FELIBIEN, Andre (1619-1695). Tapisseries du Roy. Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1679

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FELIBIEN, Andre (1619-1695). Tapisseries du Roy, ou sont representez les quatre elemens et les quatre saisons avec les devises qui les accompagnent et leur explication. Paris: Sebastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1679.


Folio (19 4/8 x 13 inches). Letterpress title-page with large engraved device with royal coat-of-arms, additional engraved title-page, two engraved sectional title-pages, 32 emblematic half-page vignette engravings by Le Clerc and other artists after Jacques Bailly and Charles Le Brun, 8 exceptionally fine double-page engraved plates of tapestries, 2 engraved head-pieces, initials, and one engraved vignette tail-piece (sectional title-page for Printemps waterstained, one or two short marginal tears, not affecting the images). Contemporary mottled calf, the spine in eight compartments, with seven raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in one, the others decorated with small gilt tools (one or two early repairs to the covers, extremities a little scuffed).

Provenance: with the engraved armorial bookplate of Wolff Graf von Blome, "Bibliotheca Blomiana", from the Schloss Salzau, in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

Tapisseries du Roy, with the magnificent engravings of the eight tapestries of the series of the Four Elements and the Four Seasons, was first published in Paris in 1670, describing the four elements and the four seasons each in four emblems, each with letterpress explanatory text above and below.

The Petite Academy, charged with creating the allegorical schemes and insignia in which Louis XIV was celebrated, initially consisted of Charles Perrault, Jean Chapelain, the abbe Amable de Bourzeis, and the abbe Jacques de Cassanges. Their first commissions are celebrated in this book, and are THE FIRST TWO SERIES OF TAPESTRIES THAT WERE DESIGNED AND COMPLETED WHOLLY AT THE GOBELINS MANUFACTURE. Their complex iconography was derived from a broad range of medieval philosophy and humanist culture, and was specifically designed to celebrate Louis XIV's monarchy. "Mythological allegories in the main scenes, showing gods with attributes representing the seasons and the elements, are linked to moralistic devices in the borders, drawing a correspondence between the allegories and the king's personal virtues: in the Elements, magnanimity and valor, piety and goodness; in the Seasons, various aspects of the magnificence of the king in action. The elements and the seasons are related to the iconography of Apollo and the sun - the celestial body associated with the French monarchy since Charles V - which were also being developed in ceiling paintings in the grand apartments of the Louvre and Versailles at this time. The use of heraldic devices was meant to symbolise good government, embodied by Louis XIV and the absolute monarchy he established. The two tapestry series directly celebrated the king, for whom a miniature painted version was prepared for his private pleasure. Subsequently, the images were widely disseminated, through Andre Felibien's descriptions of them (1656 and 1667) and through engravings by Sebastien Leclerc (1670-1671) [as here]" (Pascal-Francois Bertrand "Tapestry Production at the Gobelins duribng the ZReign of Louis XIV, 1661-1715" in "Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendour", 2008, pages 346-247).

Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) after working for Mazarin, joined the king's service, first as a member of the Conseil Royal des Finances in 1661, then, beginning in 1664, as superintendent of the Batiments. But even before being appointed head of the Batiments in 1664, on June 6, 1662, Colbert purchased the Hotel des Gobelins in his own name so the king would have a place to house the Maincy weavers (on June 26), along with weavers from the favored Paris workshops. Thus was founded the Manufacture Royale de Tapisserie des Gobelins, renamed five years later as the manufacture Royale des meubles de la Couronne.

Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) was officially named director of the Gobelins on March 8, 1663. The production of the manufacture was intended exclusively for the king, "to furnish his residences and create decorations for special occasions and to spread the image of the reign's grandeur to foreign courts via diplomatic gifts... The works created at the Gobelins under Colbert's and Le Brun's direction, crafted by the best artisans in Europe, were an expression of Louis XIV's civilising power and a visible sign of his magnificence... At the end of 1662 Le Brun began creating both the designs and the cartoons for five large series, which were woven in the years following: the Four Elements and the Four Seasons, put on the loom in 1664, as was the Story of Alexander, then the History of the King, on which weaving began in 1665, and finally the Royal Palaces, initiated in 1668.

"All of these series had the glorification of the king as their main purpose, reflecting Colbert's philosophy that this was the object of painting and the arts. The image of the monarch, reflecting the greatness, order, and beauty, could be presented three ways: through his noble features, with his insignia, or by allegory. Allegory and emblems were to play a large part in the presentation of the regal image during the early years of his personal rule, reflecting the contemporary perception that allegory provide a means to say "what words alone cannot express with sufficient force" (ibid pages 344-345).

Felibien is best known for his celebrated 10-volume Entretiens sur les vies et sur les ouvrages des plus excellens peintres anciens et modernes (1666–1688) outlining what the principles of art, and giving an account of the lives of the artists. Berlin Kat. 1671; Landwehr, Romantic Emblem Books 286; See Praz, page 334. Catalogued by Kate Hunter