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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tapestries

Birds of a Different Color,
Caryl Bryer Fallert,
the art quilt has arrived.
There are all kinds of interesting ironies with regard to art and art history. Subject matters come and go, and then come again. Ditto for various styles. And, the same could be said about various art media as well. For example, two or three hundred years ago, if a painter failed to find work elsewhere, or if his work was overwhelmingly popular (an interesting irony), he could get a job designing tapestries, or see his paintings translated into delicately woven and embroidered works of art designed to warm the rooms and tame the acoustics of even the draftiest old medieval castle. Today, you probably couldn't buy this kind of tapestry if your life depended upon it (except for computer generated ones perhaps). Yet, one of the liveliest "new media" today is that of the "art quilt" (left). Often more closely related to painting than what we think of as traditional quilting, the art quilt bears a sibling relationship to both. And, though this still-evolving art form is a close cousin to the traditional tapestry, it is infinitely more varied and "modern."

Alexander Besieging Babylon (tapestry), 1661-65, Charles Le Brun
When we think about the art of tapestry weaving, one name stands apart from all other--La Manufacture des Meubles de la Couronne. If you've never heard of it, perhaps you know it by its more popular name, Gobelins. Founded in 1667 in Paris, this royal tapestry works may have been built on French soil, but it had its roots in Italy, England, and Northern Europe as well, drawing from a pool of designers, artisans, and weavers dating back more than a thousand years. But it was the reign of Louis XIV that pulled these threads all together into the most incredible art factory ever seen before or since. Much of the success of the enterprise rests with one Charles Le Brun. His allegorical depictions of the Sun King likened to Alexander the Great were not only great PR for his king and patron, but great art as well.

Neptune and Anymone (tapestry), 1757, Francois Boucher
Le Brun's Alexander Besieging Babylon (above), dating from 1661-65 is an incredibly complex scene of Alexander riding atop a massive white chariot pulled by a team of elephants (no less), amid a melange of celebrants, soldiers, and spoils of war so great they all but obscure the central figures. (I know it sounds hard to lose two elephants and a big white chariot but it happens.) Le Brun also designed a series of tapestries titled Maisons Royales, which depicted the splendors of life in the court of Louis XIV. In the eighteenth century, production demands grew so great, two more factories were opened at Aubusson and Beauvais which worked from cartoons (tapestry designs) by popular Rococo painters, Francois Boucher and Charles Coypel. Tapestries such as Boucher's Neptune and Anymone (directly above) from The Loves of the Gods series and Coypel's The Ball in Barcelona from The Stories of Don Quixote series were no longer used merely to cover vast expanses of walls, but were placed in large, elaborate, gold leaf frames, competing for wall space with regular oil paintings. Ironically, painters today are having the same "problem" with regard to the tapestry's close cousin, the quilt.

4 comments:

  1. Hi there I am so delighted I found your blog page, I really found you by accident, while I was researching on Digg for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a fantastic post and a all round interesting blog, I don't have time to go through it all at the moment but I have saved it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the excellent job. cheap oil paintings

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  2. Cecelia--

    Thanks, glad you enjoy the blog. I'd be honored to have you subscribe. You might also want to look into my e-book, "Learning to Think Like an Artist" available at www.drawspace.com. It will soon be available in paperback at Amazon.com under the title "Art THINK." The content and style are similar to this blog, though none of the book items are on the blog. Thanks for your "review." --Jim Lane

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  3. Louis XIV was well known for his absolutist regime. Gobelins was chosen to create works that epitomise his ideals and restrict others from rivalling him. do you think there are any works which were a product of gobelins but which challenge this notion, however subtelly?

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  4. Nicola--

    Probably not. Virtually ALL regimes at the time of Louis XIV were absolutist. Gobelins was undoubtedly a propaganda factory as much as an art factory, though it's difficult to say which was dominant, not that it makes much difference at this point in time in any case. Art endures. Propaganda tends to have an expiration date.--Jim Lane

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