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Work Wall Hanging: the Story of Don Quixote

Department of Decorative Arts: 18th century: rococo

The Ball in Barcelona) flanked by two "entrefenêtres" :Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Thierry Ollivier

Decorative Arts
18th century: rococo

Author(s):
Ribou Marie-Hélène de

This wall hanging, inspired by Cervantes's novel, bears witness to the eighteenth-century taste for a light and decorative art. The tapestry comprises a very richly ornamented background and a central motif imitating a picture. The Count of Argenson's suite of tapestries was composed of three large works representing the Ball, the Judgement of Sancho, and the Enchanted Head, and two smaller works, pier hangings, of Don Quixote and Sancho, which are exhibited at the Louvre.

An essentially decorative tapestry

Over the so-called yellow mosaic ground are spread various ornaments: garlands of flowers, musical instruments, torches, bat wings, etc. In the lower part of the tapestry, shrubbery and dogs frame a base imitating gilt wood and supporting the escutcheon with the Orleans coat of arms. In the upper part, a peacock is posed on the central picture frame. This ornamental ground is separated from the edging by a very narrow purplish pink counter-ground. In the center, a simulated painting represents Don Quixote dancing at Don Antonio's ball between two ladies. His trusty servant, Sancho, joins in on the right, while a musician in three-quarter view from behind, partly reclining, plays the guitar. Both look towards the spectator, as if inviting him to enjoy the scene.

An almost royal gift

Louis, duke of Orleans, commissioned this wall hanging for the Count of Argenson in recognition of services rendered to the House of Orleans. From 1723 to 1740 Marc-Pierre de Voyer de Paulmy, count of Argenson, effectively held the offices of chancellor, minister of justice, chief of the council, and superintendent of the houses, domains and finances of the dukes of Orleans, the regent, and later his son Louis. The cartoons for the ornamental background, a new model, were produced in the Gobelins manufactory at the duke's expense, as were the tapestries; like any private commission, this one thus does not appear in their accounts. After the models were delivered by Charles-Antoine Coypel to the Gobelins, the three large pieces were woven in Lefebvre's workshop, just after the first editions, which were completed in 1730, 1733, and 1734. Lefebvre having retired in 1736, the execution of the three tapestries for Argenson must have begun circa 1732, to have been completed before 1736. The authorship of the two pier hangings also falls to Coypel, who drafted the cartoons specifically for this suite; they were apparently never rewoven.

Fashionable models

In the late seventeenth century, a taste for lighter and more pleasing decoration appeared, subsequently giving rise to wall hangings such as the Portals of the Gods and the banded Grotesque Months, after Claude Audran. In the Story of Don Quixote, the subjects of the pictures are drawn from the work of Cervantes, highly appreciated for both its romantic and comic character. The ornamental background however overshadows the depicted scene, which is more attractive than really narrative. Wall hangings were quite fashionable throughout the 18th century, for which Coypel produced twenty-eight paintings between 1716 and 1751. The subjects were chosen according to their size or their decorative value, rather than with respect to the narration. Nine suites are known, which are sometimes subdivided into series, and with six different ornamental backgrounds. The last suite was completed only in 1794.

Bibliography

Fenaille Maurice, État général des tapisseries de la manufacture des Gobelins depuis son origine jusqu'à nos jours : 1600-1900, t. III, période du XVIIIe siècle, première partie, 1699-1736, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1904, p. 199-201.

Catalogue d'exposition, Cinq années d'enrichissement du patrimoine national. 1975-1980, Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 1980.

Technical description

  • Manufacture des Gobelins

    The Ball in Barcelona) flanked by two "entrefenêtres" :Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

    C. 1732-36

    Paris

  • Bequest, 1978

    Tapestry from the weaving of "Don Quixotte" with the arms of the d’Argenson family

    OA 10664, OA 10666, OA 10667

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

Cipher of Louis, Duke of Orléans; coat of arms of the Orléans family; coat of arms of the Argenson family; signed lower right: LE. FEBVRE ; border: LE. FEBVRE [fleur-de-lis] G.