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The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image

The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image


The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 88 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 Gobelins Tapestry after Teniers FOOTNOTES: For the facts here cited see E. Müntz, “Histoire de la Tapisserie,” and Jules Guiffrey, “Les Gobelins.” See Loriquet, “Les Tapisseries de Notre Dame de Rheims.” C CHAPTER X THE GOBELINS FACTORY, 1662 OLBERT saw the wisdom of taking direction for the king, Louis XIV, of the looms of Foucquet’s château. Travel being difficult enough to make desirable the concentration of points of interest, Colbert transferred the looms of Vaux to Paris. To do this he had first to find a habitat, and what so suitable as the Hotel des Gobelins, a collection of buildings on the edge of Paris by which ran a little brook called the Bièvre. The Sieur Leleu was then the owner, and the sale of the buildings was made on June 6, 1662. This was the beginning only of the purchase, for Louis XIV added adjoining houses for the various uses of the large industries he had in mind, for the development of arts and crafts of all sorts, and for the lodging of the workers. The story of the original occupants of the premises is almost too well known to recount. The simple tale of the conscientious “dyers in scarlet” is told on the marble plaque at the present entry into the collection of buildings still standing, still open to visitors. It is a tale with a moral, an obvious simple moral with no need of Alice’s Duchess to point it out, and it smacks strong of the honesty of a labour to which we owe so much. Late in the Fifteenth Century the brothers Gobelin came to the city of Paris to follow their trade, which was dyeing, and their ambition, which was to produce a scarlet dye like that they had seen flaunting in the glowing city of Venice. The trick of the trade in those days was to find a water of such quality that dyes took to it kindly. The tiny river, or rather brook, called the Bièvre, which ran softly down towards the Seine had the required qualities, and by its murmuring descent, Jean and Philibert pitched the tents of their fortune. They succeeded, too, so well that we hear of their descendants in later centuries as having become gentlemen, not of property only, but of cultivation, and far removed from trades or bartering. Their name is ever famous, for it tells not only the story of the two original dyers, but of their subsequent efforts in weaving, and finally it has come to mean the finest modern product of the hand loom. Just as Arras gave the name to tapestry in the Fourteenth Century, so the Gobelins has given it to the time of Louis XIV, even down to our own day—more especially in Europe, where the word tapestry

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 89 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 is far less used than here. The tablet now at the Gobelins—let us re-read it, for in some hasty visit to the Latin Quarter we may have overlooked it. Translated freely it reads, “Jean and Philibert Gobelin, merchant dyers in scarlet, who have left their name to this quarter of Paris and to the manufacture of tapestries, had here their atelier, on the banks of the Bièvre, at the end of the Fifteenth Century.” Another inscription takes a great leap in time, skips over the centuries when France was not in the lead in this art, and recommences with the awakening strength under the wise care of Henri IV. It reads: “April 1601. Marc Comans and François de la Planche, Flemish tapestry weavers, installed their ateliers on the banks of the Bièvre.” “September 1667, Colbert established in the buildings of the Gobelins the manufacture of the furniture (meubles) of the Crown, under the direction of Charles Lebrun.” The tablet omits the date that is fixed in our mind as that of the beginning of the modern tapestry industry in France, the year 1662, but that is only because it deals with a date of more general importance, the time when the Gobelins was made a manufactory of all sorts of gracious products for the luxury of palaces and châteaux, not tapestries alone, but superb furniture, and metal work, inlay, mounting of porcelains and all that goes to furnish the home of fortunate men. In that year of 1667 was instituted the ateliers supported by the state, not dependent upon the commercialism of the workers. This made possible the development of such men as Boulle with his superb furniture, of Riesner with his marquetry, of Caffieri with his marvels in metal to decorate all meubles, even vases, which were then coming from China in their beauty of solid glaze or eccentric ornament. Here lies the great secret of the success of Louis XIV in these matters, with the coffers of the Crown he rewarded the artists above the necessity of mere living, and freed each one for the best expression of his own especial art. The day of individual financial venture was gone. The tapestry masters of other times had both to work and to worry. They had to be artists and at the same time commercial men, a chimerical combination. The expense of maintaining a tapestry factory was an incalculable burden. A man could not set up a loom, a single one, as an artist sets up an easel, and in solitude produce his woven work of art. Other matters go to the making of a tapestry than weaving, matters which have to do with cartoons for the design, dyes, wools, threads, etc.; so that many hands must be employed, and these must all be paid. The apprentice system helped much, but even so, the master of the atelier was responsible for his finances and must look for a market for his goods. What a relief it was when the king took all this responsibility from the shoulders and said to the artists and artisans, “Art for Art’s sake,” or whatever was the equivalent shibboleth of that day. Here was comfort assured for the worker, with a housing in the Gobelins, or in that big asylum, the Louvre, where an apartment was the reward of virtue. And now was a market assured for a man’s work, a royal market, with the king as its chief, and his favourites following close. The ateliers scattered about Paris were allied in spirit, were all the result of the encouragement of preceding monarchs, but it remained for Le Grand Monarque to gather all together and form a state solidarity. Kings must have credit, even though others do the work. It was the labour of the able Colbert to organise this factory. He was in favour then. It was after his acuteness had

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