A Louis XIV Savonnerie Carpet
- wool pile
French Royal Collection (Royal Inventory No 191)
Raymond Bourdillon, acquired 26 July 1797
Hôtel Drouot, Couturier Nicolay, Paris, 19 November 1981, lot 227, anonymous
Sotheby’s Monaco, Bel Ameublement, 4 December 1983, lot 122, anonymous
Christie’s, New York, Important French Furniture from a Private Collection, 21 May 1996, lot 358
Charissa Bremer-David, French Tapestries and Textiles in the J. Paul Getty Museum, J.Paul Getty Museum publication, Los Angeles, California, 1997, Savonnerie Manufactory, pp.129-161, No.14.,Carpet for the Galerie du Bord de l’Eau, Palais du Louvre, pp.138-145;
Wolf Buchard, “Savonnerie Reviewed: Charles Le Brun and the ‘Grand Tapis de pied d’ouvrage a la Turque’, woven for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre”, Furniture History, Vol.XLVIII (2012), pp.1-43; for discussion of the series and comprehensive appendix of subsequent carpets and fragments which have emerged since Verlet’s publication in 1982, and p.39, for specific reference to carpet 50 (191), Air themed, with the central section of the Four Winds, and the two matching bas-reliefs (892 by 446cm);
Marie-Noël de Gary, Musée Nissim de Camondo, La demeure d’un collectionneur, Paris, 2007, pp.87, 111 & 299; illustrated with complete overview, and separately in situ within interior of the Grande Salon in the museum in 1935;
Chantal Gastinel-Coural, Les Manufactures de Tapisserie, Colbert 1619-1683, exh.cat. (Hôtel de la Monnaie, Paris, 1983), pp.155-158, for discussion of Le Brun’s influence on the royal manufactories;
Jules Guiffrey, Inventaire Général du Mobilier de la Couronne sous Louis XIV (1663-1715), Paris, 1885-1886 (2 Vols), vol. 1, pp.392-409, p.401, No.191); transcription of Inventaire du Mobilier de la Couronne, compiled in 1697 by Gédéon du Metz, contrôleur general des Meubles de la Couronne; and Jules Guiffrey, Comptes des Bâtiments, vol. 1.;
Madeleine Jarry, The Carpets of the Manufactory de la Savonnerie, Leigh on Sea, 1966, p.30, fig.17;
Albert Pomme de Mirimonde, ‘Le symbolisme musical dans les tapis de la Grande Galerie du Louvre’, Revue du Louvre, 1973-2, pp.95-104, and 1973, pp.161-168, for study of the musical instruments in the designs of Air (on the 50th carpet);
Sarah B. Sherill, Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1995, Chp. 3, France, pp.58-109, Savonnerie of Louis XIV, pp.61-73;
Jean Vittet, 'Contribution à l’histoire de la Manufacture de la Savonnerie au XVIIe siècle: l’atelier de Simon et Philippe Lourdet d’après les minutes notariales', Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français (1995), pp. 99-118;
Pierre Verlet, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: the Savonnerie, 1982, The Catalogue: Section II: Carpets for the Long Gallery of the Louvre, pp.172-213; Appendix A: List of the carpets woven for the Long Gallery of the Louvre, p. 486, Air, 50th carpet (No.191); together with a diagram representing layout of the carpets for the Long Gallery, numbered according to the Royal Inventory (1-93);
Frank John Bagolt Watson, The Wrightsman Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1966, Vol.2, Savonnerie Carpet, no. 277, pp.495-499
In both execution and design, this series of Grande Galerie carpets should be seen as one of the most ambitious and important projects of Louis XIV’s patronage of the decorative arts. Louis XIV ultimately never completed the overall interior scheme, as he moved the court to Versailles in 1682, however the weaving of this large number of carpets was completed.
The creator of the scheme is not mentioned specifically in the records of Comptes des Bâtiment du Roi, however as premiere peintre de Roi (and director of the Savonnerie manufactory from 1665), Charles Le Brun would have been involved, as would Louis Le Vau, as premier peintre du Roi. Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) became Surintendant des Bâtiment du Roi in 1664 and he called on the talents of the Petit Conseil group of artists and architects, including Le Vau and Le Brun. There are records of payments to three of painters of the carpet cartoons, which included François I Francart (1622-1672), Beaudrin Yvart le père (1611-1690) and Jean Le Moyne Lemoine dit le Lorraine 1638-1713), for smaller sized works related to the project. Noted scholars, including Charissa Bremer-David, have considered that other artists would have been involved. Verlet comprehensively recorded the history of the Savonnerie Manufactory, including the Grande Galerie carpets which included a listing, brief description and layout plan for each carpet, as well as the known history of ownership for each piece (Pierre Verlet, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: the Savonnerie, 1982). This seminal study has been complemented by Buchard with further examples discovered since 1982 (Wolf Buchard, “Savonnerie Reviewed: Charles Le Brun and the ‘Grand Tapis de pied d’ouvrage a la Turque’, woven for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre”, Furniture History, Vol.XLVIII (2012).
