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Visitor trails Decorative Arts, 17th-Century France

Decorative Arts - Length: 1 hr 30 mins - Tour days: Monday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

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Pair of ewers (detail)
Pair of ewers (detail)

© Musée du Louvre

00Introduction

The French 17th century was marked by the reigns of three important sovereigns - Henry IV (1553-1610), Louis XIII (1601-1643) and Louis XIV (1638-1715). Under these three Bourbon kings, the decorative arts were used as a means of affirming the monarchy and displaying the kingdom's power.

The influence of Renaissance art was still apparent under Henry IV, whose reign effectively brought this period to a close. Anxious to demonstrate the power and wealth of the new Bourbon dynasty, Henry IV saw artistic patronage - and the decorative arts in particular - as an important medium for the glorification of the monarchy. Henry was an active promoter of the decorative arts in France, creating workshops at the Louvre in order to supplant the importation of furniture and tapestries from Flanders. Louis XIII maintained his father's artistic policy and - together with his queen, Anne of Austria - took an especial interest in the production of gold- and silverware. Sadly, little has survived since many pieces were subsequently melted down. Natural motifs were an important source of inspiration for the goldsmiths, tapestry workshops and cabinet-makers of the period. The promotion of the arts as a celebration of monarchic power reached its peak during the long reign of Louis XIV, following his declaration of absolute rule after the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661. Under Louis XIV, Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the painter and designer Charles Le Brun helped found the great royal tapestry and porcelain factories, whose sumptuous products were so characteristic of pre-Revolutionary France. Louis himself commissioned quantities of gold objects and silver furniture, most of which would later be melted down to support his country's war efforts.

 

How to get to the next stop:

From the Hall Napoléon, beneath the Pyramid, head for the Richelieu wing. Turn left after the ticket check and take the stairs to the first floor (Rooms 65 and 64).

Sard ewer
Sard ewer

© R.M.N.

01Sard ewer

Henry IV's consort Marie de' Medici, her son Louis XIII and Louis XIV were all, in turn, avid admirers of hardstone vases. Most of the vases now in the Louvre came from the former French royal collection. This ewer, by the Parisian goldsmith Pierre Delabarre, is made from a damaged Antique carved sard vase, whose missing parts have been concealed by an enameled gold mount, studded with semi-precious stones. Delabarre used the same technique for the dragon-shaped handle and the lid, surmounted by a helmeted head of Minerva. The highly naturalistic setting is adorned with foliated scrolls and flowers. This marvelous piece, made by Delabarre c. 1630-5 inspired works by a number of other goldsmiths. The Louvre collection features a number of other 17th-century hardstone vases, testifying to the contemporary taste for precious materials.

How to get to the next stop:

Enter Room 62 and look at the tapestry hanging on the wall.

Marble and pietra dura table-top
Marble and pietra dura table-top

© 2005 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

02Table

From the 16th century onwards, Florentine mosaics and inlays in hardstone (pietre dure) were extremely popular all over Europe. Eager to compete with the Italians, Louis XIV (1643-1715) established a mosaic workshop at the Gobelins factory. Two of the tabletops made here are now in the Louvre (the base of this example is a later addition). This tabletop was made in the last quarter of the 17th century. The center is adorned with the arms of France and the royal crown, which also appears in each corner, above the intertwined letters "L" for Louis. Landscapes with birds complete the decorative scheme. The mosaic work is executed entirely in stone, using a wide variety of hardstones and marbles, conferring a far more pictorial quality than the Florentine mosaics of the period. These sumptuous Gobelins mosaics testify to the splendor of Louis XIV's palace furnishings, and were clearly intended to serve the purposes of royal propaganda.

How to get to the next stop:

Look next at the cabinet displayed nearby.

