A Brief History of Savonnerie Carpets
The early history of carpets in France is tied to the story of two weaving ateliers, Savonnerie and Aubusson. There are earlier references to carpets being woven in France before the seventeenth century, but no examples survive.
The granting of a license by Henri IV to Pierre Dupont in France, 1608, to manufacture Savonnerie carpets is similar in spirit to the establishment of court workshops by the Mughals and Safavids, whose common aim was to produce superlative works of art, including carpets. In 1627 Louis XVIII gave a royal privilege to Dupont (1577-1640) and his pupil Simon Lourdet (d.1671) for weaving carpets. They set up business in an old soap factory, hence the name Savonnerie, which quickly became the label attached to the products of the factory - carpets, panels and wall hangings - all created exclusively for the court. From the beginning, individual designers were employed to create designs, all of which were European in style.
Unlike early American or British carpets, no attempt seems to have been made by the Savonnerie atelier to emulate oriental carpets. A law was passed to prohibit the importation of carpets from the East to France in order to safeguard the Savonnerie workshop, which was granted a monopoly for the weaving of knotted-pile carpets. The seventeenth-century Savonnerie carpets have an opulent grandeur associated with them. Until 1768 the factory worked chiefly, if not exclusively, for the court, producing pile carpets only.
The richness of the colours used and the supremely confident manner with which acanthus scrolls, classical motifs and floral motifs were handled, combined to create a sumptuous effect worthy of any royal household. In 1663, Colbert, one of Louis XIV's ministers, stipulated that a painter from the Royal Academy had to oversee the designs for the carpets and to teach drawing to the staff every month. Several important painters were associated with Savonnerie in this way, notably Charles Le Brun and, later in the eighteenth century, Francois Boucher.
Austere state economies, due to the financial problems arising from the wars in the latter part of Louis XIV's reign, were largely responsible for the decline of the factory between 1690 and 1712. However, it was later revived and produced very pretty feminine carpets akin to the prevailing styles in the other decorative arts of the era. Soft colours, delicately drawn flowers, floral swags and ribbons are typical. Its heyday was over and by the beginning of the nineteenth century, cheaper Aubusson carpets became popular, although Napoleon employed the factory to weave handsome Empire-style carpets. In 1825, Savonnerie was amalgamated with the Gobelins tapestry factory and its independent existence came to an end. To read more about french style rugs and their history, visit our French Rugs section.
Sources and inspiration: Bérinstain, Valérie, et al. L'art du tapis dans le monde (The art of carpets in the world). Paris: Mengès, 1996. Print.; Jerrehian Jr., Aram K.A. Oriental Rug Primer. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1980. Print.; Herbert, Janice Summers. Oriental Rugs, New York: Macmillan, 1982. Print.; Hackmack, Adolf. Chinese Carpets and Rugs, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1980. Print. ; De Moubray, Amicia, and David Black. Carpets for the home, London: Laurence King Publishing, 1999. Print.; Jacobsen, Charles. Oriental Rugs A Complete Guide, Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1962. Print.; Bashir, S. (n.d.). Personal interview.; Web site sources and dates of consultation vary (to be confirmed). Without prejudice to official usage.