The scheme overall was a visualisation of the Sun King’s political agenda and personal aspirations, through the designs of the carpets and with their amalgamation of diverse themes, which emphasised the grandeur of the Sovereign. The Louvre carpets were profusely decorated with a combination of royal symbols, including the arms of France and Navarre, interlaced ‘L’s, fleur-de-lis, suns, crowns, globes, wreaths and trophies together with natural elements, landscapes, literary and allegorical symbols and figures; alluding to the whole earth coming to life in honour of the King. Despite their variety each carpet forms a part of a coherent overall concept; each piece having bold classical architectural framing, a large central section, often with allegorical symbolism, such as Air, Water, Earth, Fire, balanced by a bas-relief at each end, alternating with either landscapes or distinctly and effectively rendered monochrome allegorical figures in the bas-reliefs, with a field of exuberant acanthus leaves and the rinceaux against a dark brown/black ground (fond-brun – which in the 17th century was a rich black or deep blue colour), and with a unifying complementary border design. The alternating bas-reliefs represented twenty-seven aspects of Louis XIV’s gloire, each identified in the Inventaire de Mobilier de la Couronne. The iconography was influenced by Cesare Ripa’s, Iconologia, Perugia, 1593 (and widely disseminated and translated). In addition to the rich allusions and iconography, a programme of colour theory and symbolism was a further enhancement to the effect, with contributions from the Petit Académie, which were used in the royal festivals of the 1660’s. Yellow alluded to gold and the colour of the sun, and grey/white alluding to silver, associated with the moon and symbolic of royal dignity.
The whole is an extraordinary paean in honour of Louis XIV, a sort of symphony with a flourish of trumpets and clashing of cymbals, which acts as an accompaniment to the cipher and the arms of the King. A series of heroic couplets is unfolded on those carpets in the second part of the gallery that are decorated with bas-reliefs. The Elements, the Virtues, Good Government are lauded. As far as one can judge from the apparent order of the carpets, the scheme did not include a carefully planned development, but they spread the glory of the King, as it were, at our feet. (Verlet, p.197).
Apart from the central Galerie d’Apollon carpet, most were woven as pairs, and would have been conceived to complement each other and in some of their design elements allude to symmetry between the two halves of the gallery. They correspond to the elaborate designs for the ceiling and the layout of the gallery with the window alcoves alternating with trumeaux or blind bays. The length of the carpets was fixed by the width of the gallery, which was 7¾ aunes (922cm) in the Galerie d’Apollon and 7½ aunes (892cm) in the Grande Galerie. The widths of the carpets did vary dependent on the architectural design. The gallery ran from the Salon Carré next to the Galerie d’Apollon, along to the Pavillon de Flore adjoining the Palais Tuileries. The total length of the gallery (based on the widths of the carpets) would have been around 226/227 toises, approximately 442m, with one side overlooking the river. This was a testament to the extraordinary skill of the weavers involved. Colbert arranged in 1665 for the construction of particularly wide looms, with the greater dimensions of the carpets dictating the width of the loom, which was contrary to past manufacturing processes. The wide loom resulted in short warping, and allowed for more weavers working together along the longest dimension of the carpet, which considerably reduced the time taken to produce the enormous carpets individually, let alone as a group. The Lourdet family produced sixty carpets of the completed series (delivered between 1670-1685), and the Dupont family (who moved from the Louvre to the Chaillot Savonnerie in 1671) delivered thirty-two, between 1673-1683.
The numbering of the carpets in the Royal Inventory for the carpets in this scheme run from Nos.142 – 234. In Verlet the carpets are 1-93 (and numbered as such in his schematic layout of the Long Gallery, Fig. 1, based on those in the Archives Nationales). The Grande Galerie was divided into two unequal parts by a pavilion crowned with a lantern, and the first section was to contain carpets 1–35 (Royal Inventory - Nos.142-176 - 177 never woven), the second section carpets 37-93 (Nos. 178-234). The carpets for the Galerie d’Apollon were entered in the Royal Inventory as carpets 67–79 (Nos. 208-220).
