The Enchanting Town of AUBUSSON

Aubusson is a commune in the Creuse region in central France where since at least the 16th century, Aubusson has been famed for its manufacture of carpets and tapestries. A national school of decorative arts founded in 1869 still maintains high standards of hand looming and remains to this day the principal occupation of the town.

History of the Aubusson Tapestry

It is thought that tapestry production emerged in Aubusson about 600 years ago; many historians date it to 1457.  Today that heritage is celebrated in the Aubusson Tapestry Museum and the Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie Aubusson, where you’ll discover an incredible collection of old and new tapestries.

Here the importance of understanding how the tapestry begins with raising of sheep and the spinning and dying of wool to the creation of images and their weaving into an extraordinary array of tapestries is shared and carried on by well trained weavers.

 Twelve weavers (lissiers in French) are admitted every two years to the Cité’s two-year program for budding weavers.  It typically takes well over 10 years to become a “master weaver”.

 In order to be considered an Aubusson, a tapestry needn’t be woven in the town itself, but anywhere within Creuse. The two main centers of creation, however, are Aubusson and Felletin.

Tapestries were only for the rich, royalty, aristocrats, Bishops and the like. Tapestries were hung on walls and warmed up the palaces and manor houses of the wealthy and added colour. The tapestries were status symbols and were uniquely designed to impress.  Aubusson workshops worked in collaboration with renowned painters, whose drawings were used as models for the creation of masterpieces.

The traditional Aubusson tapestries are known for their iconic Verdures or garden tapestries.  

This style, mainly based on plant decoration such as trees and foliage, remained highly popular over the centuries.    Aubusson tapestries represent hunting scenes

and scenes of unicorn,

wild boar, wolf and even lion!

The Design of the Tapestry

Miniature paintings or maquettes

were used which the weaver had to interpret and typically had in front of them as a guide.  However, by the 17th century, life sized paintings were placed directly under the warp (chaîne) so the weaver could recreate the painting more accurately.  Weavers in Aubusson don’t see their finished tapestry until it is removed from the loom because they work on the reverse side of the tapestry, which is also why the cartoon

(painting being recreated by the weaver)

is presented backwards underneath the warp. This cartoon of the man and lions is a beautiful example.

Below is a tapestry (circa 1790) found at Crown and Colony Antiques We invite you to come and visit our shop and view this exquisite wonder of wool and silk craftsmanship.  This particularly large tapestry took years to make.

Special closeups of the tapestry:  The face of the woman is petite point and you can see on the petal of the flower a repair that was beautifully done.

The back of this particular tapestry seems to be a heavy cotton, while linen or a blend of both were used as well.

Religious scenes were very popular prompting numerous tapestries to be woven that represented mythological scenes and scenes from the life of the saints, and the Old Testament.

Whether you recognize the beauty in an antique aubusson or newly made you can be assured of the flat weave that is trademark of the aubusson.

Even furniture has been covered in the flat weave of the aubusson.

And newly made pillows in the aubusson flat weave are beautiful.  These are from Crown and Colony Antiques.$208 Ea. 217-9008 Brown and Aqua aubusson wool pillows 20 x 20

$295 Ea. 217-9005 Blue, brown and cream aubusson down filled pillow 20x20

The French Revolution Changes the face of production!

The manufacture and its marvelous productions were ransacked and burned during the Revolution because objects of the rich were very frowned upon.

The weaving workshops fortunately reopened a few years later under the Napoleonic Empire, but with less production.  The creation of large wall tapestries was discontinued and gave way to the production of small rugs.  These more ‘ordinary’ creations revived the tapestry industry and saved the craft from ruin.  Unfortunately, the spirit of creation was dulled.

The business of weaving went from thousands of professional weavers to around 50.  Today, those small few work mostly in private ateliers.

Aubusson’s today

Some of the small group of weavers work in Aubusson to this day weaving what is considered a rich man’s product, costing around Euros 2000 – 3000 per m² to commission a tapestry.  This price is dictated by the fact that the making of a tapestry is a hard physical job to do, pushing with arms and legs for 12 hours a day.  And given the fact it can take at least ten years for a person to become a master weaver.

The tapestries depict scenes of their day, mysteries, legends and life in France through colour, style and the images. There are some tapestries on display that are even quite cheeky!  A tapestry that might depict a rural party enjoying a seesaw (baloncaire) was apparently quite risqué, because it was designed to allow viewers to look up the skirts of the ladies!

Under French law, tapestry editions must be limited to 6 copies, and usually also one for the artist and one for the workshop. You can tell where it was made as each tapestry is edged in a specific color relating to the town around Aubusson where it originated. Tapestries also have a bolduc (weavers mark) on a front corner or on the reverse, which would be a small piece of tissue or paper bearing the name of the artist, the title, dimensions, the name of the workshop and often the date.

Aubusson tapestries are the gold standard throughout the world.  If you have the privilege to view one or even more exciting “own” one you are among the privileged few.

Some pictures were borrowed for educational purposes only from www.thegoodlifefrance.com, oldplank.com, pinterest, 1st Dibs, francevisited.com and museum pictures from the museums in Aubusson France

Au Revoir!  A La Prochaine!!