than accomplished already, not so much by the legendary Saracens as by the busy populace who had as early as 1637 as many as two thousand workers. Going back a little farther we find a record of four tapestries woven there for Rheims. It was, perhaps, this very prosperity, this ability to stand alone that made Louis and Colbert think it worth while to patronise the works at Aubusson. But it must be said that at this time (1664) the factory was deteriorating. Tapestry works are as sensitive as the veriest exotic, and without the proper conditions fail and fade. The wrong matter here was primarily the cartoons, which were of the poorest. No artist controlled them, and the workers strayed far from the copy set long before. Added to that, the wool was of coarse, harsh quality and the dyeing was badly done. All three faults remediable, thought the two chief forces in the kingdom. So Louis XIV announced to the sixteen hundred weavers of Aubusson that he would give their works the conspicuous privilege of taking on the name of the Royal Manufactory at Aubusson. And, moreover, he declared his wish to send them an artist to draw worthily, and a master of the important craft of dyeing fast and lovely colours. Colbert drew up a series of articles and stipulations, long papers of rules and restrictions which were considered a necessary part of fine tapestry weaving. These papers are tiresome to read—the constitution of many a nation or a state is far less verbose. They give the impression that the craft of tapestry weaving is beset with every sort of small deceit, so protection must be the arrangement between master and worker, and between the factory and the great outside world, lying in wait to tear with avaricious claws any fabric, woven or written, that this document leaves unprotected. You get, too, the impression that weavers took themselves a little too seriously. There must have been other arts and crafts in the world than theirs, but if so these men of long documents ignored it. Aubusson, then, took heart at the encouragement of the king and his prime minister, enjoyed their fine new title to flaunt before the world which lacked it, pored over their new Articles of Faith, and awaited the new artist and the new alchemist of colours.