PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTION
The series "The Story of the Emperor of China" was designed by Guy Louis Vernansal, Jean Baptiste Belin de Fontenay and "Baptiste", who several scholars believe to be Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer. As Monnoyer left France in 1690 the designs can be dated between 1685 and 1690. The series was probably woven in the shop of Philippe Behagle, or that of his son or widow. In fact, the following lot is signed Behagle on the lower right corner.
Behagle, as director of the Beauvais manufactory, mentioned a "dessin de Chinoise" in a memorandum, dating between 1685 and 1705. In 1731, the Beauvais inventory lists this "dessein de Chinois", as executed by the three designers. Furthermore, the compositions for a set made for the Comte de Toulouse before 1705, have survived and are associated with these same three names. A detail in the border of a weaving, almost identical to the following lot "The Emperor on a Journey", in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Cavallo, op. cit.) relates specifically to a tapestry formerly in the Collection of Baroness de Gargan said to bear the signature 'Behacle'. Of all surviving examples of "The Story of the Emperor of China" tapestries, only this signed piece and the Boston piece (and possibly two others, according to Cavallo) show an "acanthus leaf with the leaf split in each corner to accommodate the corner of the inner guard" in others the tip overlaps or just reaches the end. So subtle a detail, seen in the borders of both the present and the following lot, makes it probable that these were all woven in the same shop.
The return to Paris in 1697 of Father Joachim Bouvet, the French Jesuit scientist who journeyed to China in 1685, may have inspired the designs for the tapestries, although Chinoiserie was certainly in vogue before his departure. He subsequently published a book, Portrait Historique de l'Empereur de la Chine, and a volume of engravings by Giffart was published in 1697, based upon drawings of figures in oriental costume given to Louis XIV by Bouvet. However, as Standen (op. cit.) states, the first weaving was in gold, a rarity at Beauvais, and was likely commissioned by the duc de Maine who had given one of his own scientific instruments to the Jesuit missionaries to take on their travels when they left for China in 1685. Furthermore, the interest aroused by the mission may have given rise to the concept of the series which would date it earlier, in keeping with Monnoyer's stay in France.
The series, probably representing the Emperor Kangxi who reigned as Emperor of China from 1661-1721, may illustrate as many as ten subjects including: The Voyage of Empress, The Emperor on a Journey (see the following lot), Gathering Pineapples, The Audience of the Emperor, The Astronomers, The Collation, The Return from the Hunt, The Empress' Tea, The Emperor on a Voyage and Gathering Tea.
The Boston tapestry of "The Emperor on a Journey" was apparently woven as a narrow panel, probably to fit a specific space, which is comparable to the following lot. For the full composition see Badin (op. cit.) and Sotheby's Monaco, December 9, 1984, lot 948. Cavallo notes other hangings that were made from the cartoon used for the Boston tapestry, but most are full size or made from other parts of the composition. Standen (op. cit., p. 463) states that of the ten pieces woven for the Comte de Toulouse, apparently two versinos of "The Emperor on a Journey" were produced, one wide and one narrow and upright; one can assume that both the Boston piece and the following lot stem from the later format. The present subject, "The Voyage of Empress," is evidently the rarest of the set.
Badin, M. Jules., Manufacture de Tapisseries de Beauvais, Paris, 1909, pp. 14-16, fig. 20
Cavallo, Adolph S., Tapestries of Europe and of Colonial Peru in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 1967, vo. II, pl. 54
Standen, Edith A., European Post-Medieval Tapestries and Related Hangings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, vol. II, pp. 461-468
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