Tapestry art has many hidden surprises, one of which is the Asian Tapestries. These were famous in Europe for around 150 years and reflected growing European colonial aspirations. The tapestries were known as Orientale Tapestries and helped promote the exotic travels of those voyaging too the Far East, and were aimed at exciting and thrilling audiences with their vision of the Eastern world.
The Orientale Tapestries date from the 17th century and were associated with the first glimpses of that world by Jesuit missionaries. They became very popular in France and stimulated an interest in exotic and oriental art which has continued to this day.
Many oriental tapestries were not first hand artefacts but elaborate copies of engravings made by missionaries. This style retained its popularity throughout the 18th and 19th century mainly due to the very different nature of the Eastern world, culture and traditions. This culture difference fuelled the curiosity for more knowledge and art from this part of the world. In time the style of the Orientale emerged with some distinct characteristics. The tapestries were almost always tobacco coloured and were decorated with exotic flora, people or creatures, often with remarkable precision. Today these tapestries continue to be popular and offer a glimpse into the Eastern culture and way of life which held a real fascination in the 18th and 19th century.
A distinct piece of work in this tradition is La Recotte des Ananas which is part of a series named, ‘the Story of the Emperor of China.? A daily scene is shown, typical of China, with peasants picking fruit. The landscape is outlined with a pagoda and other buildings, and a Chinese Empress gestures towards the fruit. The detail is lavishly and exquisitely presented. Tropical fruits in the scene identify this as an exotic Eastern context and not one from Europe. A classical example of the Orientale style, the original is believed to have been commissioned by Louis Alexandre de Bourbon and woven between 1697 and 1705.
These forms were almost certainly not seen first hand by the tapestry weavers but brought back via missionaries and their engravings. Six of the original ten tapestries are now housed in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
In 1844 audiences at the Exposition of Industrial Products in France were stunned by the vivid nature of two famous orientale tapestries with their detail and depiction of exotic far off lands. Designed and woven by Charles-Jean Salloundrouze de la Mornaix, the tapestries ?Asia? and ‘royal Elephant? fascinated and enraptured the crowds, helping to facilitate the message that other cultures existed that were very different from Europe.
Eastern style tapestries enjoyed a short period of popularity, however they remain in vogue today. The pieces act as a record of a way of life abroad and a statement of places once visited, whilst giving an insight into the way in which Europeans perceived the Eastern world during the 18th and 19th century. In tapestry form they make a bold and distinct statement as a wall hanging in the modern home.
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