In the 17th century French artists and weavers invented the art of weaving rugs with depth perspective. This technique is so artistically demanding it has never been copied by the rug weavers of the east and even today only European rugs such as Aubusson, Savonnerie and Needlepoints have three dimensional patterns.
Cream and blue Aubusson rug in French provincial style dining room with rustic stone walls and chandelier.
History of Aubusson Rugs
The origins of Aubusson rugs and tapestries are shrouded in mystery. Historians have speculated that tapestry weaving could have been brought to France by members of the Saracen army who stayed behind after their defeat at the battle of Poitiers in 732. What is more surprising is that that Aubusson rugs and carpets are still being made by hand 1281 years later in the small village of Aubusson on the River Creuse, a four hour drive from Paris. The development of the art of Aubusson rugs is closely connected with the Italian Renaissance that started 600 miles to the east in Tuscany in Florence and Sienna. The Renaissance awakened a passion for portraying nature realistically in painting and sculpture. in 1413 Filippo Brunelleschi demonstrated that by using geometrical methods of perspective objects could be drawn in such a way that they looked three dimensional. Objects could be painted to look nearer or further back and nearer to the background. This was a revolutionary development because until this time paintings had a flat two-dimensional quality. Fast forward more than two hundred years to the court of Louis XIV and you see the finest artists of the day commissioned by the kind to create an authentic French style for carpets.
How the Art of Aubusson Rugs Was Developed
Before Louis XIV asked French artists to develop a French style of carpet, the famous Savonnerie Carpet Manufactory was content with producing copies of Turkish rugs because that was all that was known to the French nobility.
However, the French artists whom Louis XIV commissioned were very familiar with creating depth perspective in painting and it was natural that they would introduce this technique into their carpet designs. But the problem was that no one had yet woven a rug that depicted depth perspective. Turkish and Persian rugs have flat two dimensional patterns. So it was up to French weavers and dyers to invent new rug weaving techniques and they rose to the challenge magnificently. One of the key techniques was weave with multiple strands of wool yarns dyed in several shades of a color. This made it possible to weave patterns that looked three dimensional. However this French method of creating depth perspective in a rug is so difficult and intricate it has not been adopted by the rug weaving cultures of the east. To this day only European rugs such as Aubusson, Savonnerie and Needlepoint rugs employ depth perspective.
1. There is a common misconception that all Aubusson rugs should have a formal 19th century French design with a medallion and borders. The essence of Aubusson rugs is the tapestry weaving technique that can be used to weave any kind of pattern as in the Summer Aubusson rug in the picture. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
Aubusson rugs and Aubusson tapestries are woven in the same way. The only difference is that the wool, cotton and weaving of Aubusson rugs has to be more sturdy as it has to withstand use on the floor. Tapestries are of course hung on walls.
Nature is depicted realistically in the Summer Aubusson rug combining the art of depth perspective invented by 15th century Renaissance artists and the weaving inventions of 18th century Aubusson rug and tapestry weavers. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
2. Detail of the Summer Aubusson Rug. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
3. A closer detail of the Summer Aubusson rug. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
4. Aubusson rugs and tapestries are handmade on a horizontal loom. Strong cotton threads are tightly stretched between two beams that form the loom. These are called the warp. Alternate warp threads are lifted up by their connection to foot pedals which are operated by the weaver. The weaver passes colored wool yarn in between the warp threads to make a pattern. The weft thread eventually covers all the warp threads and becomes the surface of the Aubusson rug or tapestry. Image courtesy Syndicat Tapisserie Aubusson.
5. The blue and black sections of an Aubusson tapestry have already been completed by the weaver. Colored yarns are wound on wooden spindles, called fluets. The weaver picks up a fluet of the desired color and weaves a line of the pattern in that color and then picks up a fluet of the next colors as required by the pattern drawing. Image courtesy Syndicat Tapisserie Aubusson.
6. The outlines of the pattern are drawn on paper. Note that the drawing does not show every single point of the pattern as a graph patter for a needlepoint rug or an oriental rug would. The weaver has the artistic freedom to do the shading of the detail. Image courtesy Syndicat Tapisserie Aubusson.
7. The Aubusson tapestry weavers follows the pattern drawing which is held behind the warp threads. The back of the tapestry faces the weaver and the weavers uses a mirror to periodically look at the front of the tapestry. Once the weft of a color has been passed between the warp threads to complete the section of the pattern in that color, the yarn is cut off and allowed to hang loose at the back of the tapestry. In this image the cut ends of the yellow and gold threads can be seen on the left. Image courtesy Syndicat Tapisserie Aubusson.
8. The reverse side of the Summer Aubusson rug detail shown in image 3. The ends of wool yarns where a color was stopped and another color started can be seen. Only genuine Aubusson rugs and tapestries have these loose yarn ends. If the back of a rug or a tapestry has no loose yarns then it is not a genuine Aubusson rug of tapestry. Rug Design © Asmara, Inc.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 15, 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.