This section is from the book "Tapestries; Their Origin, History And Renaissance", by George Leland Hunter. Also available from Amazon: Tapestries; Their Origin, History, And Renaissance.
The Child Gardeners, in six pieces, is in an entirely different spirit, light and gay and full of the fascinations of out-of-doors and of children. This was a very popular set and in twenty years it was woven complete five times on low warp looms. Of course, the greatest series of all, and the one that first suggests itself to all who know about Gobelin tapestries, is the Story of the King. Here we find the solemn and official glorification of all of the important events of the life of Louis XIV during the first twelve years of his reign. Arranged in chronological order they are:
Plate no. 167. One of the 12 Royal Residences picturing the 12 palaces that Louis XIV liked best, backgrounded with hunting scenes, promenades, calvacades, balls, each scene appropriate to the time of year. During the King's lifetime this set was rewoven at the Gobelins more often than any other. It appears in the Louis XIV Inventory ten times in 88 pieces, seven complete sets with some to spare. The tapestry illustrated is a particularly fine example that was formerly in the Velghe collection, and is described on page 162 of volume I of Fenaille Gobelins. It is larger (118 feet by 23 feet 4) than any other of the tapestries picturing Chambord, and the extra scenes that have been added on each side greatly increase the interest of the composition.
1 Coronation of Louis XIV in the Cathedral of Reims, June 7, 1654.
2 Interview of Louis XIV and Philip IV of Spain at the Isle des Faisans, June 7, 1660.
3 Marriage of Louis XIV with Marie-Thérèse of Austria, eldest daughter of Philip IV, June 9, 1660.
4 Satisfaction given to the King by the Spanish Ambassador, March 24, 1662.
5 Entry of the King into Dunkerque after having recovered it from the English, Dec. 2, 1662.
6 Reduction of the city of Marsal in Lorraine, Sept. 1. 1663.
7 Renewal of the Alliance between France and the Swiss, at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, Nov. 18, 1663.
8 Audience given by the King at Fontainebleau to the Pope's Legate Cardinal Chigi, July 29, 1664.
9 Siege of Tournai where Louis XIV exposed himself to the enemy's fire, June 21, 1667.
10 Siege of Douai in July, 1667. The King in danger.
11 Capture of Lille in August, 1667.
12 Defeat of the Spanish under Count Marsin near Bruges, August 31, 1667.
Plate no. 169. Louis XIV visiting the Gobelins, October 15, 1667, designed by Lebrun and woven under his direction. The inscription in the lower border reads: " The King Louis XIV visiting the factory of the Gobelins where Sieur Colbert superintendent of his buildings conducts him to all the shops in order to show him the different kinds of work being done." The King, placed on a platform to exalt his stature, turns to speak to Colbert. The framed painting on the wall in the background is one of Lebrun's designs for the Story of Alexander series. The two tapissiers on the extreme right are probably Lefévre and Jans.
13 Visit of Louis XIV to the Gobelins with Colbert, Oct.
14 Capture of Dole, Feb. 16, 1668, the King commanding in person.
By the end of the year 1662, Lebrun was at work on the designs for the Story of the King. Vander-meulen, who had a salary of 6,000 livres a year and apartments at the Gobelins, was given the landscapes and views of cities to prepare and accompanied the King on his campaigns. The high warp cartoons were executed by Yvart the elder, Mathieu the elder, De Sève the younger, and Testelin. The first pieces were put on the looms in 1665 in the shops of Jans, Lefèvre, and Laurent. The different pieces bear descriptive captions in French in a cartouche in the middle of the lower borders. They also show the date when the weaving of the piece began, in the left border, and when it was completed, in the right border. For instance, in the Coronation of Louis XIV, we find on the left LVDvs XIIII and under it ANo. 1665; on the right the name repeated and under it ANo. 1671. The average time of weaving was about five years each.
This first set was the only complete one ever made on high warp looms at the Gobelins. It comprised 14 pieces 4 1/4 aunes (French ell equals 46 3/4 inches) high, with a combined width of 88 1/2 aunes - about 17 feet by 354. It cost 166,698 livres to weave and is rich with gold. The complete set is still preserved and forms a part of the French National Collection, one piece being exhibited at the Gobelins and three at Fontainebleau.
There were three complete sets woven on the low warp looms of the Gobelins, all with gold, one 1665-1680, one 1707-1715, one 1729-1735, besides miscellaneous pieces. The low warp sets were only-three-quarters as high as the high warp sets, and narrower in proportion.
The Story of Alexander was in special favour at the Court on account of the direct allusions found in it to the principal events in the life of Louis XIV. It was reproduced eight times at the Gobelins during his reign and often in Brussels, Audenarde, and Aubusson. Lebrun painted the five pictures entirely with his own hands, one of them, the Family of Darius at Alexander's Feet, at Fontainebleau in the presence of the King himself. The other scenes were the Passage of the Granicus, the Battle of Arbela, the Battle with Porus, the Triumph of Alexander. The three battle scenes were so large that no space could be found to receive them, and each was accordingly made in three separate pieces, making the total set consist of 11 pieces instead of five.
As the King grew older and France less successful in war and commerce, the opportunities for glorification became fewer. The nature of the subjects chosen for tapestry changed. Instead of the Story of the King, we have the Story of Moses in ten pieces, 8 after Poussin, 2 after Lebrun. Even before this, ancient models had been reproduced, notably Raphael's famous Acts of the Apostles. But now there was a distinct movement backwards, away from contemporary history to Biblical and Greek and Roman, and to the reproduction of XVI century cartoons.