Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Orphans at Savonnerie

My current work-in-progress takes place in and around Paris, and concerns the orphans at the Savonnerie tapestry factory. Because I found the research so interesting, I thought I'd share a bit of it with my readers.
During the 15th century, Jean Gobelin founded a dye factory in Paris. Later, Henry IV took over the factory and turned it into a profitable tapestry factory. In 1601, the king brought two weavers from Flanders to Paris to manage the workshops, which were still known as the Gobelin factory.
Some sixty of the workers came from a Paris orphanage. They ranged in age from ten to twelve. The two weavers taught them the craft, and even brought in a tutor once a week to instruct in the art of drawing cartoons, the patterns weavers follow to make the tapestries.
After six years of apprenticeship, one of these orphans, supposedly the one who exhibited the most talent, was chosen as maƮtre. The rest continued as journeymen.
The Gobelin factory tapestries were admired by royalty, and became so valuable only royals could afford them. Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance commissioned several for the king, which took years to produce. Some of the Gobelin tapestries, like the one pictured here, can be seen at Versailles.
The Gobelin name continues, and now the word Gobelin describes not only a weaving technique, but also a color, the best known of which is Gobelin Blue.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tapestry and weaving has always held a fascination for me, even though I’ve never learned the craft. I’ve seen weavers at reenactments, and tapestries in museums, though. Many of them reflect the geographical location and time period in which they were created. If you google “tapestries” in Wikimedia Commons, you’ll see what I mean. Those by Spanish artists are different from the French, just as painting style and medium differ.
Today, though, I’m blogging about a different kind of tapestry—one created with flowers. Every two years, since 1971, the city of Brussels has an exhibition that draws tourists from miles around. The image above shows the completed floral masterpiece, made of 700,000 begonias. The flowers are arranged on a transparent piece of plastic, perforated to allow enough humidity to reach the blooms to keep them looking fresh longer.
This particular pattern was copied from a tapestry, one of the French Savonnerie. The Savonnerie workshop was founded in Paris in 1628, and produced lavish tapestries for royal palaces, as well as for state gifts and commissions. Now, almost all original Savonnerie tapestries of the 17th and 18th centuries are in museums.
The workshop apprenticed orphans to work in the factory. Where they came from and what they learned is the subject of my next blog.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Medieval Income Taxes

Papal taxes, begun in the 12th century, required Catholic clergy to pay one-fortieth of their income to support the crusaders. The practice was continued by later popes. Originally, the taxes went directly to the crusaders.
In the 13th century, the collection of taxes supported crusades outside the Holy Land, such as Pope Gregory IX’s war against Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. The taxes went straight to the pope to distribute as he saw fit, or in some cases, to a nobleman who promised to go on crusade.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, papal taxes were used for wars against the Ottoman Turks and others. Next time you pay income taxes, remember that it’s not a new institution, and nothing much has changed. Working citizens still have to pay, and don’t have much to say about how the governing body spends it.

The image is of Mercury, god of Commerce, handing a bag of gold to the financier of the Revolutionary War.