The Audience with Cardinal Chigi
The Audience with Cardinal Chigi

© 1995 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

03Tapestry of The Life of Louis XIV

This tapestry tells the story of a delicate diplomatic episode which occurred during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715). It depicts the audience accorded to the nephew of the Chigi Pope Alexander III, sent by the Vatican the palace of Fontainebleau to apologize for the assassination of Louis XIV's ambassador by one of the Pope's guards. The scene takes place in the King's Bedchamber at Fontainebleau. This tapestry is the 7th in the series known as the Histoire du Roi ("History of the King"), woven between 1667 and 1672 in the Lefebvre workshop at the Gobelins factory, after cartoons by Charles Le Brun. The series represents episodes from the life of Louis XIV and was used for royal propaganda purposes. The tapestry testifies to the virtuosity of weavers at the Gobelins, founded by Colbert on Louis XIV's instructions and directed by the painter Charles Le Brun, a key arbiter of artistic style during the reign of the Sun King.

How to get to the next stop:

Go to Room 34 and take the second corridor on the right, to Room 42. Then walk as far as the carpet exhibited on the floor.

Armoire
Armoire

© 2010 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

04Wardrobe

The celebrated cabinet-maker André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) popularized the decorative marquetry technique that bears his name, although he was not the first to use it. "Boulle" decoration uses copper, tortoiseshell and brass, enhanced with different-colored woods and, occasionally, gilt bronze. The characteristic foliated scroll designs were often based on engravings by ornamentalists such as Jean I Bérain. This large cabinet with two doors is attributed to Boulle and was probably made at the end of his career. The piece combines the characteristic features of Boulle marquetry, using a variety of woods. Boulle had the use of a workshop at the Louvre, freeing him from an obligation to comply with the strict professional demarcations enforced by the craft guilds of the time. As a result, he was able to practice not only cabinet-making, but also marquetry and the production of gilt bronze mounts. This sizeable, sumptuous cabinet is typical of the lavish furniture produced during Louis XIV's reign.

How to get to the next stop:

Go to Room 33. The vitrine on the right contains the so-called Anne of Austria casket.

Carpet bearing the arms of France
Carpet bearing the arms of France

© R.M.N./D. Arnaudet

05Carpet bearing the arms of France

This immense carpet was woven at the Savonnerie factory in Paris, c.1670-80, for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre. Founded by Colbert on Louis XIV's instructions in 1667, the factory's magnificent carpets were soon widely renowned. The carpets destined for the Grande Galerie are decorated with large foliated scrolls against a black ground, and bear the arms of France. Like the tapestries woven at the Gobelins factory, Savonnerie carpets were often made for the French royal palaces, and were an important propaganda tool.

How to get to the next stop:

Go to Room 44. The vitrine opposite the window overlooking the Rue de Rivoli contains a group of silver gilt soup bowls.

"Anne of Austria" casket
"Anne of Austria" casket

© Musée du Louvre / Objets d'Art

06'Anne of Austria's' chest

Anne of Austria (1601-1666) was a connoisseur of objects in gold filigree. Her apartments at the Louvre included a small room or "cabinet" exclusively devoted to their display. The so-called Anne of Austria casket is the work of an anonymous goldsmith. Its wooden core is covered with blue moiré silk, beneath a dense network of foliated scrolls and flowers in openworked, embossed and chased gold. The extraordinarily delicate craftsmanship is reminiscent of embroidery, an art particularly in vogue in the 17th century. Anne of Austria's pronounced taste for objects in precious metals foreshadowed her son Louis XIV's lavish commissions for silver furniture.

How to get to the next stop:

Now look at the goblet beside the casket.

"Anne of Austria" goblet
"Anne of Austria" goblet

© 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

07Goblet

Queen Anne of Austria (1601-66) assembled a collection of gold tableware and items in gold filigree that epitomized the opulence of royal banqueting in the 17th century. This goblet bears an inscription beneath the foot, indicating its original owner. It is adorned with twisted gadroons, engraved with the highly naturalistic floral motifs characteristic of 17th-century goldsmithery. Golden tableware was used at the French court throughout the 17th century. Louis XIV's fondness for this precious metal was doubtless inherited from his mother Anne.

How to get to the next stop:

Make your way to the central vitrine of Room 31.

