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.
For two and a half centuries the name most famousln tapestry weaving has been the Gobelins; since September, 1667, when Colbert, as it is put in French by the inscription on the right of the entrance gate, "established in the buildings of the Gobelins the furniture factory of the Crown under the direction of Charles Lebrun".
But the French, not satisfied with the glories of the Gobelins and with their undoubted right to share in the early tapestry glories of Arras and the French Netherlands - especially before 1477, when the French Netherlands passed by inheritance from Burgundian to Imperial and Spanish control - are always endeavouring to prove that Paris and other French cities far from the Flemish frontier, excelled in the art of tapestry weaving centuries before 1667. The pre-eminence of one Paris maker - Nicolas Bataille - at the end of the XIV century M. Guiffrey has established (See my chapter on Gothic Tapestries). That Gothic tapestries were woven in other parts of France sporadically is also certain. But that France was a serious rival or indeed a rival at all of Flanders in tapestry weaving in the XV and XVI centuries is not worthy of discussion.
About 1535 Francois I installed weavers at Fontainebleau under the management of the Treasurer of France, Philibert Babou, and under the artistic direction of the celebrated Italian architect Sebastien Serlio. The cartoons are said to have been supplied by Primaticcio who was in the service of François, and by his assistant, Matteo del Nassaro of Verona. We know that Primaticcio made the designs for a Scipio series of tapestries, and on the King's order carried them to Flanders in 1534 to have them woven there. The Fontainebleau tapestry plant is said to have continued active under Philibert Delorme, during part of the reign of Henri II. To Delorme are attributed four pieces picturing the Story of Diana now in the Chateau d'Anet. The borders are particularly rich and ingenious and distinctly French.
When Henri II resumed his residence in Paris, he interested himself in tapestry weaving there, and on September 12, 1551, Parliament confirmed the royal letter establishing a tapestry school for orphans in the Hdpital de la Trinité, Rue Saint-Denis. In this establishment Henri's queen Catherine de Medi-cis was also interested, especially after the King's death, when she had the celebrated Story of Mausolus and Artemisia, symbolic of her own life-story, woven into tapestry on the Trinité looms, after designs by Henri Lerambert and Antoine Caron. The series was immensely popular and was repeated many times. In 1627 the French Royal Collection contained 79 of these tapestries in 20 sets, to-day 27 in 4 sets. Another Trinité set was the Life of Christ woven for the Church of Saint-Merri by one of the orphan apprentices, Maurice Dubourg. The contract bears the date 1584 and is preserved in the Musee Carnavalet. Of the set only two fragments now remain, a head of Christ at the Gobelins and of Saint Peter at the Cluny. A set picturing the Story of Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian was presented to the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris by the shoemakers of the city. One of the pieces bearing the date 1635 is now in the museum at the Gobelins.
Plate no. 155. Scene from the Story of Mausolus and Artemisia, a Paris XVII century set after the XVI century designs of Henri Lerambert and Antoine Caron (See the fifth paragraph of chapter VI (French Looms, The Gobelins: Beauvais: Aubusson)). The set was designed to console the widowhood of Catherine de' Medici after the death of King Henri II in 1559, and was revived to console Marie de' Medici on the death of Henri IV in 1610.
In 1607 we find that the Maurice Dubourg mentioned above had left the Trinité and was associated with Henri Laurent at the Louvre in weaving tapestries for the king Henri IV. Among tapestries attributed to them by the Louis XIV Inventory, are those designed by Simon Vouet, on Old Testament subjects such as Moses Saved from the Waters, and the Daughters of Jeptha, splendid examples of which are in the French National Collection. Others that have been preserved are the Sacrifice of Abraham, the Translation of Elijah, Samson at the Feast of the Philistines. The borders are sumptuous and resemble the Mortlake ones to the Acts of the Apostles.
The Gobelins is a most interesting place, open to visitors on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons from 1 to 3. The trip is an easy one by street car or motor bus from the Halles across to the left bank of the Seine and out the Avenue des Gobelins. The entrance to the courtyard of the establishment with Les Gobelins on the gate beneath RF is simple but impressive. On each side of the gate are tablets bearing inscriptions.
The one on the left shows where the works got the name: "Jean and Philibert Gobelin, merchant dyers of scarlet, who have left their name to this quarter of Paris and to the tapestry factory, had their works here at the end of the XV century." Jean Gobelin, it may be added, settled there about 1440. He left a large family. His descendants prospered, and from dyers finally became financiers, two of them at the end of the XVI century acting as first presidents of the Chamber of Accounts, and another acquiring the title of Marquis of Brunvillers.
By the beginning of the XVII century, dyeing was an industry beneath the dignity of the family of the Gobelins, and they were glad to dispose of the property. But the name remained and attached itself to the tapestry industry, established here by Comans and Planche in 1601, to such an extent, that in Germany gobelin still is, and elsewhere for a time was, the name for any picture tapestry, even one woven in Flanders long before Jean Gobelin settled on the banks of the Bievre.