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 frames of these Don Quixote tapestries were quite as important as the pictures, and take up a great deal more room. Indeed the pictures are but miniatures set in a decorative mat that is framed inside and outside with woven mouldings in imitation of wood. Of these frames, there were no less than seven different ones designed and used during the century.
The first five had mosaic ornamental grounds, the others a damassé ground first employed by Neilson in 1760 on his low warp looms, in crimson tones derived from cochineal, much more durable than the yellows previously employed. One of the Don Quixote set, woven by Neilson, signed with his name and the date 1783 in the lower right-hand corner, is now in the Metropolitan Museum, lent by Mr. Morgan, having been presented by Napoleon in 1810 to the Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt and acquired by Mr. Morgan from the estate of Don Francisco d'Assisi grandfather of the present King of Spain. Four others of the Don Quixote tapestries with the new damassé ground, but high warp instead of low warp, also acquired by Mr. Morgan from the estate of Don Francisco and also lent to the Metropolitan Museum, are signed, three of them Cozette 1773, and one Audran, inside the woven frame. Audran evidently having forgot the date made amends by also weaving his name with the date 1773 in red in the bottom selvage. These four high warp pieces were presented in 1774, to Cardinal Charles-Antoine de la Roche-Aymon, Archbishop of Reims, Grand Almoner of France, who had baptised Louis XVI, given him his first communion, and married him, and who later crowned him at Reims, June 11, 1775. The subjects of these four are Don Quixote Served by the Ladies, the Peasant Girls, the Departure of Sancho, the Princess at the Hunt; of the low warp one Don Quixote Guided by Folly.
All the five pieces were woven 3 aunes 2 seiziémes high which is about 4 inches more than the present height of 3.60 metres (11 feet 10 inches), thus illustrating the fact that tapestries shrink when taken off the loom. The combined width of the five was originally 18 aunes 2 1/2 seizièmes (about 65 feet). All have two or three lines of caption at the bottom in golden brown, and woven gold frames around the picture, inside the damassé ground as well as around the whole. It is the triumph of ornament at the expense of picture. From 1717 to 1794, about 250 Don Quixote tapestries were woven at the Gobelins, many of the subjects being repeated many times.
Upon the death of Louis XIV (king 1643-1715), he had been succeeded by his five-year-old great-grandson, Louis XV (1715-1774), during whose minority (1715-1723), Philip Duke of Orleans was Regent. Compared with the age of Louis XIV, the period of the Régence and Louis XV was frivolous. In his youth Louis XIV adored War and Glory, in his old age Religion and the Church. The whole reign of Louis XV was above all human - petty if you will - but a reign that spread abroad among the many blessings previously confined to the few. The contrast is quickly visible not only in the Don Quixote tapestries as compared with the Story of the King and the Royal Residences, but even in imitations of the ancient style like the Turkish Embassy in two pieces after Charles Parrocel, and the Hunts of Louis XV in nine pieces after J. B. Oudry. The first new set during the Regency had been the Story of Daphnis and Chloe in four pieces designed by the Regent himself in collaboration, some say, with Charles Coypel. Another Regency set by Antoine and Charles Coypel, was the Iliad in five pieces.
Charles Coypel's Opera Fragments in four pieces was first put on the looms in 1733. One piece was taken from Quinault's opera Roland, the other three from his Armide. The designs in character suggest the coming of those that Boucher was to make famous at Beauvais. Other Louis XV sets were the Story of Esther in seven pieces after Jean-François de Troy, first put on the looms in 1737, and often repeated both with the original border and with a new border (after 1772); the New Indies, in eight pieces, after Alexandre-François Desportes, called new to distinguish them from the Louis XIV set named above, upon which they were based; Daphnis and Chloe in seven pieces after Etienne Jeaurat; the Arts in four pieces after Jean Restout; the Story of Mark Antony in three pieces after Charles Natoire; the Story of Jason in seven pieces after Jean-François de Troy; the Story of Theseus after Carle Vanloo (one piece); Stage Scenes in five pieces, from Corneille's Rodogune, Racine's Bajazet,Quinault'sAlceste, Molière's Psiché, Racine's Athalie, all after Charles Coypel; the Loves of the Gods, twenty-two pieces of which Venus and Vulcan, Cherubs, the Genius of the Arts, were by Boucher; Turkish Costumes in three pieces after Amedée Vanloo.
One of the most interesting points in the XVIII century history of the Gobelins is that about the middle of the century the three contractors there became intensely - and with justice - jealous of the Royal Works at Beauvais. In a memorial to the administration dated March 10, 1754, and signed Audran, Cozette et Neilson, they say that "to prevent the decadence of the Gobelin Factory, it would be necessary to attach to it Sr. Boucher," giving him the assistance of other painters of the Académie such as "Sieurs Dumont, Le Romain, Jeaurat, Halle, Challe, Vien." For lack of suitable designs the Gobelins cannot get private work, "and for nearly twenty years the Beauvais Factory has been kept up by the attractive paintings made for it by Sr. Boucher," while the "Srs. Charon, who are now head of the Factory, are arranging with him to compose a set of hangings to present to the King, their intention being to spare nothing to render the establishment more prosperous than ever".
The response from the authorities was finally favourable when on June 6, 1755, the Marquis de Marigny wrote to François Boucher appointing him to succeed J. B. Oudry just deceased, as inspector at the Gobelins. On July 3, he wrote to the three