Tapestry-weaving is one of those French traditions which, through the centuries, has made a rich contribution to the beauty of room decor. There are more than five centuries between us and the first major works.
In the Middle Ages, until the Hundred Years War, the Ile-de-France was the weaving center and the leading producer of tapestries with Paris as the undisputed capital. Then the war and the systematic plundering of towns sent the tapestry makers fleeing northwards where they founded the Ateliers d’Arras (Arras Studios). Later, when Arras was also pillaged, the weavers went on again towards Flanders (now Belgium), which became their new center.
Over the years, these tapestry makers, true craftsmen working in family concerns, created scenes that were popular at the time. Early weavings were biblical and, later on, mythological, inspired from Greek and Latin translations as well as art.
Towards the end of the 15th century, the Val de Loire became a popular place for tapestry makers where most prestigious works were woven. At this time, the Les Mille-Fleurs (fields of thousand flowers) dominated most of the works. There were also an abundance of charming landscapes filled with the freshness of flowers and greenery.
The end of the Middle Ages saw the appearance of epic scenes. Kings and princes had tapestries woven of their tournaments, combats, victories and even their hunting parties. This period remains the most prolific for unrivaled masterpieces.
With the Renaissance and the arrival of the Italian arists, tapestry weaving radically changed style. Incorporating painting with tapestry, Raphael introduced the art of composition, order, clarity, perspective, decor and the rich borders and arabesques that characterized the highly colored style of the Renaissance period.
Around 1530 in France, Francois I founded the first royal tapestry factory in Fontainebleau, near Paris. And in 1660, Colbert established the royal factory of Les Gobelins under the protection of Louis XIV. More than 800 painters and tapestry makers could be seen at the Gobelins factory in Paris, under the direction of Charles le Brun, whose idea it was to group the artists according to their various talents and tastes. This is why it was not unusual to see cartoons (the drawings used as weaving guides) signed by several different artists.
After the death of Louis XIV, the official, formal subjects disappeared to give way to more imaginative subjects. Tapestry weaving became more romantic with beautiful landscapes, and this style reached its peak with Boucher (1703-1770).
The French Revolution put a stop to the creative genius of the tapestry makers, but in 1795, Beauvais, Aubusson and Felletin re-opened, and until the 19th century, reproduced the designs of the greatest artists of the royal factories.
Over the centuries, tapestry-making techniques changed. Around 1757, Jacques de Vaucanson developed a low warp loom that was slightly improved later on by Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834). This loom is the basis of the technique used in French, Italian and Belgian workshops to produce the tapestries made today. This technique has enabled tapestry-making to adapt to the modern world while retaining all its authenticity.
Several of the tapestries in the PIR International’ collection are nearly exact replicas of the originals. Others are adaptations from paintings of various periods. It is remarkable that these tapestries, reduced in size for today’s homes, are so closely reproduced to the masterpieces.