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It was called " Gobelins," because the house in the suburbs of Paris, where the manufacture is carried on, was built by brothers whose names were Giles and John Gobelins, both excellent dyers, and who brought to Paris in the reign of Francis I. the secret of dying a beautiful scarlet colour, still known by their name.
In the year 1667 this place, till then called "Gobelines' Folly," changed its name into that of " Hotel Royal des Gobelins/1 in consequence of an edict of Louis XIV. M. Colbert having re-established, and with new magnificence enriched and completed the king's palaces, particularly the Louvre and the Tuilleries, began to think of making furniture suitable to the grandeur of those buildings; with this view he called together all the ablest workmen in the divers arts and manufactures throughout the kingdom; particularly painters, tapestry makers from Flanders, sculptors, goldsmiths, ebonists, &c, and by liberal encouragement and splendid pensions called others from foreign nations.
The king purchased the Gobelins for them to work in, and laws and articles were drawn up, amongst which is one that no other tapestry work shall be imported from any other country.
Nor did there need; for the Gobelins has ever since remained the first manufactory of this kind in the world. The quantity of the finest and noblest works that have been produced by it, and the number of the best workmen bred up therein are incredible; and the present flourishing condition of the arts and manufactures of France is, in great measure, owing thereto.
Tapestry work in particular is their glory. During the superintendence of M. Colbert, and his successor M. de Louvois, the making of tapestry is said to have been practised to the highest degree of perfection.
The celebrated painter, Le Brun, was appointed chief director, and from his designs were woven magnificent hangings of Alexander's Battles—The Four Seasons—the Four Elements—and a series of the principal actions of the life of Louis XIV. M. de Louvois, during his administration, caused tapestries to be made after the most beautiful originals in the king's cabinet, after Raphael and Julio Romano, and other celebrated Italian painters. Not the least interesting part of the process was that performed by the rentrayeurs, or fine-drawers, who so unite the breadths of the tapestry into one picture that no seam is discernible, but the whole appears like one design. The French have had other considerable manufactories at Auvergne, Felletin and Beauvais, but all sank beneath the superiority of the Gobelins, which indeed at one time outvied the renown of that far-famed town, whose productions gave a title to the whole species, viz., that of Arras.
Walpole gives an intimation of the introduction of tapestry weaving into England, so early as the reign of Edward III., "De inquirendo de mystera Tapiciorum, London;" but usually William Sheldon, Esq., is considered the introducer of it, and he allowed an artist, named Robert Hicks, the use of his manor-house at Burcheston, in Warwickshire; and in his will, dated 1570, he calls Hicks "the only auter and beginner of tapistry and arras within this realm." At his house were four maps of Oxford, Worcester, Warwick, and Gloucestershires, executed in tapestry on a large scale, fragments of which are or were among the curiosities of Strawberry-hill. We meet with little further notice of this establishment.
This beautiful art was, however, revived in the reign of James I., and carried to great perfection under the patronage of himself and his martyr son. It received its death blow in common with other equally beautiful and more important pursuits during the triumph of the Commonwealth. James gave £2000 to assist Sir Francis Crane in the establishment of the manufactory at Mortlake, in Surry, which was commenced in the year 1619. Towards the end of this reign, Francis Cleyn, or Klein, a native of Rostock, in the duchy of Mecklenburg, was employed in forming designs for this institution, which had already attained great perfection. Charles allowed him £100 a year, as appears from Rymer's Fcedera: "Know ye that we do give and grant unto Francis Cleyne a certain annuitie of one hundred pounds, by the year, during his natural life." He enjoyed this salary till the civil war, and was in such favour with the king, and in such reputation, that on a small painting of him he is described as "11 famosissimo pittore Francesco Cleyn, miracolo del secolo, e molto stimato del re Carlo della gran Britania, 1646."
The Tapestry Manufacture at Mortlake was indeed a hobby, both of King James and Prince Charles, and of consequence was patronised by the Court. During Charles the First's romantic expedition to Spain, when Prince of Wales, with the Duke of Buckingham, James writes—" I have settled with Sir Francis Crane for my Steenie's business, and I am this day to speak with Fotherby, and by my next, Steenie shall have an account both of his business, and of Kit's preferment and supply in means; but Sir Francis Crane desires to know if my Baby will have him to hasten the making of that suit of Tapestry that he commanded him." *
The most superb hangings were wrought here after the designs of distinguished painters; and Windsor Castle, Hampton Court,Whitehall, St. James's, Nonsuch, Greenwich, and other royal seats, and many noble mansions were enriched and adorned by its productions. In the first year of his reign, Charles was indebted ,£6000 to the establishment for three suits of gold tapestry; Five of the Cartoons were wrought here, and sent to Hampton Court, where they still remain. A suit of hangings, representing the Five Senses, executed here, was in the palace at Oatlands, and was sold in 1649 for £270. Rubens sketched eight pieces in Charles the First's reign for tapestry, to be woven here, of the history of Achilles, intended for one of the royal palaces. At Lord IIchester's, at Redlinch, in Somersetshire, was a suit of hangings representing the twelve months in compartments; and there are several other sets of the same design. Williams, Archbishop of York, and Lord Keeper, paid Sir Francis Crane £2500 for the Four Seasons. At Knowl, in Kent, was a piece of the same tapestry wrought in silk, containing the portraits of Vandyck, and St. Francis himself. At * Miscellaneous State Papers, vol. i. No. 26.
Lord Shrewsbury's (Heythorp, Oxfordshire) are, or were, four pieces of tapestry from designs by Vanderborght, representing the four quarters of the world, expressed by assemblages of the nations in various habits and employments, excepting Europe, which is in masquerade, wrought in chiaroscuro. And at Houghton (Lord Oxford's seat) were beautiful hangings containing whole lengths of King James, King Charles, their Queens, and the King of Denmark, with heads of the Royal Children in the borders. These are all mentioned incidentally as the production of the Mortlake establishment.
After the death of Sir Francis Crane, his brother Sir Richard sold the premises to Charles I. During the civil wars, this work was seized as the property of the Crown; and though, after the Restoration, Charles II. endeavoured to revive the manufacture, and sent Verrio to sketch the designs, his intention was not carried into effect. The work, though languishing, was not altogether extinct; for in Mr. Evelyn's very scarce tract intituled "Mundus Muliebris," printed in 1690, some of this manufacture is amongst the articles to be furnished by a gallant to his mistress.
One of the first acts of the Protectorate after the death of the king, was to dispose of the pictures, statues, tapestry hangings, and other splendid ornaments of the royal palaces. Cardinal Mazarine enriched himself with much of this royal plunder; and some of the splendid tapestry was purchased by the Archduke Leopold. This however found its way again to England, being re-purchased at Brussels for