Rug #: 20319
Tapestry, Gobelins Factory, France
9’0” x 6’4” (2.77 m x 1.92 m)
“The Air” or “Aurora & Cephalus”, from a set of The Four Elements
From a design of Francois Boucher
Slit tapestry weave.
Warp: linen, natural, beige, Z-2-S, 25/in
Weft: silk, Z-2, 90 wefts/in² , or
Wool, Z-2-S, plain tan edge and various small details
No marks of origin
This panel is the first of a series of four depicting classical allegories of The Elements (Air, Earth, Water, Fire). Francois Boucher created the original paintings around 1770 and the first edition of the set was woven between 1772 and 1776. “Air” was the first woven and was 3.0m x 1.85m, a taller and narrower format than our example.
The figures are: male, Cephalus, dressed as a hunter; female, Aurora; and Cupid (Eros), all within a tall, airy pavilion supported by four thin colonettes and topped by a garlanded baldachin. The figures rest on a garden seat and there are trees and flowers in the background. A dog chases some birds in the foreground. In the other tapestries in the series, there are similar male/female pairings (Vertumnus and Pomona for Earth, Neptune and Amymone for Water, and Venus and Vulcan for fire).
- The series was copied several times between 1894 and 1897 from the original cartoons in the Louvre. Our example is not copied exactly and is not one of the late 19th Century copies.
- The design is reversed: in the original Cephalus is to the left and Aurora to the right;
- The proportions differ, the original is narrower and taller (3.5 m x 2.56 m);
- Elements are added or changed, e.g. the long vertical hanging garlands along the rear colonette of the pavilion; the dog (reversed in position) has changed his coat; the bases of the colonettes are more visible in the later version;
- The faces are sweeter and softer with Cephalus given a more youthful and feminine look;
- The background landscape has changed and the tree has been moved behind the rear upright; many other minor compositional changes are evident.
Now this process alone is not sufficient to imply a later date since as early as 1779 the models were modified in their details and the sizes were reduced in the case of a particular order.
This implies that our tapestry was not copied from an original cartoon but from another tapestry. Most important, the entire composition is reversed and this occurs when a tapestry is copied from another: the original is placed face up behind the warps, but the weaver works from the back of the new piece, thus reversing the sense of the finished work.
The border in early pieces from this series is a brown, tone-on-tone mosaic imitating a picture frame while here it’s a plain brown band.
The quality of weaving is extremely high and is fully comparable to the best early work. The soft tonality in beige-gold-rust tones differs from the fully colored period examples. This panel is not of the dimensions of the 1894-97 series discussed by Fenaille (1906 and later). He does not mention later editions. The tonality is popular from the later 19th century and appears on many late copies of earlier panels. One may reasonably conclude that this panel is an early 20th century reproduction. The other three panels have not been recorded. The Gobelins source is clear as the excellent quality of workmanship is not approached at Beauvais or Aubusson, and the designs have always been associated with Gobelins. The shorter height indicates a smaller room, possibly in an urban context rather than in a country chateau.
To view this tapestry on our website use the following link:
*Written and researched by Peter Saunders, edited by Katrina Mauro.