About the Collection

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About the Collection
Figure 1
Le Chasseur Indien
Figure 2
Le Combat d’Animaux
A Gobelin Collection
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Le Cheval Rayé
Les Autruches
Figure 6
Figure 7
L’Indien à Cheval
Les Pêcheurs
Figure 1 Replica of L’Indien à Cheval held at the Arader Galleries (New York)
Figure 2 L’Indien à Cheval held at the Palace (Valletta)
Figure 3 Replica of Le Roi Porté held at the Arader Galleries (New York)
Figure 4 Le Roi Porté held at the Palace (Valletta)
Figure 5 Replica of Le Cheval Rayé held at the Getty Museum (Los Angeles)
Figure 6 Le Cheval Rayé held at the Palace (Valletta)
Figure 7 The signature of the tapestry maker Etienne Le Blond
The
“Tenture des Indes”
The “Tenture des Indes”
T
HE “Tenture des Indes” in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio were made
at the Gobelin Manufactory in Paris and completed by March 1710. The
Gobelin workshop came into being in 1450 as a dyeing factory in a Paris suburb,
founded by Jean Gobelin. It evolved into a tapestry weaving factory thanks to
two Flemish weavers, Marc de Comans and Francois de la Planche after they
had been called to the Court of Henri IV in 1601. In 1662 the Gobelin workshop
became a centre of excellence when Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s minister
of finance, took over the Gobelin manufactory on behalf of the Crown; its
official title became Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne (Royal Factory
of Furniture to the Crown). The first director, Charles Le Brun, orchestrated
numerous craftsmen, including tapestry weavers, painters, bronze-workers,
furniture-makers, and gold and silversmiths, who supplied objects exclusively
for the king’s palaces or as royal gifts. As a result of financial difficulties, the
factory was forced to close in 1694, reopening in 1699, but only to produce
tapestries.
The tapestries woven at the Gobelin manufactory were the finest of any
produced in Europe in the 1600s and 1700s. Cartoons were ordered from
leading painters such as Le Brun, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Charles Coypel, and
François Boucher. Skilled weavers were paid according to the difficulty of the
work; those entrusted with heads and flesh tones received the highest wages.
During the reign of Louis XIV, tapestries celebrated the glory of the Sun King,
but eighteenth-century subjects were lighter and more frivolous. The most
important innovation in eighteenth-century tapestries was the addition of
alentours (borders). These wide frames depicted flowers and architectural
devices surrounding a central scene. Tapestries also imitated the effects of
painting, and hundreds of new dyes were developed to create a range of tonal
effects. Unfortunately, the ravages of light have now destroyed most of these
subtle effects. A rare sample of a complete Gobelin collection, sometimes called
the Indian Hangings, can be seen at the Grandmaster’s Palace in Malta.
The tapestries themselves
were adapted from
paintings at the request
of Louis XIV and
purchased by Grand
Master Ramón Perellos y
Roccaful. The first series
of such tapestries was
not executed until 1687,
but between 1687 and
1730, eight sets of the
Anciennes Indes were
woven. Of the Anciennes
Indes sets that were
commissioned, the fifth
was ordered by Perellos
in 1708.
The official contract for the works
on the tapestries commissioned by
Grand Master Ramón Perellos y
Roccaful
Perellos had left the entire direction of the commissioning to Jean Jacques de
Mesmes, Commandeur de Sommereux, who proceeded to Paris, reached
agreement with the Gobelin manufactory and on 22 October 1708 entered into
a contract with the weaver then in charge of the Gobelin looms, Etienne Le
Blond. The commission had to be finalised by March 1710. As the original
Tenture des Indes cartoons consisted of eight compositions, agreement was
reached that the design of L’Éléphant and Le Chasseur Indien were to be divided
into two sections each, to better accommodate the wall area in the Council
Chamber. The Commandeur de Mesmes eventually informed Perellos that the
completed tapestries were sent to Malta on 2 June 1710. They duly arrived
without mishap in Malta, and are still to be seen on the walls of the room for
which they were woven.
However the tapestries once more had to cross the Mediterranean at the
end of the 1800s. After a visit to Malta by one of the Gobelin’s administrators
(J. Guiffrey) in 1895, the tapestries were sent to the Gobelin manufactory
to be restored. Work on them lasted several years and it was only in 1910
(the date inscribed on the blue border of the tapestry known as Les Deux
Taureaux) that the final restoration was complete.
Le Roi Porté
L’Éléphant
The “Tenture des Indes” in Malta has certain peculiarities which distinguish it
from other sets of the same series. The set is woven in basse lisse and consists
(instead of the usual eight) of ten tapestries. This is due to the fact that two are
divided into two piece (L’Éléphant and Le Chasseur Indien). The subjects are
entitled: Le Combat d’Animaux (470 by 458 cm); L’Indien à Cheval (470 by 350
cm); Les Deux Taureaux (470 by 511 cm); Le Cheval Rayé (470 by 504 cm); Le Roi
Porté (470 by 450 cm); Le Chasseur Indien (470 by 430 cm); Les Pêcheurs (470 by
400 cm); Les Autruches (470 by 313 cm); Le Cheval Isabelle (470 by 298 cm);
L’Éléphant (470 by 408 cm).
In general, all the tapestries are wider than the original cartoons. Thus the one
showing the Le Roi Porté is lengthened by the addition of enormous plants to
the right and left of the King. Similarly L’Indien à Cheval has been enlarged in
the same way with the help of a large colocynth in the shape of a pear (no
doubt a reference to the coat of arms of Perellos which included pears).
Le Cheval Isabelle
Les Deux Taureaux
Since the commission for the tapestries dated from 1708, it is interesting to
note that they were executed on cartoons already retouched by Desportes who
had been at work in 1692 and 1693, correcting the original cartoons made
after the paintings of Eckhout, at a time when the haute lisse studios were
entrused with the execution of the Tentures des Indes.
At the time the Tenture des Indes enjoyed fame and celebrity as they were
splendid illustrations of the exotic plant and animal kingdom of the New
World. They were the result of studies made by two Dutch artists during an
exploratory expedition to Brazil from 1637 to 1644 which led to the inspiration
for this tapestry. The newly appointed Dutch governor, Prince Johan Maurits
of Nassau, led a group of scientists and artists, including Albert Eckhout and
Frans Post, to Brazil, where they studied and painted the unusual plant and
animal life of this country. Many of the plants, fish, birds, and other animals
woven in this hanging, can be traced to life studies made by Eckhout and Post
in South America. French artists at the Gobelin manufactory, who designed
the cartoon to heighten the tapestry’s impression of drama and exoticism,
probably introduced other animals, such as the Indian rhinoceros and “striped
horse” or zebra.
The Coat of Arms of Grand Master Perellos