The present carpet is part of one of the ninety-three carpets for the Grande Galerie du Palais du Louvre. The carpet offered here originally formed the two end sections for the 50th carpet in the series (No. 191), width 3¾ aunes (446cm) and is recorded as having been delivered by Dupont to the Louvre on 10 June 1678. From production and delivery records kept by Dupont, it is noted that he was responsible for thirty-two of the carpets and that the current example is the twelfth carpet he produced for the Grande Galerie commission. Dupont’s production and delivery notes also make particular mention of the four peacocks seen in the corners of this piece (Verlet, op. cit. p.179, notes 25-41, p.486).
The original central section of the carpet is in the Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris (Cat.No.176: approximately 515 by 434cm), with the theme of an Allegory of Air. The design format is of a polyangular outer panel on a white ground with the Arms of France in four cartouches linked by floral swags, with a distinctive central medallion enclosing the four-winds blowing horns and oboes linked by elaborate ribbon ties, with a butterfly motif surround, the four corners with elements of the distinctive rinceaux against the black ground, now interrupted by the border, with the yellow (golden) cabochon design incorporating the corner fleur-dy-lys motifs, of the design used for the series (Fig. 2). The carpet would have been longer, with the present two halves of the carpet at each end. This central section of carpet 50 (No.191) from the series, was one of the most important works acquired by the banker Moïse de Camondo, in the late 19th century, to decorate the mansion he had built in 1911 for his collection of 18th century furniture and art objects, which included Savonnerie carpets woven for the Grande Galerie. The house and collection was bequeathed to Les Arts Décoratifs and opened as the Musée de Camondo in 1935 (Fig. 3). Moïse de Camondo had previously been the tenant of the l‘hotel Heimendahl, rue de Constantine, which in turn had been the apartment of M. et Madame Heimandahl, which they rented from the Princesse de Sagan; "Etat descriptif des objets mobiliers appartenant à M. et Mme Heimendahl et garnissant l'hôtel que leur a loué Mme la princesse de Sagan rue de Constantine, n°21" (10 Octobre 1891).
The complete carpet was described on its arrival in 1678 in the Grand-Meuble as:
Le cinquantiesme: un tapis fonds brun, representant l’air, sur lequel il y a un grand compartiment fonds blanc remply des armes de France dans quatre cartouches couronnez et soutenues des aisles de la Renommee, et accompagnees de festoons de fleurs et dans le milieu d’un rond fonds bleu entoure de papillons dans lequel sont representez les Quatre Vents, aux deux bouts deux bas-reliefs bleus representant Eole et Junon, long de 7 aunes ½ sure 3 aunes ¾ de large.
When an inventory was drawn up in 1789 those from the Long Gallery had been preserved and their condition noted. Even with changing political events Louis XV, Louis XVI and Napoleon carefully administered the loans and movement of the carpets they had inherited and appreciated. Then during the Revolution and the Directoire some pieces were dispersed to government officials or used to pay governmental debts. The current piece was acquired from the Directoire by Raymond Bourdillon on 26 July 1797. Bourdillon received forty-four Savonnerie carpets, including twenty-seven others from the Grande Galerie series, as payment for horse fodder he supplied the revolutionary army. When Bourdillon received the carpets, the condition for the original complete carpet was noted as follows:Tapis frais comme neuf, avec medaillon en bas-relief aux deux bouts et un grand milieu, fond blanc et bleu, orne de trophees de musique et de 4 grands ecussons couronnes, 1600F (AN 02 / 464).
Many of the Grande Galerie carpets were altered, reduced in size or fell into general disrepair through neglect. Some were mutilated due to the inclusion in some of overtly royal motifs. Verlet, (ibid. p.208) specifically mentions how lost carpet fragments have been found, and married up, and he recalls seeing the present carpet of the two joined sections, in the house of a famous collector, and being able to confirm that they were the bas-reliefs to the central section of the Nissim Camondo carpet.
Despite the dispersal of many of the Grande Galerie carpets after the revolution, the Mobilier National retains the largest collection of them (around forty). There are other complete examples, central sections, bas-reliefs and fragments in International museums and private collections. It is unlikely that the carpets were ever laid out in entirety during the reign of Louis XIV, and it is of great significance that the intended effect was created when twenty-four of the carpets from the Mobilier National were stitched together on the occasion of the Signing of the Treaty of Versailles on the 18th June 1919, in the Galerie des Glaces.
[It is] “….. impossible to exaggerate the importance of the weaving of the carpets for the Long Gallery – one of the most persistently pursued projects of the reign – in the history of the decorative arts of the seventeenth century. The whole future of the Savonnerie factory, its very existence and its characteristic style were based on them” (Verlet, p.211).