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 maître. 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.