THE ORIGIN OF THE EMPEROR OF CHINA SERIES
This series, originally designed by Guy-Louis Vernansal (d. 1729), Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay (d. 1715) and Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (d. 1699) for the Royal Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory between 1685 and 1690 was known as L'Histoire du Roi de Chine. It was designed to illustrate scenes from everyday life of a Chinese Emperor, probably meant to represent KangXi, who reigned from 1661 to 1721, and his Empress. It was first woven under the directorship of Philippe Behagle (d. 1705), who in a memorandum indicates that the first set, woven with gold-thread, was vendu de M. d'Isrode à Monseigneur le duc de Maine. The set's success was undoubtedly due to the increased interest in China at the end of the 17th century. This enthusiasm probably rose out of Louis XIV's glamorous reception for the ambassadors of Siam in 1664 and the publication in the same year in the Mercure Galant of a long description of the travels of Father Couplet to China. The series was finally abandoned at Beauvais in 1732, when the cartoons were so worn that they could no longer serve their purpose.
THE ORIGIN OF THE BERLIN SERIES
The already strong interest in the Orient at the court in Berlin was further driven by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 - 1716), who promoted the contact and the exchange of ideas with China. He was in correspondence with Simon de La Loubère, who was sent to Siam as Ambassador by Louis XIV in 1687. It was particularly Queen Sophie Charlotte (d. 1705) who showed keen interest in Leibniz's studies and decorated her 'Lustschloss' in Charlottenburg with Chinese works of art and it is certainly possible that it was she who provided the impetus for the first weaving of this series in Berlin. Only the main panel 'The Audience' is based on the Beauvais series, while the other panels are conceived after local designs. The reason for these changes is not clear, but it appears that these scenes are in part based on Peter Schenk's publication of prints in his Picturae sinicae ac surattenae, vasis tabelisque exhibitae, admiranda colligente Petro Schenkio, Amsterdam, 1702. Some of these illustrations were in turn founded on the works of other authors such as Simon de Vries and Jan Nieuhof and were widely used as basis for lacquer, porcelain and cabinet-work produced in Berlin in the early 18th century.
Jean I Barraband, from Aubusson, arrived in Berlin in 1685 and established his own workshop, which he ran right next to Charlottenburg until his death in 1709 when his son, Jean II Barraband (d. 1725), succeeded him. The Barraband atelier, although it occasionally received commissions or grants from the Elector, primarily relied on private clients. The workshop thus had to be innovative to ensure that the production of tapestries waseconomically viable, so they frequently took direct inspiration from successful designs of the Royal Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory. The first recorded delivery of the Grossmogulenfolge by Jean II Barraband was in 1713. Because of the lack of documentation it is not entirely clear if the Barraband atelier had not woven the theme even earlier possibly for Queen Sophie Charlotte.
A complete set of seven tapestries of the Berlin Grossmogulenfolge, which had been commissioned by Prince Alexander von Dohna and supplied in 1713, was at Schloss Schlobitten in East Prussia before 1945. It had been purchased from Jean II Barraband for 6,332 Fr. through the bankers Sarry & Kessler. The von Dohna set of tapestries has differing borders from the offered set by having grotesque masks to the top and bottom.
Five tapestries, owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein were at Schloss Valtice, Feldsberg, Moravia, in 1935. The Liechtenstein tapestries have identical borders to the present tapestry, but appear to have been cut and re-attached to make larger panels.