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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. 94 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 The subjects for the History of the King were chosen from official solemnities during the first twelve years of his reign. Lebrun’s task, into which he threw his whole soul, was to celebrate the power and the glory of his master, to show the king in perpetual picture as the greatest living personage, and to still his fears with regard to long defunct royal rivals. His life as a man was pictured, his marriage, his treaties with other nations, and his actions as a soldier in the various battles or military conquests. In the latter affairs he had not even been present, but poet’s license was given where the glorification of the king was concerned. The flattery that surrounds a king thus gave him reason to think that his persecutions in the Palatinate and his constant warfare were greatly to his glory. It is the tapestry in this set that is called Visit of Louis XIV to the Gobelins that interests us strongly, as being delightfully pertinent to our subject. The picture shows the king in chary indulgence standing just within the court of the Royal Factory, while eager masters of arts and crafts strenuously heap before him their masterpieces. (Plate facing page 114.) The borders of these sumptuous hangings are to be enjoyed when the original set can be seen, for the borders are Lebrun’s special care. The three pieces added late in the reign are drawn with different borders, and no stronger example of deteriorating change can be given, the change in the composition of the border which took place after the passing of Lebrun. The pieces in the set of the Life of the King numbered forty; with the addition of the later ones, forty-three. They were repeated many times in the succeeding years, but on low-warp, reduced in size, and without the superb decorative border which was composed by Lebrun’s own hand for the original series. François de la Meulen was Lebrun’s able coadjutor in the direction of this famous set. Eight artists accustomed to the work were charged with the cartoons, but Lebrun headed it all. It is interesting to note that the temptation to sport in the fields of pure decoration, led him into the personal composition of the border. These borders are the very acme of perfection in decoration, full of strength, of grace, and of purity. They suggest the classic, yet are full of the warm blood of the hour; they are Greek, yet they are French, and they foreshadow the centuries of beautiful design which France supplies to the world. The colouring of these tapestries seems to us strong, but it is not a strength of tone that offends, rather it adds force to the subject. The charge is made that in this suite the deplorable change had taken place which lifted tapestries from their original intent and made of them paintings in wool. That change certainly did come later, as we shall see and deplore, but at present the colours kept comparatively low in number. The proof of this was that only seventy-nine tones were discoverable when the Gobelins factory in recent years examined this hanging for the purposes of reproducing it.

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 95 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 See larger image LOUIS XIV VISITING THE GOBELINS FACTORY Gobelins Tapestry, Epoch Louis XIV Lebrun’s task in this series seems to us far more simple in point of picturesqueness than it did to him, for the affairs of the time were those depicted. They were the events of the moment, and the personages taking part in them were given in recognisable portraiture. Figure a tapestry of to-day depicting the laying of a cornerstone by our National President, every one in modern dress, every face a portrait, and Lebrun’s task appears in a new light. Yet he was able to accomplish it in a way which gratified the overfed vanity of Louis and which more than gratifies the art lover of to-day. The set called the History of Alexander is one of Lebrun’s famous works. In subject it departs from the affairs of the time of the Sun King, to portray the Greek Conqueror, to whom Louis liked to be compared. For us the classic dress is less piquant than the gorgeous toilettes of France in the Seventeenth Century, and the battle of the Granicus is less engaging than scenes from the life of Louis XIV. But this is a famous set, and paintings of the same may be found in the Louvre. Originally the tapestries were but five, but the larger ones having been divided into three each, the number is increased. The Gobelins factory wove several sets, and, the model becoming popular, it was copied many times in Brussels and elsewhere, often with distressing alterations in drawing, in border, and in colour. There were other suites produced at the Gobelins at this wonderful time of co-operation between Colbert, the minister, and Lebrun, the artist. Colbert, in his wisdom of state economy, had repaired the ravages of the previous ministry, and had the coffers full for the government’s necessities and the king’s indulgences. Well for the liberal arts, that he counted these among the matters to be fostered in this wonderful time, which rises like a mountain ridge between feudal savagery and modern civilisation. But Colbert, powerful as was his position, had yet to suffer by reason of the despotism of the absolute monarch who ruled every one within borders of bleeding France. Louis began, before youth had left him, the terrible persecution of the people in the name of religion, and established also an indulgent left-hand court. The prodigious expenditures for these were bound to be liquidated by Colbert. Faithful to his master, he produced the money.

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