As one of ninety-three carpets ambitiously commissioned by Louis XIV, the Savonnerie carpet offered here represents Louis XIV's unabashed, bold and powerful reign and the flourishing of the woven arts in 17th century France. When Louis XIV ascended the throne in 1661, he and his chief minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, decided that a refurbishment of the Louvre was necessary to make a statement to the world glorifying the King and the French State. Part of their redecoration schemes included the creation of a series of carpets of a scale and splendor unprecedented in French carpet weaving to adorn the Louvre's galerie d'Apollon and the Galerie du Bord de l'eau, otherwise known as the Grande Galerie.
Up until this time, the majority of French pile-woven carpets were of a relatively small size with outdated designs produced either by the Dupont family on looms in the ateliers of the Louvre or by the Lourdet family, who had established competitive workshops in a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. Initially, Colvert planned to commission the new carpets for the Louvre from Ottoman weaving workshops in Cairo because fledgling carpet workshops in France could not produce carpets in the large size required. Simon Lourdet, working in conjunction with his son Philippe, proposed that he could fulfill the Louvre commission on new, specially built looms. These looms were as wide as the length of the carpet, allowing more weavers to sit side by side working simultaneously, speeding the process. Dupont agreed that he could do the same, and the two worked together for the first time to accomplish this arduous task. Colbert agreed to this proposition, as he desired to promote domestic industries and keep crown funds in France (Sherrill, Sarah B., Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1996, p.69).
The first carpets executed for the renovation were thirteen carpets for the Galerie d'Apollon - which were considered a trial run for the ninety-three carpets needed to cover the entire Grand Galerie which at 1,460 feet by 32 feet was an intimidating project. After the last carpet for the Galerie d'Apollon was delivered in 1667, work began in both the Lourdet and the Dupont workshops. The weaving of the commission took approximately twenty years to complete, with carpets being delivered between the years of 1668 and 1689. 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 25-41).
Charles Lebrun, the first painter to the King, became responsible for the designs of these carpets in 1663 while working closely with Louis Le Vau, the architect in charge, to make sure that all the design elements in this 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 common unifying elements. All depicted lush and colorful scrolling foliage, acanthus leaves and rinceaux against a black to dark ground background with a varying central panel. At each end of the carpets are panels either representing an allegory or a landscape, sometimes in grisaille. Framing each carpet is 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, scepters, sunflowers and the patron God, Apollo emphasized the overriding theme of glorifying the King. In addition, an apotheosis of Louis XIV was suggested by the allegories of virtue, auspicious traits, and allusions to the Arts and Sciences.
Pierre Verlet's book, The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, The Savonnerie, 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 know 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.
A careful reading of Verlet's list in relation to the design elements seen on this carpet reveal two possibilities for its original placement within the series. The present carpet is either the 61st carpet (Royal Inventory No. 202) or the 89th carpet (Royal Inventory No. 230). Verlet's listing of the 61st carpet is as follows: "The carpet has a cornucopia and acanthus scrolls in each of its four corners. The large panel has a white ground with trophies of arms, and in the centre, another panel with a gris de lin ground. On a blue ground, in the middle, are crowned interlaced LL's surrounded by four Wings of Fame in mother-of-pearl colour. At the end of the carpet is a landscape in an oval border. Width 25/8a. (3.12m) Delivered by Dupont on 3 May 1680; the twentieth of the series woven by him. Acquired by Bourdillon in an V. Present whereabouts unknown." (ibid., p. 489). Verlet's listing for the 89th carpet is: "The large panel has a white ground, with trophies of arms, and a head of Apollo at each side. In the middle is an oval panel with a blue ground, with the Royal monogram surmounted by crowns and surrounded by a garland of flowers and red gadroons; at each end is a trophy of arms with a helmet surmounted by an owl. At each end of the carpet is an oval landscape. Width 32a. (3.65m.) Delivered by Veuve Lourdet on 11 October 1682. Acquired by Bourdillon in an V, but withdrawn by the Directoire. Present whereabouts unknown." The most prominent identifying elements for both the 61st and 89th carpets are distinctly found in the offered carpet; namely the "crowned interlaced LL's surrounded by four Wings of Fame" (61st carpet) and the "trophy of arms with a helmet surmounted by an owl" (89th carpet). These specific criteria for identification do not appear in any of the other Royal inventories from which Verlet takes his descriptive passages. Unfortunately, because of the brevity of the Royal inventory entries and the fragmentary nature of the present carpet, we may never be able to further identify the schematic placement of this piece, unless the other carpet appears which better relates to one of these entries.
Interestingly, both the 61st and 89th Grand Gallery carpets were acquired by Raymond Bourdillon on 26 July 1797. Bourdillon received forty-four Savonnier carpets, including twenty-eight og the Grand Gallery carpets, from the Directoire as payment for horse fodder he supplied the revolutionary army. The 89th carpet was taken back by the Directoire as it was declared necessary for the service of the Directoire and the ministries (ibid., p. 205 and pp. 431-32, note 135).
Sadly, this magnificent 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 the Guarde Galerie carpets, however, was neither forgotten by Louis XIV nor lost on his immediate descendents. 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 special ceremonies or events, underscoring the high respect with which they were regarded. Unfortunately, following the revolution and the rule 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. It was almost certainly at this time that this carpet was altered, with the removal of the end tableaux at either end.
Most of the extant Grande Galerie carpets known today are preserved in museums, with more than fifty examples in the national collections of France, three in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, three in the Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, CA and four carpets at Waddesdon manor, as well as numerous other museums and public collections.
The accomplishment of the Grande Galerie carpets, however, is not a result of their quantity, but rather their quality. In terms of both design and weave, they are arguably the finest carpets ever woven by the Savonnerie. The good full pile, color and much of the original design of this carpet underlining the breathtaking scale and magnificence of the court of the Sun King, as well as the sheer scale of his architectural ambitions. The splendor of the Grande Galerie carpet as enjoyed by Louis XIV in the seventeenth century.
Charles Deering (1852-1927) inherited a vast fortune from his father William Deering, who invented the Deering harvesting machine. Charles was a noted patron of the arts in a wide range of fields. He accumulated one of the first great collections of Oriental carpets in the United States which was published in 1924 in a landmark book by O.S.Berbeyan and W.G.Thomson, The Charles Deering Collection of Carpets of Spain and the Orient . Charles was also an important patron of the Swedish artist Anders Zorn and assembled the largest collection of works by the artist in America - as well as introducing the artist to other high society patrons such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie. Charles's brother James built Vizcaya, an extraordinary Veneto residence on the Miami shoreline in the style of a Palladian palazzo and furnished with a rich blend of Italian and Biedermeier furniture. At the time it was built in 1914-1916 it cost more than the Woolworth building in New York.
A ROYAL LOUIS XIV SAVONNERIE CARPET ORDERED BY LOUIS XIV FOR THE GRANDE GALERIE DU LOUVRE
Approximately 17ft. 8in. x 9ft. 7in. (538cm. x 292cm.)
O. S. Berbeyan and W. G. Thomson, The Charles Deering Collection, Carpets of Spain & the Orient, London, 1924, p. 117
Ordered by Louis XIV for the Grande Galerie du Louvre, circa 1668
The French Royal Collections until the revolution
Raymond Bourdillon, acquired July 26, 1797
Charles Deering Collection, by 1921 and thence by descent
Anonymous sale, Christie's New York, 30 October 1993, lot 415.