History of Antique Savonnerie Carpets and Rugs from France By Nazmiyal
Antique Savonnerie Carpets from France – In a former Parisian soap factory known as the Savonnerie young orphans worked alongside artisan carpet weavers producing knotted pile carpets for the crown ruler’s palaces. Savonnerie carpets enjoyed tremendous popularity throughout the 17th century.
However royal finances the French revolution and the invention of steam powered looms led to the demise of the legendary Savonnerie factory. Before the Savonnerie was established France imported the majority of their rugs from the ottoman empire through the Franco ottoman alliance and trade agreements. Master weaver Pierre DuPont who had just returned from a trip to the Levant and the eastern mediterranean region including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria believed he could refine tribal rug designs from the Levant to suit the refined taste of the French court.
In 1608 Henry IV better known as Henry the great commissioned DuPont and his apprentice Simon Lourdes to produce carpets from a workshop in the Louvre the weaving team quickly outgrew the Louvre studio instigating a move to the larger Savonnerie factory in the suburbs of Paris although the first Savonnerie carpets imitated Persian designs themes quickly changed to reflect French baroque neoclassical and rococo elements such as architectural framed medallions dense bouquets and elaborate scrolls that were more fitting with the typical French style of the Louvre palace and Versailles under the rule of Louis XIV the Savonnerie factory and style thrived. At the height of the Savonnerie movement a large staff of interns journeymen and successful designers were employed and housed by the royal factory.
Many iconic Savonnerie carpets were adapted from designs produced by the king’s royal painter Charles Le Brun who served as the director and chief designer for both the Savonnerie and the prestigious gobelin dye-works and tapestry “weavery”. Under the direction of Jean Baptiste Colbert the minister of finance for Louis xiv an unprecedented order for more than 100 carpets was placed to furnish the galerie d’apollon and the massive grade galerie of the Louvre palace.
Unfortunately by the time the carpets were complete Louis XIV had all but abandoned the Louvre in favor of his palace at Versailles so none of the carpets were permanently installed. The year 1683 spelled a great change for Franco ottoman relations and the Savonnerie factory. When the ottoman empire launched a military offensive against Vienna France severed relations and banned an import on near eastern and oriental rugs to ensure the security of the French carpet market.
Until the end of the 17th century the Savonnerie was a thriving factory that employed up to sixty teen and preteen orphans who were taught carpet weaving and design skills for six years before graduating to the journeyman level. By the end the 1690’s war and financial indiscretions brought an end to the golden days of the Savonnerie in the 18th century a number of rococo Savonnerie carpets were created with lighter colors associated with the delicate and ornate style of the movement.
Due to the popularity of Savonnerie rugs many factories attempted to imitate the classic style. In 1750 two disgruntled Savonnerie workers immigrated to England where they introduced their carpet weaving techniques to factories in Axminster and Wilton. Factories in the French textile city of Aubusson also imitated the Savonnerie style attempting to capture a segment of the market that was unable to acquire genuine Savonnerie rugs leading up to the French Revolution. However copies produced in Aubusson were never able to replicate the velvety pile of Savonnerie rugs.
During the French Revolution many Savonnerie carpets were either auctioned and traded as currency or defaced to remove Fleur De Lys and other symbols representing the monarchy. Although the Savonnerie tradition was briefly revived in the 1800’s to produce neoclassical and empire style rugs commissioned by napoleon The French Revolution in 1789 marked the beginning of the end for the Savonnerie factory. Despite the dramatic ending the Savonnerie style remained influential in Europe for more than 200 years after the factory closed.