Savonnerie and Aubusson Carpets of the Courts at Versailles
The Court of Louis XIV of France left an indelible mark on the world of fashion and home furnishing. He was known as the “Sun King,” and reigned for an impressive 72 years. During those years, style and fashion became a sign of outward wealth and status. Out of this quest to show his wealth came some of the most beautiful carpets and tapestries of the era.
Fashion and the Court at Versailles
Louis XIV style arose to complement the massive building projects taking place around Paris. The Court at Versailles was intended to inspire awe with its grand style of architecture. Furniture, paintings, carpets, and draperies were designed to highlight the appearance of massive scale. The style emphasized a richness of materials that included the most expensive fabrics, bronze, stone, and marble. This style required the creation of extravagant carpets to match. At that time, wares from the Orient and Near East were a sign of status. Furniture sat perched on ornate cabriole legs, allowing it to show off the fine carpets that were underneath.
During the time of Louis XIV, royalty dictated what to wear and what not to wear. The earlier years were dominated by dark fabrics and elaborate designs. By the end of the reign in 1715, the style became lighter and used more pastels. It was a time when fashion was dominated by frills, bows, lace, and ruffles. The architecture was dominated by frescoes, ornate reliefs, and stately columns. This style was reflected in the carpets of the time, too. It might be noted that it was fashionable at the time to hang Savonnerie carpets from the ceiling, as well as displaying them on the floors and walls.
The Savonnerie workshops were the forerunner of the Aubusson workshops. They got their start under King Henry IV of France between 1589 and 1610. The reason for the establishment of the workshops is that King Henry became alarmed by the depletion of the national treasury due to the need to import Oriental carpets and other luxury goods. He decided to set up the manufacture of fine carpets in France in an attempt to compete with imports. The primary motive was to keep French silver remaining within its borders.
The first Savonnerie workshop was set up in the Louvre Palace itself by Pierre DuPont. King Louis XIII granted DuPont an 18-year monopoly for making carpets. Savonnerie carpets were made from wool and used the Ghiordes, or Turkish knot. They were about 90 knots per square inch, on average. In the beginning, they were copies of Persian and Turkish rugs, but they eventually developed their own distinctive style based on classical Roman designs. They featured dense flowers, leaves, and vine work. They often included the armorials of the noblemen who commissioned them. They were characterized by deep blue, black, and brown backgrounds with bright designs. The Savonnerie workshops operated from around 1650-1789.
The Aubusson Workshop
In 1662, the Gobelin tapestry workshop was purchased to create fine tapestries for the courts, but they had competition. The privately-owned Beauvais Manufactory and Aubusson tapestry workshop already produced similar works. The Aubusson workshop produced both wall tapestries and carpets. Prior to 1665, the designs of Aubusson carpets were based on Turkish examples, but after around 1665, they were based on Savonnerie carpets due to the end of the monopoly granted to DuPont and the Savonnerie workshops. Prior to this time, Savonnerie carpets were only available to the royal courts.
Aubusson carpets were works of art and matched the opulent style that was in fashion at the time. Favorite colors included light blue, rose, and ivory. Aubusson carpets used more subtle color combinations than their Savonnerie predecessors. They included floral, architectural, and geometric designs that were often highly ornate. The Aubusson workshop operated until 1870 when it shut down.
Rococo Style Carpets
The Rococo style began in the 1730s as an answer to the formal, geometric style of Louis XIV. It generally refers to the time of Louis XV, which is considered to have ended around 1750. Rococo style is characterized by a highly theatrical and dramatic level of decoration and complexity. Whereas Louis XIV style tended to be on a grand scale and emphasize space, Rococo style as about the fine details. Angular lines gave way to soft curves and delicate textures.
In 1722, the Afghans invaded Persia, and all carpet imports from the area stopped being available to the European market. At that time, the Savonnerie workshop had been established for about 100 years. This provided an opportunity for them to fill the gap. They produced carpets that complemented the Rococo style with designs that became increasingly lavish and decadent. The looms at Aubusson began to create carpets with distinctive Rococo style scrollwork. Both the Savonnerie workshops and Aubusson would occasionally continue to produce carpets with a distinctive Persian influence or design element. This design never completely went out of style.
The time of Louis XIV and Louis XV was a time of excesses when it came to fashion and interior design. The looms of Aubusson and Savonnerie competed for the business of the upper class. During this time, they created some of the most beautiful and ornate designs of any European manufacturers. Their designs are distinctive and easily recognized. Many of them are copied by modern designers, but the originals are a rare antique that is highly prized by collectors.
We invite you to browse our excellent selection of Aubusson and Savonnerie designs. They make the perfect complement to formal interior designs. They are elegant and have a distinctive presence in the room. If you find one that is too beautiful to resist, our friendly and knowledgeable staff would be happy to assist.