Joseph-Jean-Baptiste Fleuriau d'Armenonville was the Garde des Sceaux, Keeper of the Seals, from 1722 until 1727, the year when Cardinal Fleury and his protégé Chauvelin requested his resignation. He died a year later, on 27 November 1728, in the château de Madrid in the Bois de Boulogne, where had been governor since 1705.
In the inventory following his death two tapestry sets are mentioned, including one comprising six pièces de tapisserie de Beauvais, repérsentant des chinois contenant 17 aunes sur 3 aunes de haut, doublée en plein toutes aux armes dudit Garde des Sceaux et fleurdlisée dans les bordures ... 4000 livres.
This inventory was completed by the annotation à l'égard des tapisseries du Sceau ... de six pièces de la Manufacture de Beauvais représentant des chinois 7a de cours par 3 aunes de haut et de quatre portières de pareille tapisserie chacune de une aune de large par trois a 1/2 de haut donné à Mon dit Seigneur par la Compagnie des Secrétaires du Roy non prisé comme de droit è M de Morville.
This mention of the inventory is corroborated by the archives of the Manufacture published by Jules Badin, La Manufacture des Tapisseries de Beauvais, Paris, 1909, p.56, as having indeed been ordered for the Garde des Sceaux in 1724.
It mentions in L'Etat des tapisseries, qui ont été fabriquées dans la Manufacture Royale de Beauvais, par le Dr de Merou, après le 5 août 1722, qu'il a pris possession de la dite Manufacture jusqu'au 25 juillet 1724:
six pices du dessin des chinois pour Monseigneur le garde des Sceaux... Une tenture de Beauvais représentant des chinois... en six pièces et deux portières en quatre morceaux de mme tapisserie non prisée
Fleuriau d'Armenonville had one son who died without children and two daughters, the oldest of whom married Alexis-Nicolas de la Rochefoucault-Surgères. Two inventories of 1760 and 1769 mention the tapestries in the hôtel de Surgères, rue Saint Dominique. The tapestries therefore passed to the great-grandson of the Garde des Sceaux, Jean-François de la Rochefoucault, comte de Surgères, later vicomte de Rochefoucault (d. 1789).
THE CHANCELIER FLEURIAU D'ARMENONVILLE
Born in 1661 and the son of a secretary to the King, he rose to become then finance director. From 1716 to 1721 he was named Secretary of State until he inherited the position of Garde des Sceaux from the chancelier d'Aguesseau. Saint-Simon described him as un homme léger, gracieux, respectueux, quoique familier, toujours ouvert, toujours accessible, qu'on voyait peiné d'être obligé de refuser ....
In Paris, he bought the old hôtel d'Epernon, on the rue Platrière, which he decorated sumptuously.
The coat-of-arms of this tapestry are not woven integrally with the main tapestry. The probable explanation is that this set of tapestries was commenced shortly after the nomination of Joseph-Jean-Baptiste Fleuriau d'Armenonville to Garde des Sceaux in 1722. However, in 1724 the King of Spain bestowed upon him high honor of the Order of the Saint Esprit (Holy Spirit) for which he was the Grand Trésorier between 1724 and 1728. It is likely that Armenonville was keen to include this recognition in the coat-of-arms of the tapestries with the inclusion of the chain of the Saint Esprit surrounding it and thus had the coat-of-arms altered before the the tapestries were delivered to him in 1724.
THE DESIGNERS AND FIRST WEAVING OF THE SERIES
The first set of this spectacular series, known as L'Histoire du Roi de Chine and consisting of nine or ten subjects, was woven when Philippe Behagle (d. 1705) was the directeur of the Royal Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory. In a memorandum of tapestries made during his directorship and that of Noël-Antoine Mérou (d. 1734) it mentions Guy Vernansal (d. 1729), the flower-painter Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay (d. 1715) and Baptiste, the name used by contemporaries for the flower-painter Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (d. 1699) as its authors. A further memorandum by Behagle states that the first set, woven with gold-thread, was vendu par M. d'Isrode Monseigneur le duc du Main' (Louis-Auguste de Bourbon (d. 1736)). The series was repeatedly woven and finally abandoned at Beauvais in 1732, when the cartoons were so worn that they could no longer serve their purpose.
The series is believed to illustrate the life of the Chinese Emperor Shun Chih (reigned 1644 - 1661) and his Empress. Many of the images are based on Johan de Nieuhof's Legatio bactavia ad magnum Tartatiae chamum sungteium, modernum sinae imperatorem of 1665 (C. Bremer-David, French Tapestries & Textiles in The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1997, cat. 9, pp. 80 - 97).