08Candlestick

Many gold and silver objects made in 17th-century France were subsequently melted down to support successive war efforts. As a result, few decorative objects in precious metal have survived. This silver candelabrum, with two candle rings, is a rare example of the work of Parisian silversmiths during the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643). Made by the Parisian goldsmith François I Roberday (d. 1651), it is composed of delicate stylized openwork plant motifs, reminiscent of lacework and embroidery, crafts much in vogue in the 17th century. Flower stems form the two branches of the candlestick, each ending in a candle ring and drip-pan shaped to resemble leaves and petals. These "stems" issue from tiny foliated envelopes, known as "peapods". This type of motif was often used by gold- and silversmiths during the reign of Louis XIII, and can be seen in contemporary albums of engravings from which craftsmen often took their models.

How to get to the next stop:

Walk back to Room 34 through Rooms 42, 37 and 35. On your left is a table, near the window.

Écuelle emblazoned with the arms of the Grand Dauphin, son of Louis XIV
Écuelle emblazoned with the arms of the Grand Dauphin, son of Louis XIV

© 1988 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

09Covered dish (porringer)

Upon rising, members of the royal family would drink broth for breakfast from two-handled bowls such as these. This silver-gilt bowl is the work of the Parisian goldsmith Sébastien Leblond. It was made in 1690-2 for the Louis XIV's son, the Grand Dauphin, and is decorated accordingly: the pairs of dolphins forming the handles are, of course, the symbols of the Grand Dauphin. The chased ornamentation on the lid also incorporates dolphins either side of the intertwined letters "L" for Louis. The foliated scrollwork covering the center of the lid is characteristic of designs used by goldsmiths in the reign of Louis XIV.

How to get to the next stop:

Go to the vitrine near the entrance to the room, containing a silver candelabrum.

Henri IV as Jupiter
Henri IV as Jupiter

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

10Henri IV as Jupiter

The French Renaissance saw a surge of interest in the art of bronzework, which reached its peak during the reign of Henry IV (1589-1610). The sculptor Barthélémy Prieur (1536-1611) made two statuettes, representing Henry IV as Jupiter and Marie de' Medici as Juno. These figurines were essentially Mannerist in style, but the serene gravity of their faces announces the advent of classicism. The sovereigns are both portrayed with the attributes of classical gods, as the founders of a new dynasty. Henry IV, the first of the Bourbon kings, was determined to assert his power by means of royal propaganda. Henry's patronage of the arts for this purpose set the tone for the glorification of the monarchy through the fine and decorative arts in the 17th century.

How to get to the next stop:

Go to Room 32, also known as the Effiat Room, containing the tapestry of Moses Saved from the Waters.

Moses Saved from the Waters
Moses Saved from the Waters

© 1995 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

11Moses Saved from the Waters

In the 17th century, Henry IV (1589-1610) established a tapestry workshop in the Grande Galerie at the Louvre. Louis XIII continued his father's work in this field (1610-1643) and commissioned famous artists to produce designs for the weavers. The painter Simon Vouet (1590-1649), recalled from Italy by the king in 1627, organized a workshop to produce tapestry cartoons based on his drawings and paintings. Moses Saved from the Waters is part of a series based on the Old Testament, commissioned from Vouet by Louis XIII. It was woven in the Louvre workshops c.1630, and was to be hung in the palace. Adorned with Louis XIII's coat of arms and motto, this tapestry testifies to the ongoing French policy for the creation of prestigious decorative arts workshops, instigated by Henry IV's minister, the Duke de Sully. The policy was successfully pursued by Colbert, under Louis XIV.

How to get to the next stop:

Turn to the ebony cabinet displayed with its upper doors open.

