Sarah Grandin and Elizabeth Cleland Discuss Savonnerie Carpet Production in 17th-Century France

Jul 2, 2021

In our latest virtual dialogue, Sarah Grandin, PhD, Clark-Getty Paper Project Curatorial Fellow at the Clark Art Institute, shared a lecture titled “Trees, Orphans, and the Forgotten Figures of Savonnerie Carpet Manufacturing (1662-1688),” before joining in conversation by Elizabeth Cleland, Curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

From 1663-1668 Jean-Baptiste Colbert implemented a plan to visually unite the interior of the Louvre’s Grande Galerie by orchestrating a sequence of carpets of, as Colbert said, “the greatest possible extent.” His vision was fulfilled through 93 giant Savonnerie carpets. 

Sarah emphasized that size was the primary concern for Colbert in the creation of these renowned carpets, which could cover 14 tennis courts. The project took over 20 years to finish. Rather than examining the carpets themselves, however, Sarah concentrated on the resources and labor that were exploited to create them.

Focusing first on the giant fir trees necessary to build looms big enough to produce the colossal Savonnerie carpets, Sarah presented a fascinating exploration of the 17th-century French forestry. Finding parallels in shipbuilding, Sarah explored how the carpets were related to the development of French industry and the exploitation of natural resources. 

Sarah then discussed the child labor that was used to create Savonnerie carpets. Children from the approximate ages of 10-12 were plucked from orphanages and sent to work in vast workshops for six-year apprenticeships. The conditions were horrific, with hundreds of children running away and others dying from the forced labor. 

Sarah noted that, “The carpets were supposed to embody the state’s command of a rich territory and regimented citizenry.” Her research highlights how Savonnerie carpets embody the management of nature and manpower in France at the end of the 17th century.

During the conversation that followed Sarah’s lecture, she and Elizabeth Cleland further discussed the legacy of the carpets and the labor practices that lead to their creation. 

To hear more of Sarah’s lecture click the link below: 

The Decorative Arts Trust hosts monthly virtual dialogues that feature scholars sharing and discussing their exciting new research with colleagues in the field. The hour-long Zoom program includes a lecture, scholar-to-scholar conversation, and Q&A with the program participants. 

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Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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