The original Gobelins family, whose name evolved into one synonymous with exquisite French tapestries, began as dyers during the mid 1400s in Paris, France. Their factory evolved into a tapestry producing factory during the 1600s when France's King Henry IV imported Flemish weavers and turned to creating intricate wall hangings. King Louis XIV furthered the production in the Gobelins factory by adding upholstery, furnishings, silver and goldsmiths to the production line, all for the use of the Crown. When finances ran out, the factory closed. It was reopened in 1699 and dedicated solely to the production of tapestries until the 1800s, when carpets became a natural outgrowth of the tapestry weavers. Today, the Gobelins factory is state owned under France's Ministry of Culture and continues to produce weavings for the country of France. It is open to the public.
When the Gobelins factory became a center for tapestry manufacturing, the noted painter Charles Lebrun was put in charge of the design work for the range of tapestries. He commissioned preliminary designs, known as cartoons, from famous artists of the time, and these became the basis for most tapestries and upholstery produced. The French artist Jean Restout and court painters in France and the Holy Roman Empire all contributed cartoons to the factory. "Mille fleur" designs incorporating thousands of flowers and leaves and the chateaus of the Loire Valley were favorite tapestry designs. All were opulent and exuded luxury.
Gobelins tapestries were hand woven and stitched. The Gobelins "stitch and weave" technique was complicated, with apprentices often studying for 8 to 10 years to perfect their craft. No knots were used in Gobelins, and the tapestry was woven on a low warp loom. Several weavers worked at the same time on one tapestry, using a canvas depiction of the artwork and weaving from the backside of the piece. A mirror was placed under the tapestry to reflect the finished image as it progressed. A frame was woven into the tapestry to create a finished effect.
Madame de Pompadour, a famous courtesan of King Louis XIV admired Gobelins tapestries and commissioned several for her personal residence, the Chateau de Belleville. The walls of The Palace of Versailles also feature Gobelins. The Grandmaster's Palace in Malta is in possession of a series of African and South American themed tapestries from the Gobelins factory. These subcontinents were little known to Europeans at the time, and the tapestries bore images of brilliant birds and wild animals that were taken from artwork commissioned by King Louis XIV. Initially seized by pirates off the coast of Sicily, the pieces were ransomed before being turned over to the government of Malta.
Destruction of the Tapestries
With the French Revolution came the destruction of artwork from the elaborate homes of the French Royal Court and its wealthy citizens. Gobelins were ransacked and burned. With peace, they were replaced by simpler tapestry designs and construction. The age of opulence and luxury, like the Gobelins Tapestries, were over.
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