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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. 96 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 The charm of royalty surrounded Louis, he was idealised by a people proud of his position as the most magnificent monarch of Europe; but Colbert was denounced as a tax collector and a persecutor, yet suffered in silence, if he might protect his king. Before he died, Louvois had undermined his credit even with the king, and his funeral at night, to avoid a mob, was a pathetic fact. France has now reinstated him, say modern men—but that is the irony of fate. C CHAPTER XI THE GOBELINS FACTORY (Continued) OLBERT died most inopportunely in 1684 and was succeeded by his enemy, and for that matter, the enemy of France, the man of jealousy and cruelty, Louvois. He had long hated Colbert for his success, counting as an affront to himself Colbert’s marvellous establishment of a navy which he felt rivalled in importance the army, over which the direction was his own. On finding Colbert’s baton in his hand, it was but human to strike with it as much as to direct, and one of his blows fell upon the head of the Gobelins, Lebrun. Thus history is woven into tapestry. Lebrun was not at once deposed; first his magnificent wings were clipped, so that his flights into artistic originality were curtailed. This petty persecution had a benumbing effect. New models were not encouraged. Strangely enough, the scenes that glorified the king were no longer reproduced, nor those of antique kings like Alexander, whose greatness Louis was supposed to rival. It is not possible to tell the story of tapestry without telling the story of the times, for the lesser acts are but the result of the greater. There are matters in the life of Louis XIV that are inseparable from our account. These are the associating of his life with that of the three women whom he exalted far higher than his queen, Marie Thérèse, the well-known, much-vaunted mesdames, de la Vallière, de Montespan and de Maintenon. Even before the death of Colbert, Louvois, with his army, had encouraged the religious persecutions and wars of the king, and shortly after, the widow of the poet Scarron became the royal spouse. Relentless, indeed, were the persecutions then. It was in the same year of the marriage that Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, through the hand of the weak Le Tellier, an action which gave Louvois ample excuse for depleting the state coffers. Making military expense an excuse, he turned his blighting hand toward the Gobelins and restricted the director, Lebrun, even to denying him the golden threads so necessary for the production of the sumptuous tapestries. And so for a time the productions of the looms lacked their accustomed elegance. Under Madame de Maintenon, the spirit of a morose religion pervaded the court. All France was suffering under it, and in its name unbelievable horrors were perpetrated in every province. Paris was not too well informed of these to interfere with bourgeois life, but at court the hypocritical soul of Madame de Maintenon made self-righteousness a virtue. An almost laughable result of this pious rectitude was a certain order given at the

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 97 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 Gobelins. Madame de Maintenon had thrust her leading nose between the doors of the factory and had scented outraged modesty in the reproduction there of the tapestries woven from models of Raphael, Giulio Romano and the classicists, cartoons in great favour after the hampering of Lebrun’s imagination. The naked gods from Olympus must be clothed, said this pious and modest lady. This was very well for her rôle, as her influence over the king lay deep-rooted in her pose of heavy virtue; but at the Gobelins, the tapestry-makers must have laughed long and loud at the prudery which they were set to further by actually weaving pictured garments and setting them into the hangings where the lithe limbs of Apollo, and Venus’ lovely curves, had been cut away. The hanging called The Judgment of Paris is one of those altered to suit the refinement of the times. Louvois’ dominance lasted as long as Lebrun, so the genius of the latter never reasserted itself in the factory. Two methods of supply for designs came in vogue, and mark the time. One was to turn to the old masters of Italy’s high Renaissance for drawings. This brought a quantity of drawings of fables and myths into use, so that palace walls were decorated with Greek gods instead of modern ones. Raphael, as a master in decoration, was carefully copied, also other men of his school. The second source of cartoons was chosen by Louvois, who searched among previous works for the most celebrated tapestries and had them copied without change. Thus came the Gobelins to reproduce hangings that had not originated in their ateliers. All this traces the change that came from the clipping of Lebrun’s wings of genius. Identification marks they are, when old tapestries come our way. Pierre Mignard succeeded Lebrun as director of the Gobelins after the death of the greatest genius of decoration in modern times. Lebrun had seen such prosperity of tapestry weaving that eight hundred workers had scarcely been enough to supply the tapestries ordered. When Mignard came for his five years of direction, things had mightily changed, and he did nothing to revive or encourage the work. He owed his appointment entirely to Louvois, whose protégé he had long been. The same year, 1691, saw the death of them both. Until 1688 the factory was at its best time of productiveness, reaching the perfection of modern drawing in its cartoons, and, in its weaving, equalling the manner of Brussels in the early Sixteenth Century. From then on began the decline, for the reasons so forcibly written on pages of history. The French king’s ambition to conquer, his animosity—jealousy, if you will—toward Holland, his unceasing conflict with England, added to his fierce attacks on religionists, especially in the Palatinate—all these things required the most stupendous expenditures. The Mississippi was now discovered, the English colonists were in conflict with the French, here in America, and the New World was becoming too desirable a possession for Louis to be willing to cede his share without a struggle; and thus came the expense of fighting the English in that far land which was at least thirty days’ sail away. Perhaps Mignard worked against odds too great for even a strong director. Such drains on the state treasury as were made by the self-indulgent court, and by the political necessities, demanded not only depriving the Gobelins of proper expensive materials, but in the department of furniture and ornaments, demanded also the establishment of a sinister melting pot, a hungry mouth that devoured the precious metals already made more precious by the artistic hands of the gold-working artists. Mignard’s futile work was finished by his demise in 1695. Such was then the pitiable conditions at the Gobelins that it was not considered worth while to fill his place. Thus

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