Chefs-d'œuvre de la Tapisserie Parisienne 1597-1662, Tenture de l'Histoire de Constantin pl.22
Woven gold tapestries at the J.P.Getty Museum, 2016
Héros antiques, Rath museum, Geneva
The different scenes of the life of Constantine vary according to the wall hangings but the 12 themes which are the most often portrayed are the following: the marriage of Constantine, the apparition of the Christ, the Labarum, the battle of Ponte Molle, the entrance in Rome, the triumph of Constantine, the baptism of Constantine, Constantine and Crispus, Constantine in battle, St Helen and the true cross, the foundation of Constantinople, the death of Constantine…
A tapestry exists of the story of Constantine after Raphael and Lebrun which was manufactured at Maincy in circa 1690 for Fouquet at Vaux le Vicomte before he was disgraced. The tapestry was then taken to the Gobelins.
In this instance we have one of the wall hangings of Constantine “The Labarum” after Pierre-Paul Rubens. According to Loenrad Brosens, the manufacturer François de La Planche and Marc de Comans commissioned it to Rubens, for the oil painted designs andsome of which are kept at the Wallace Collection in London while the cartoon by Rubens for The Labarum is to be found in the collection H.E.M. Benn, Halesmere (Great Britain).
These well-known cartoons made circa 1622-1623 were discovered as part of the inventory found after the death of François de La Planche in 1627, while they appear to have been executed by Laurent Guyot. François de La Planche and Marc de Comans, wished, by this commission to Rubens, to attract the attention of Louis XIII as the Sovereign owned a tapestry of this subject and gave, as a gift to Francesco Barberini, Roman prelate and nephew of pope Urbain VIII, 7 sections of the story of Constantine in 1625. Later on Francesco Barberini commissioned their completion adding seven more scenes of the story of Constantine by his own Barberini manufacture and followings drawings by Piero di Cortona.
The success was immense. We know, from the inventory of the Mobilier de la Couronne from the period of Louis XIV that there are five tapestries made in gold, wool and silk or of wool and silk.
Varying borders decorate these scenes of the history of Constantine :
- A foliage border with gilt bronze interlaces, with a sun at the centre of the lower border, fleur de lys decoration at the corners between two small ‘génies’ whose bodies end in the ‘grotesque’ style are kept at the Mobilier national (GMTT/41/1) and are considered to have come from the final liquidation of the La Planche workshops
- The Labarum with a narrow border of oak leaves held by ribbon kept at the Mobilier national GMTT/45/3
- Another border monogrammed with the letters XP at the centre , certain pieces of which the Labarum are kept at the musée des Beaux-Arts of Philadelphia, as well as those woven at Barberini manufacture between approximately 1623 and 1635, others still at the Mobilier national GMTT/41/2/4/5/8//1
- Another Labarum with a similar XP border showing laterally the monogram AGR for Armand Gaston de Rohan, prince de Soubise, deposited by the Mobilier National pur la Chambre du Roi at the palais Rohan de Strasbourg;
To this day three varieties of borders are known and the tapestry we see above gives us a fourth variety which shows corners decorated with ostrich feathers which are reminiscent of the Prince of Wales – let’s not forget that their entrepreneurial status gave them the freedom to produce tapestries for other clients.
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