In the early 17th century, Henri IV stimulated French carpet production by granting workshop space in the basement of the Louvre below the Grande Galerie to Pierre Dupont to weave carpets in the Eastern manner. One of Dupont's apprentices, Simon Lourdet, quickly became so proficient that the Queen, Marie de Medicis, allowed him to install another workshop in the former soap factory, or savonnerie at Chaillot. A partnership agreement between Dupont and Lourdet was signed and henceforward, the French pile carpets they created were known as au point de la Savonnerie.
During the reign of Louis XV, pile carpets, especially those in an Eastern taste were very popular with the nobility. However, Savonnerie carpets were woven exclusively for the French king and his court. In the 1740s, the renowned tapestry workshops at Aubusson were re-energized by the court to engage in the weaving of pile-knotted carpets in the Eastern taste to satisfy this demand and to improve the local economy (see Sherrill, S., Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1996, p. 98). To distinguish the flatweaves from the pile carpets all produced on the Aubusson looms, pile carpets were called au point de la Savonnerie or tapis de Turquie in all the records.
By the 1770's, production at the Aubusson workshops was in full swing and over the years benefited greatly from royal and aristocratic commissions. The present carpet is very much in the English taste, or goüt à l'anglais popular in France in the late 18th century. Designs of gardens, architecture and the decorative arts were all influenced by the English taste and especially by Robert Adam, the widely emulated architect and designer.
In particular, François-Joseph Belanger (1744-1818) a dessinateur for the court, admired the work of Adam and visited England in 1766-1767 to study the latest trends (see Sherrill, ibid., p.88). It is plausible that Belanger designed the carpet offered here since he was a devotee of the English style and this carpet is clearly "Adamesque" in feel and design. The use of a tripartite format is a layout Adam often used and was inspired by Roman mosaic pavements and ceilings. The center panel in this carpet echoes ceiling patterns that Adam designed for many grand houses in England (For an Adam's carpet with similar central motif, please see Jacobs, B., Axminster Carpets, Leigh-on-Sea, 1970, fig. 29). The flower baskets repeated in the central field are another element borrowed from Adam and can be seen in carpets designed by Adam for the Tapestry Room at Osterley Park (see Sherrill, ibid., plate 222).
Although many elements of this carpet are English in style, other elements are decidely French. The griffins atop rinceaux motifs flanking a delicate and attenuated vase of flowers in each end panel are executed in a manner similar to other French carpets from the same period. The major border of linked honeysuckles enclosing rosettes can also be found of Savonnerie and Aubusson carpets from the 18th century. Some elements of this carpet relate to a series of carpet designs in a more French manner Belanger created for Louis-Jeanne de Durfort, duchesse de Mazarin (please see Sherrill, S., plates 92-94). The treatment of many design elements is similar to this carpet again indicating that Belanger may be the designer.
Not only does this carpet demonstrate the fascinating exchange of design ideas between England and France at this time, but its remarkable condition and classic design make it an exceptional example of late 18th century weaving.