Royal Factories - The Royal Tapestry Workshops
By Coline Duvall

T he site today houses, as well as the still working Gobelins high relief tapestry workshops, some of the workshops making Beauvais low relief tapestries, established in Paris in 1940 but also the site named "La Savonnerie", a carpet factory, which was combined with the Gobelins in 1825.

The Lady and the nicorn
Cluny Museum

The Lady and the Unicorn
Cluny Museum

Tapestry-making today

There are two different forms of tapestry-makings :

• The high relief (or high warp looms) when the tapestry is made on a vertical working plan.
• The low relief (or low warp looms) when the tapestry is made on an horizontal but slightly up risen working plan.

To become a tapestry-weaver the student must go through (for low and high relief tapestry) an apprenticeship of four-years. After that period of time only, he/she is ready for tapestry weaving. Nevertheless, the apprentice will in fact, become an actual tapestry weaver after his first year only of a compulsory weaving training.
There are now 120 tapestry weavers at the "Gobelins", 60 at «Beauvais» and 30 at «la Savonnerie».

Today the site houses three various buildings :

• One houses the Gobelins high relief tapestry,
• The second one, the workshops making Beauvais low relief tapestries
• The third one, La Savonnerie carpet factory

The Gobelins today

As a State Factory the Gobelins now produce for the State only. Its production goes to state buildings, palaces, castles, official and diplomatic presentations.

It may be wall-hangings, carpets, decoration for furniture, upholstery for chairs, sofas, screens. If it is inspired by ancient motifs it also uses contemporary models.
The cartoons are drawn from copies provided by various well-known photographers. Although their patterns may be figurative, they now tend to be more abstract.


Colbert, then minister of cultural affairs under Louis XIV created the three state factories of Gobelins.

For more than three centuries the Gobelins Tapestry Factory has played an exceptional role in the history of French decorative art, more particularly in the royal palaces. It took his name from a fifteenth-century family of dyers, which never wove a single piece of fabric.

In 1662, after a plan initiated by Henry IV, Colbert purchased the Gobelins property and brought the dyers and numerous Flemish tapestry-weavers scattered in different parts of Paris under one and the same roof.

The production of the Royal Gobelins factory was only limited to royal orders. Charles Le Brun, the official painter of Louis XIV, was appointed director of the Works in 1663.

Furniture Factory created by Colbert, was placed under the directorship of Charles Le Brun and it is to him that the initial success of the Gobelins is due.

He had under him a whole team of artists who had been brought together at the Hotel des Gobelins and participate in the creation of furnishing and the decoration of the royal residences.

The workshops, using then, both high warp and low warp looms, included 250 tapestry-makers who lived with their families within the Gobelins walls. For that reason, Colbert had to enlarge several times the area.

The master tapestry-makers were then reduced to secondary roles such as executants or shop supervisors. Until this time the cartoons had been deliberately incomplete, simple sketches which had given the weavers great freedom of transposition and interpretation. For these Le Brun substituted models, which were real paintings.

From 1663 and to Le Brun’s death in 1690 the Works wove 19 high warp hangings (197 pieces) and 34 low warp ones (296 pieces). Pierre Mignard succeeded to Le Brun. Due to financial difficulties the Crown Furniture Works laid the workers off in 1694. In 1699, the Gobelins Works reopened its door only when the shops were able to resume work.

The related articles:

Royal Factories - The Royal Tapestry Workshops
The Royal Gobelins Works In The Eighteenth-Century
The National Savonnerie Factory
The Royal Factory Of Beauvais

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