When, in 1661, Louis XIV ascended the throne, France saw a resurgence and flourishing of the woven arts that reflected his unabashed, bold and powerful monarchy. It was decided with his chief minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert, that a refurbishment of the Louvre was necessary to make a statement to the world manifesting the power of the King and the State. One aspect of this huge redecoration plan was to furnish the Galerie d'Apollon and the Galerie du Bord de l'Eau, otherwise known as the Grande Galerie, with carpets of a calibre not yet executed in France.
Up until this time, the majority of French pile carpets were of a relatively small size produced either by the Dupont family on looms in the ateliers of the Louvre or by the Lourdet family, who had established competitive workshops in a former soap factory at Chaillot, (see lot 8 in the present sale for an example of earlier Savonnerie carpet production). Initially, Colbert planned to commission the new carpets for the Louvre from Ottoman weaving workshops in Cairo as the existing carpet workshops in France were unable to produce carpets on the large scale required. Simon Lourdet, working in conjunction with his son Philippe, proposed that he could fulfil the Louvre commission on new, specially built looms. These looms were as wide as the length of the carpet, allowing more weavers to work simultaneously side by side, which helped accelerate the process. Dupont agreed that he could do the same, and the two ateliers worked together for the first time to accomplish this arduous task. Colbert agreed to this proposition, as he wished to promote domestic industries and retain crown funds in France (S. B.Sherrill, Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1996, p.69).
In 1663 Charles Lebrun, the first painter to the King, was appointed to draw designs for the carpets while working closely with Louis Le Vau, the chief architect, to ensure that all the design elements in the refurbishment were complimentary and harmonious. The carpets were all of equal length but differed in their width depending on their placement within the gallery or the series' overall design scheme. The designs of the individual carpets varied greatly but they all shared a number of unifying characteristics. All depicted lush and colourful scrolling foliage, acanthus leaves and rinceaux against a black or dark coloured ground with a varying central panel. At each end of the carpets, there were panels either representing an allegory or a landscape, sometimes in grisaille. Framing each carpet was a unifying blue and gold egg and dart variant main border flanked by guilloche and leaf-tip minor borders and each corner is overlaid with a royal fleur de lys. Recurring symbols of the Sun, interlaced LL's, fleur-de-lys, crowns, orbs, sceptres, sunflowers and the patron God, Apollo, emphasized the overriding theme of regal glorification. In addition, an apotheosis of Louis XIV was suggested by the allegories of virtue, auspicious traits, and allusions to the Arts and Sciences.
The first thirteen carpets executed were for the Galerie d'Apollon and were considered a trial run for the ninety-three carpets needed to cover the entire Grande Galerie which, at 1,460 feet by 32 feet, was an intimidating project. Work began in both the Lourdet and the Dupont factories in 1667 after the last carpet for the Galerie d'Apollon was delivered. The weaving of the commission took approximately two years to complete, with carpets being delivered between the years of 1668 and 1669. From production and delivery records kept by Dupont, we know today that he was responsible for thirty-two of the Grande Galerie carpets and the Lourdet workshops for the remaining sixty (P. Verlet, 'The James A. de Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor', The Savonnerie, London, 1982, p.179, notes 24-41). Pierre Verlet's book, op.cit. is a pivotal study of the Grande Galerie carpets and the history of the Savonnerie workshops. He includes a listing, brief description and layout plan for each known carpet, as well as the known history of ownership for each. Verlet based his plan of the carpets on records in the Archives Nationale, Guiffery's inventories of Royal furniture published in the 19th century and the royal inventory of 1775. Unfortunately, some of the carpets still remain unaccounted for, Verlet's plan and list also remain incomplete. The carpet offered here was unknown to Verlet at the time of his publication.
The present carpet is highly unusual and unlike any of the other designs recorded in the royal Garde Meuble archive or by Verlet. The employment of four pictorial lunettes, two at each end, rather than a single, large panel or lunette at each end, and the absence of trophies, mythological figures and other royal paraphernalia does not align with the other carpets in the documented scheme for either the Grand Galerie or the Galerie d'Apollon. The absence of the blue and gold egg and dart variant border that appears on all of the Grand Galerie carpets is also notable. What is perhaps more likely is that the Savonnerie workshop was instructed by Louis XIV to produce a unique and bespoke commission with the intention that it be given as a gift that reflected his power and showcased the eminent artistic capabilities of his court. Both Louis XIV and later Louis XV, were known to have used the carpets to impress embassies from the East. Of the carpets from the Savonnerie which were given away as presents, before it became more frequent in the middle of the 18th century, an extraordinarily high percentage went to ambassadors from Moscow (1681), Siam (1685), Persia (1715), Egypt (1716), Tripoli (1720), and Turkey (1721, 1740 and 1742) (Verlet, op.cit, Appendix B, pp.497-500). Similarly, the carpets were also used in displays made to impress the most important of these visitors.
The design of the present carpet forms four defined quarters connected at each end by bold connecting scrolling acanthus leaves. A similar quartered design is seen on a Louis XIV Savonnerie, formerly in the collection of Dr. Fritz Mannheimer and now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, which is considered to have been woven between 1662-1664. (inventory number BK-17269). This was at the very beginning of the weaving project, and the treatment of the design is less Baroque than later examples, but the symmetry and scrolling connecting acanthus leaves at each end could well have served as a precedent.
The depiction and treatment of the seasonal landscapes within each of the lunettes on the present carpet, is very similar to a number of the carpets documented by Verlet for the Grand Galerie. This includes the 67th carpet woven in 1679 which is known to have been gifted to the King of Denmark and is now in the Mobilier National (Verlet, op.cit. fig.130, p.207). That carpet, while missing a central section, displays a large single oval lunette at either end filled with the same pastoral scenes of swaying trees and meandering rivers amongst a gently rolling landscape. According to Verlet, landscapes and bas-reliefs alternated almost systematically in the carpets for the Grand Galerie with the landscapes employed for the even-numbered carpets in the series for the first section and in the odd-numbered ones in the second section. They were however, only depicted in single panels whether it be an octagon, oval or demi-lune so as to reflect the stuccoed architecture of the ceiling. A fragment of a Grand Galerie carpet comprising two octagonal landscapes enclosed within a pieced border, sold in Paris on 21 March 1969 and is now in a private collection, New York, (Verlet, op.cit. fig.132, p.210).
Sadly, the magnificent Grand Galerie suite of carpets was never installed in situ, as Louis XIV lost interest in the restoration of the Louvre and moved his court to Versailles in 1678. The importance of these carpets however was neither forgotten by Louis XIV nor lost on his immediate descendants. For the seventy-eight years following Louis XIV's death, the carpets were stored virtually intact by the Grande Meuble. Occasionally, Louis XV and Louis XVI used some of the carpets from the series for ceremonies or events, underscoring the high respect with which they were regarded. Unfortunately, following the revolution of the Directoire, many of the carpets were dispersed and neglected, with many of the ninety-three carpets cut down to fit less palatial spaces. This formerly undocumented carpet is an important addition in our knowledge of the production at the Savonnerie workshops.
It is remarkable not only in that it appears to be a unique design but in that it has managed to remain intact for nearly three hundred and fifty years. The accomplishment of both the Lourdet and Dupont workshops is commendable, not only for the vast scale of the project but for the sheer quality of the carpets produced. In terms of both design and weave, they are arguably the finest carpets ever woven by the Savonnerie.