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.
Part of the inscription on the right of the entrance gate of the Gobelins has already been quoted. The rest reads: "April, 1601, Marc de Comans and François de la Planche, Flemish tapestry weavers, instal their workrooms on the banks of the Biévre." The Biévre is the little stream in the rear, now covered and no longer used, that was greatly cherished by dyers of red in ancient days, because of the special virtues that made its water suitable for their purpose. Frans Van Den Planken (the Flemish form of the name), came from Audenarde, Marc de Comans from Brussels. Both claimed to be gentlemen by birth and were very scrupulous about signing themselves as such in commercial documents and papers.
Although their partnership was formed and became active in January, 1601, for the manufacture of tapestries and other commercial operations in France, such as draining the marshes of Charentes, shipping wheat to the Knights of Malta, manufacturing soap, etc., the Royal Edict of Henri IV officially incorporating the business, and granting it large subventions and important privileges while imposing on it heavy burdens like the training of apprentices and the opening of tapestry works in the provinces, is dated 1607. This is the edict, a copy of which helped the English organise the works at Mortlake.
As might be expected from the fact that Philip de Maecht signed his monogram to tapestries at both establishments, these early Gobelin tapestries resemble the Mortlake ones in many respects, particularly in the rich woven frames. That the enterprise prospered is proved by correspondence discovered in the archives of the Barberini family. That the greatest painters were employed, by a letter dated February 26, 1626, from Rubens dunning M. Valaves for the money due on the designs for the Story of Constantine. In the inventory of the property of Francois de la Planche made on his death in 1627, these designs are described as: "Douze petits desseins peints en huille sur des planches de bois, de la main de Pierre-Paul Rubens, representant l'Histoire de Constantin." These designs were woven again and again and there are several examples of each in the French National Collection (See plate no. 331).
After the death of Planche, Comans and his sons continued in business at the Gobelins, but Planche's son, Raphael, drew out his interest and founded a rival establishment in the Faubourg Saint Germain on the Rue de La Chaise. The repertoire of his establishment included, as shown in the inventory made on the death of his wife in 1661, Ambroise Dubois's Story of Clorinda, and Theagenes and Charicles, both from the decorations of Fontaine-bleau; the Story of Achilles in eight scenes by Pre Luc Rècollet, the Story of Dido and Æneas in eight scenes, the Stories of Psyche, Roland, Diana, Constantine (the set by Rubens mentioned above), Daphne; the Four Seasons, the Horse Pegasus.
Among sets woven before the split between Planche and the Comans, was the Story of Diana in eight scenes. There are identical sets in both Paris and Vienna. The set in the Royal Spanish Collection has different borders. Another popular set was the Story of Gombaut and Mace. One piece bearing the Paris mark - a P with fleur-de-lis - and the monogram of Francois de la Planche is in the museum of the Gobelins. In a contest instituted by Henri IV between leading painters on the subjects of Guarini's Pastor Fido, Laurence Guyot won. Of the set woven from the designs, M. Guiffrey identified one piece in the residence of the late Don Francisco d'Assisi, grandfather of the King of Spain. The Story of France, described in the 1627 inventory mentioned above, pictured the Siege of Tunis by Saint Louis, the Baptism of Clovis, Charlemagne at Pampeluna, the Battle of Marignan, etc. Of this, and the Story of King Francois in eight pieces, no examples remain.
Another tapestry works was that established at Maincy near his wonderful estate Vaux-le-Vicomte by Louis XIV's Minister of Finance, Foucquet. The weavers were Flemish under a French overseer Louis Blamard. The artistic director was the painter Charles Lebrun, who had general charge of the decorations of Foucquet's chateau. Two of the most beautiful sets ever composed were by Lebrun for Vaux, the Story of Constantine, and the Hunts of Meleager and Atalanta, the weaving of which began at Maincy but was finished at the Gobelins. Other pieces composed by him for Vaux were the Muses, the portieres of the Fames, Mars, the Triumphal Car - often repeated at the Gobelins.
The Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne formally established at the Gobelins by royal decree in 1667, with Charles Lebrun as art director, was not merely a tapestry factory. It was a general furniture factory as the word meubles suggests - a factory for the preparation of the various kinds of interior decorations and furnishings needed for the royal residences of Louis XIV. To-day the activities of the Gobelins are confined to tapestries and savonnerie rugs.
Gombaut And Mace
Plate no. 161. Scene from the Story of Gombaut and Mace, an Early XVII century tapestry signed with the Brussels mark. Peasant scenes like those pictured in the Wood Cutters at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and Sheep Shearing at the Brussels Museum, were popular in tapestry from the earliest period. In the second half of the XV century appears the story of Gombaut and Macé that makes pass successively under our eyes the adventures, amusements, joys, toils, trouble, and miseries, of the peasant's life. In his study on the 7 pieces picturing this story in the set of the Saint L6 Museum, published in Paris in 1881, M. Jules Guiffrey reproduces 8 Late XVI century engravings with descriptive verses in French, undoubtedly the same or similar to designs then being reproduced in tapestry. Some of the verses and some of the pictures contain a good deal of the " esprit gaulois".