The present lot belongs to an early group of French Savonnerie carpets woven between Louis XIII’s death in 1643 and the succession of Louis XIV to the throne in 1661. However, they are frequently referred to as Louis XIII carpets to distinguish them from the more prevalent and well-known Louis XIV carpets woven for the Galerie d’Apollon and the Grande Galerie at the Palais du Louvre.
In order to stop the economic drain caused by importing carpets from Turkey and India, Henri IV (reigned 1589-1610) prohibited the entry of Eastern carpets into France while simultaneously encouraging French carpet production by granting workshop space in the basement of the Louvre below the Grande Galerie to Pierre Dupont tapissier ordinaire en tapis de Turquie et façons de Levant on January 4, 1608 (see Verlet, Pierre, The James Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor: Savonnerie, London, 1982, p. 28). One of Dupont's apprentices, Simon Lourdet, quickly became so proficient in the trade that he ingratiated himself to the Queen, Marie de Medici, who allowed him to install another workshop in the former soap factory, or savonnerie at Chaillot. The name Savonnerie then became synonymous with French pile woven carpets. A partnership agreement between Dupont and Lourdet was signed on September 5, 1626 to share the profits and expenses of the two workshops and both produced carpets of very similar design up until 1664. It appears that both factories made similar carpets and as no records survive from this period it is very difficult to attribute this carpet specifically to either workshop.
The production of Savonnerie carpets at this time was solely made for the order of the King, his family and for dignitary gifts to foreign diplomats and members of his court. Most of these early Louis XIV carpets are small in size and were intended as table carpets while the rarer, larger carpets, such as this example, were used as floor coverings.
Both floor and table carpets from this early Louis XIV period share many features in common, foremost the black, dark blue and sometimes brown ground color that is replete with strewn colorful, naturalistic and identifiable single flowers or sprays often entwined with blue ribbons. A wide and defined border surrounds the field containing similar flowers and floral arrangements creating a millefleurs effect. Flower arrangements of sunflowers, tulips, lilies, iris and carnations sit in silver basins, porcelain vases, cartouches or as seen in our example, woven baskets. The minor borders separating the border from the field and outlining the border are typically drawn from elements of the antique, architecture or from borders used in tapestries from the same period. A reciprocal leaf tip ornament is used in the inner border of our example with a scrolling vine and flowerhead design in the outer border.
It is not known who designed or provided the models for these carpets but the overall concept is based on Persian, Indian and Turkish prototypes combined with the European proclivity for flowers. Contemporary designs for enamels, embroidery and tapestries are very similar and Dupont was known to be an embroiderer, as well as a carpet weaver. Another artist working for the crown, Georges Baussonnet signed a number of drawings dated between 1592 and 1636 that are quite similar to the accurate depiction of flower specimens in these carpets (see Verlet, fig. 101). The strong similarities and repetitious designs of these early Louis XIV carpets indicate that the repertoire of designs of this relatively young workshop was limited. However, this also may suggest that they were a success and found favor with the court.
Several early Louis XIV carpets survive, mostly in museums, and they can be divided into three groups, with some outliers that are wholly unique. The first group, of table carpet size, is characterized by a central floral wreath, sometimes ribbon-tied, encircling a spray of blossoms in the inner field. An example of this type in the Wrightsman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a central wreath medallion and depiction of campanes or tassels which would hang down from the table in a trompe l’oeil fashion (see S. Sherrill, Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1996, p.64, pl. 67). Other examples of this type are at the Musée Nissim de Camondo, inv. no. 177 (see F. Mathey, Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs: Musée Nissim de Camondo, Alençon, 1983, p. 39); the James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor (Verlet, cat. no. 1, fig. 104); Musée du Louvre (Verlet, fig. 106) and The Collection of Lewis and Ali Sanders; Christie’s New York, 29 October 2019, lot 1115.
The second group are longer in length and have a similar floral conceit as the table carpets, but are distinctly marked by large, prominent scrolling acanthus leaves that stretch to each corner from either a central ormolu cartouche medallion. Among the examples are: J. Paul Getty Museum (see Bremer-David, Charissa, French Tapestries and Textiles in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1997, p. 131); The Wrightsman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 1983.268); Sotheby Parke Bernet Monaco, 11-12 February 1979, lot 300; and Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Deane Johnson, Sotheby Parke-Bernet New York, 9 December 1972, lot 115.
The third group, which includes this carpet, could be considered transitional as they have a similar central wreath medallion as the smaller table carpets but are longer in length and meant for the floor, like the second group. In addition to the carpet offered here, there are other two other examples: one formerly in the Léon Fould Collection and recently sold in the Masterpieces from a Rothschild Collection; Christie’s London, 3 July 2019, lot 8 and another first sold by Mrs. Hamilton Rice (Parke-Bernet Galleries, 22-23 October 1965, lot 352 and then by Adriano Ribolzi, Antiquaire at Sotheby’s Paris, 30 November 2011, lot 21. The field designs of the Rothschild carpet and this carpet are identical and likely woven from the same cartoon. The Hamilton Rice carpet was reduced in size prior to 1965 so it, too, probably had the same field pattern but now lacks the embellished leafy and floral forms in each corner of the field. The border of this carpet is related to that of the Hamilton Rice carpet, however, the ormolu cartouches in this carpet elegantly overlap the guard borders and only appear at the corners. The treatment of the acanthus scrolls is also slightly different. All three have unique guard borders of varying architectural and floral motifs.
This carpet depicts all the hallmarks of the popular decorative floral style perfected during the reign of the Louis XIII: naturalistic and identifiable flowers, sculptural acanthus scrolls, ribbon-tied floral wreaths, ormolu cartouches, ripe and bursting fruits and classical architectural elements. This style still persisted after Louis XIII’s death in 1643 until his successor, Louis XIV, came to throne in 1661 when a more grandiose and opulent style, directed by Charles Le Brun, became the model, illustrated by the carpets ordered by Louis XIV for the Galerie d’Apollon and the Grande Galerie of the Louvre.