The Art of Aubusson: The History of the Renowned Textile Workshops

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Archery from Amuseuments Champêtres, Art Institute of Chicago

The history of Aubusson textiles dates back to the 14th century.  The town of Aubusson is located in the La Marche area of France, which is located at the base of the Creuse River.  It was inhabited as early as the Iron Age, and remains from the Gallo-Roman period leave evidence of a thriving and active town.

The town’s weaving workshops started creating pieces in the 14th century with small family workshops grouped in the traditional guild system.  The weaving industry prospered and grew as highly skilled weavers from Flanders took refuge in Aubusson.  The town was ideally situated for this textile production as the Creuse River’s acidic water helped to degrease wool and fix dyes.

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The Stag Hunt from Pastoral Hunting Scenes by Aubusson, Art Institute of Chicago

In 1665 the town was granted the title of Royal Manufactory by King Louis XIV.    Like its rival workshops at Beauvais and Gobelins, Aubusson was renowned for its exceptional textiles and tapestries that reflected the height of contemporary fashions.  Aubusson designs reflected a great diversity in themes, including depictions of religious, pastoral, and floral patterns.

Aubusson textiles and rugs were highly prized from the 17th century onward for their exceptional quality and grand designs.  Aubusson made both knotted-pile carpets woven on vertical looms as well as tapestry-woven carpets on horizontal looms, which allowed for more detail in design.  Early carpet patterns were based on Persian and Oriental styles, but as time went on the Aubusson designers began to develop distinctly European designs alongside Savonnerie weavers.  The colour palette of Aubusson carpets tended to be more subdued compared to Savonnerie examples, and the designs often featured elaborate floral garlands and bold central medallions.

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18th century Aubusson table carpet, Chicago Institute of Arts

Aubusson carpets were popular with wealthy patrons across Europe, and the town’s weavers continued to be a leading design source for the Royal family.  A 1786 inventory lists more than one hundred Aubusson carpets at the Palace of Versailles and a further inventory of all royal palaces in 1789 describes a great number more.  Jean-François Picon, a designer in Aubusson, was commissioned to create two wool carpets ‘with a design of flowers and compartments.’

The Newhailes Library Armchairs with Aubusson Tapestry Covers Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

We are delighted to have the Newhailes library armchairs in our collection that are covered in magnificent Aubusson tapestries.  The chair covers are signed crimson-coloured Aubusson tapestries.  The signature ‘M. R. D. Mage’ likely refers to Pierre Mage, who worked at the Aubusson manufactory from 1697-1747.  The Mage family of weavers goes back to François Mage, who is recorded as early as 1585.  Pierre Mage had a workshop in Paris in the rue de la Huchette and worked alongside Jean-François Picon.  His depiction of birds on each seat back is designed in the manner of Jean-Baptiste Oudry.

The Newhailes Library Armchairs with Aubusson Tapestry Covers Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

The Newhailes Library Armchairs with Aubusson Tapestry Covers Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

It is quite possible General St. Clair brought the tapestries back from Paris himself, perhaps on his way home from Vienna.  The other possibility is that Janet St. Clair purchased the tapestries from her neighbours in Greek Street, the Bradshaw workshops, who were known to carry Aubusson tapestries in stock.

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