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Gobelins Tapestry Factory

The Gobelins Factory was established by Louis XIV (1638–1715) in Paris in 1662 to supply furnishings for the French royal palaces. The quality and design of its high-warp textiles were among the finest in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. Tapestry panels from the factory were used by both George IV (1762–1830) and Queen Victoria (1819–1901) to furnish their residences, and many are still on display today.  

Tapestry production in France was encouraged by Louis XIV's finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–83), who hoped to rival other European factories. In 1662 he brought an existing manufactory, at Gobelins, under control of the Crown for the purpose of supplying royal furnishings and gifts. The factory closed briefly between 1694 and 1699 due to financial difficulties, but it flourished soon after, producing some of the most sophisticated European tapestries of the eighteenth century.

Designs for Gobelins tapestries were provided by the leading artists of the day – including Charles Le Brun and Charles Coypel (see RCIN 19546 and RCIN 3191). The panels were woven at one of three workshops, each of which operated under a master workman. Some Gobelins panels had borders which imitated the giltwood frames of paintings; others were long, narrow portières, intended to cover doors, but sufficiently manoeuvrable to be drawn back. One of the most successful series of Gobelins tapestries was the Portières des Dieux, which shows the seasons and the elements personified by classical gods. The design was first produced in 1727 and was reworked multiple times in the eighteenth century. One example of the series is now in the Royal Collection (RCIN 45255). Two other popular Gobelins subjects are also represented: the biblical Story of Esther (RCIN 35257) and classical Story of Jason (RCIN 64049).

During the French Revolution, many Gobelins tapestries were dismantled for their valuable gold thread, or sold abroad to meet creditors' demands. As a result, George IV was able to acquire 38 pieces of Gobelins tapestry in 1825. He was a great admirer of French works of art and used the panels in the elaborate refurbishment of Windsor Castle during his reign.

Queen Victoria saw Gobelins tapestries on display at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and received pieces as gifts from both King Louis-Philippe and the Emperor Napoleon III of France. Among them were two panels from a series depicting the Story of Meleager and Atalanta (RCIN 64105) which she considered 'splendid'. In 1858, she lent nine pieces of 'ancient Gobelins' tapestry in the Collection to the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum). In 1882, they were hung around the State Apartments in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, so that unsightly gaps might be 'closed and filled in'.

Today, Gobelins tapestries can be seen on the walls of the State Apartments at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.


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