The popularity of oriental tapestries such as the Elephant Tapestry continues regardless of the fashions in interior decor.
Since the cultures of the Eastern world were opened up to the West by Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century, oriental tapestries have been among the popular styles for home interiors. For more than two hundred years the West’s intrigue in what we perceive to be as somewhat curious and exotic cultures has continued. During the seventeenth century, these tapestries reached a high point when central Asia was known as the Safavid Empire. It was the missionaries and the Silk Routes which brought the first oriental tapestries to Europe. Such a series is The Story of the Emperor of China of which we have portions available to order today.
These tapestries were first produced as rugs in the East woven by hand on a loom, using knots to create the pattern within the warp and weft yarn. In Europe, these ‘rugs’ were used as decorative wall hangings, or to drape on furniture. However, by the middle of the nineteenth century, with the rise of industrialization highly decorative oriental tapestries became readily available.
They reflect the artistic style of the East, and although certainly not the only subject matter, elephants were often incorporated within the design. Today, elephants are frequently central to the design of more classically styled, asian tapestry reproductions. Many contemporary tapestries were inspired by a design created by Jean-Baptiste-Amédée Couder. His Elephant Tapestry was originally manufactured in a factory founded by Alexis Sallandrouze in 1838 at Aubusson in central France. Today, it is displayed at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. Today the French weavers have produced a matching Camel tapestry so that these two can form a cohesive pair.
The Elephant Tapestry was produced between 1840 and 1843 using wool, silk and metallic threads. It is a large tapestry, almost six metres wide and seven metres high. Oriental tapestries typically incorporate a wide border which often includes several subsidiary borders. The Elephant Tapestry is highly typical of the this style and it includes a rich and complex border. It shows an woman riding an Asian elephant which is passing between a banana and a palm tree. The somewhat luxurious and detailed landscape includes many animals typical of the Asian continent.
Certain style aspects, especially the border, of the Elephant Tapestry reflect upon Islamic art. However this highly influential tapestry also shows a certain recollection of ‘Les Anciennes Indes’ (The Indies Tapestries), a series of eight wall tapestries woven at the Gobelins tapestry factory between 1692 and 1740. Jean-Baptiste-Amédée Couder, an associate of Sallandrouze, was fascinated by Islamic art and the design of the Elephant Tapestry has been accredited to him.
There are also geometric and floral designs which are are highly representative of eighteenth century tapestries, often with Chinese influences. The Crane Birds wall tapestry above is an example. Our favourite is the Panel with Ducks. Japanese influences were popular in the 18th century with tapestries including Chinoiserie from the “Salons Chinois” series with its delicate Japanese garden. Thus today many oriental tapestries are available reflecting the styles typical of the ancient Orient.