Cabinet
Cabinet

© 1990 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

12Cabinet

The early 17th century was a key period in the history of French furniture, with the arrival of a new technique from northern Europe. This process involved concealing the pine or oak framework of a piece of furniture with a veneer of more precious wood, initially ebony, hence the French term "ébénisterie". The ebony cabinet was the archetypal item of 17th-century Parisian furniture - invariably large and architectural in style, it stood on a tall, independent, matching base. The Louvre cabinet dates from the mid-17th century and features elaborate carved decorations in ebony. The large relief on the left-hand door depicts Horatius Cocles defending the Sublicius Bridge over the Tiber in Rome, against the army of the Etruscan king Lars Porsenna. The relief on the right-hand door shows the companions of Horatius Cocles demolishing the bridge. The two niches in the upper corners house free-standing statuettes of Mars and Minerva, Roman warrior deities related to the scenes depicted on the doors. The cabinet is one of the most luxurious known examples of this type of ebony furniture. Inside are small niches and a multitude of drawers separated by refined coral colonnettes: a veritable world apart, like a tiny stage set.

How to get to the next stop:

In the same room, look next at the canopied four-poster bed and matching chairs.

Bed and six armchairs
Bed and six armchairs

© 1988 RMN / Pierre et MauriceChuzeville

13Bed from the Château d'Effiat

This canopied bed, together with its six matching chairs, came from the château of the Marquis of Effiat (in the French department of Puy-de-Dôme). All of the pieces retain their original covering of Genoese embossed velvet. The four-poster bed was made in the mid-17th century for Antoine Coëffier de Ruzé (1581-1632), Marquis of Effiat, Marshal of France and Superintendent of Finance. It is covered by a canopy supported by four columns, and hung with curtains which, when drawn, accentuate its square, box-like shape. This type of bed, placed at right angles to the wall and projecting into the room, is known as a "lit à la française" (French-style bed). Upholsterers played an important role in 17th-century interior decoration. Wooden furniture was much enhanced by decorative textiles. Costly embroidery and fabrics woven in gold or silver thread were held in great esteem.

How to get to the next stop:

Move on to Room 17 and the "Passage de la majolique française" (the corridor display of French faience). A pair of large ewers is exhibited in the vitrine on the right.

Ewer
Ewer

© R.M.N./Les frères Chuzeville

14Pair of ewers

From the early 16th century, Italian artists working abroad at the invitation of connoisseurs throughout Europe, spurred a fascination for 15th- and 16th-century Italian maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware). In France, the town of Nevers became a renowned center for the production of faience (tin-glazed earthenware manufactured outside Italy), together with glass-making. Both industries remain active in Nevers today. This pair of large ewers, made c.1675, witnesses the vitality of the Nevers workshops in the 17th century. Their bellies are adorned with mythological scenes, and their form was heavily influenced by the silver and gold ewers produced by metalworkers of the same period. The ewers take their form from Claude I Ballin's bronze vase for the gardens of Versailles. The palette of blues, greens and yellows echoes that seen on Italian Renaissance wares (especially from Urbino), but the pale blue background color was developed in Nevers.

How to get to the next stop:

Go into Room 20, and the second tapestry hanging on the left-hand wall.

Battle of Zama
Battle of Zama

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Fuzeau

15Tapestry of the History of Scipio: the Battle of Zama

In 1680-90, the Gobelins factory was in financial difficulty. To improve the situation, the Marquis of Louvois (1639-91), Superintendent of Buildings, Arts and Factories, proposed the creation of copies of some of the finest Renaissance tapestries, thereby providing work for the weavers without having to pay artists for new designs. Hence the production of a copy of the History of Scipio, a tapestry series from Louis XIV's collection bearing the arms of Jacques d'Albon, marshal of Saint-André. The original, woven in silk and gold thread, was destroyed during the Revolution. This copy is now our only record of its appearance. Each tapestry in the series illustrates an episode from the history of the Second Punic Wars fought beween Rome and Carthage, as related by Livy. The 10th tapestry - depicting the Battle of Zama, in which Scipio defeated Hannibal and broke the power of Carthage - shows the advancing lines of the Carthaginian army and its threatening elephants. Scipio is the horseman in the center of the tapestry, clad in a star-studded blue cape.

How to get to the next stop:

Retrace your steps to the Hall Napoléon beneath the Pyramid.

 

Author(s) : 

Murielle Barbier, département des Objets d'art