Oriental tapestries

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.

Crane Birds tapestry - old Chinese artThere 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.

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Exotic appeal: Eastern and Oriental Tapestries

For modern home décor we are often looking for new and unusual items to add a unique touch to our home accents. Textiles and wall hangings add that distinct touch though few of us are aware of one of textile arts hidden gems: oriental tapestries.

Eastern and oriental tapestries enjoyed a period of interest in Europe from the 17th century onwards, for about 150 years. Reflecting the growing confidence of European nations and their ambitions to conquer the world, these tapestries advertised the exploits of adventurous seafaring nations and helped publicize their travels, successes and conquests. Known originally as Orientale tapestries they represented exotic far-off lands like China, often concentrating on unusual items such as fruits and animals not found in Europe. Their development as an art form can be traced back to the first accounts of Eastern countries from Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century which sparked an interest in the exotic and unusual cultures of the East that continues to this day.

This created an interest in anything related to the Orient and artists soon responded. During the 18th and 19th centuries this interest was maintained since the largely non-Christian countries in the East were still sufficiently different in culture, language and customs to seem very exotic to Europeans. Always distinctive, these Orientale tapestries tended to be tobacco colored and featured striking images of exotic creatures and people set against a vibrant backdrop. Many had details of local flora and fauna that was often remarkably accurate. Even today these tapestries continue to be popular and are a fantastic opportunity for art connoisseurs to add genuine flair and vibrancy to their homes.

One of the most distinct of Oriental tapestries is “La Recolte des Ananas” from a series The Pineapple Harvest tapestry - The Story of the Emperor of China tapestriescalled “The Story of the Emperor of China”. It shows an detailed everyday scene in China of peasants picking fruit and of the Chinese Empress gesturing towards the pineapple harvest, with a pagoda and other buildings in the background. Typical of the Oriental style it is believed to have been woven between 1697 and 1705 and commissioned by Louis Alexandre de Bourbon (1678 – 1737), son of Louis XIV. Of the original ten tapestries, six can now be seen in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Two of the most famous examples of such oriental tapoestries include “Asia” and “Royal Elephant” both designed and woven by Charles-Jean Salloundrouze de la Mornaix between 1840 and 1843. They were intended for the exposition of Industrial Products in France in 1844 and impressed audiences with their vibrant use of color and their depiction of exotic lands far away. Like all Eastern tapestries they exude a strange exoticism that is apparent even today.

Combined with the warmth of the weave found in high quality tapestries they make a real statement of taste. Whether your room is old world charm or ultra-modern minimalist, eastern and oriental tapestries add strong color and bold imagery that can enliven any environment.

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