Behind the Scenes at Gobelins Manufactory
|Chancellerie, Gobelins tapestry (1680).|
Before my visit to Gobelins Manufactory, the historic royal tapestry workshop currently run by the French Ministry of Culture, I would have looked at the above tapestry and merely thought "nice colors" before switching my attention to something else. Equipped with my newly acquired knowledge, however, I was excited to see the Gobelins tapestry hanging in the stairwell of the Nissim de Camondo Museum because I now know that:
- It would have taken five weavers approximately four years to produce a tapestry this size. As the work is painstakingly slow, each weaver only completes about 1.5 square meters (1.8 square yards) per year! Weavers don't get to pick the tapestry on which they work, which means that they may spend four years on a design that they don't particularly like. To protect the dyes, the workshops use natural lighting with the exception of a brief period during the winter when artificial lighting is used in the afternoon.
- The tapestry is old (1680) and a royal commission because the fleur-de-lis (lys), symbolizing French royalty, is no longer included in Gobelins tapestries, not even in reproductions of older tapestries with a fleur-de-lis in the original motif.
- The famous Gobelins scarlet originated from the fortuitous location of the dye-works on the Bièvre River, where the large quantity of urine in the water helped fix the red dye made from cochineal insects.
- It isn't one of the tapestries that Louis XIV used as a savings account because there aren't any gold or silver threads woven into the design. Evidently, bulky tapestries were a good place to store your fortune because they were too cumbersome for thieves to steal.
|Galerie des Gobelins|
It's possible to visit the Gobelins Manufactory by booking one of the tours offered in French at 1:00 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with FNAC. Admittedly, the tour stretched my comprehension skills because it encompassed an entirely new vocabulary of French words, such as high-warp looms and low-warp looms. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to see this ancient art used to turn paintings by contemporary artists into carpets and tapestries. My favorite was "Arrachement" by Andre-Pierre Arnal, whose exhibition I attended last September.
A few other things that I found interesting:
- Tapestries were originally hung on walls or in front of doors to reduce drafts.
- Louis XIV was the first to put carpets on the floor in France. He commissioned ninety-three Savonnerie carpets for the Grand Galerie of the Louvre.
- As a national manufactory, Gobelins only accepts commissions from the government. Tapestries and carpets are given as diplomatic gifts to other countries and used in government offices.
- The manufactory was closed briefly from 1694-97. When our guide mentioned that the Revolution and two World Wars didn't stop the production of tapestries, only an economic recession, one of the Frenchmen on our tour joked that it should be closed now.
42 avenue des Gobelins
42 avenue des Gobelins