The Getty Center’s Woven Gold:
Tapestries of Louis XIV Exhibit,
Thérèse Makes a Tapestry Review & Giveaway
On December 15, 2015, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, unveiled its exhibit, Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV. The exhibition is displayed in three sections: Louis XIV as collector, heir, and patron of the arts. In 1662, the king founded the Gobelins (tapestries) Manufactory to decorate his residences and to aggrandize his public persona.
The Getty has released a companion book for young readers, Thérèse Makes a Tapestry written by Alexandra S.D. Hinrichs and illustrated by Renée Graef (Getty Publications, $19.95, Ages 6 and up). This historical fiction picture book is the story of a young girl and the real French tapestry (circa 1619-1690) Chȃteau of Monceaux / Month of December which is on display at the Getty Center. The book is set at the Gobelins Manufactory during the king’s 1643 to 1715 reign when many world-famous tapestries were woven.
Thérèse, the main character of the story, wishes to weave, but females are not allowed to do this in seventeenth-century France. Thérèse’s father is a painter who travels with Louis XIV on his political campaigns because the king often features himself in the art he commissions. When Thérèse’s father returns home with one of his paintings, Thérèse is determined to make a tapestry of that image. As the story unfolds the reader becomes acquainted with Thérèse’s family and their neighborhood. Fascinating facts about the tapestry-making process are skillfully incorporated into the story line; readers learn about this craft as they follow Thérèse on her journey.
This debut picture book for writer Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs uses language which a six-year-old (who is being read to) can understand, but has the depth to engage a teen reader. Realistic illustrations are masterfully painted by award-winning illustrator, Renée Graef. The historically accurate images are colorfully appealing for younger readers yet mature in detail and subject matter.
Another pleasing aspect of Thérèse Makes a Tapestry is that a reader may enjoy the story, then see the actual tapestry featured in the book. The thirteen tapestries in the exhibit are stunningly large—it would take four weavers about four years to complete one of these tapestries—and in a meticulous state of preservation. Hung at eye level, the gleaming threads of real gold and silver sparkle invitingly.
Reading the book in conjunction with visiting the exhibit gives an understanding of Paris during the seventeenth century and the artists who crafted these masterpieces. The weaver faced the back of the tapestry, using a mirror to view a reflection of the cartoon (a drawing or painting of the design) and to watch the image develop. During the time of King Louis XIV, weavers worked together, utilizing their areas of specialization, such as human faces or animals. Most tapestries on display at the exhibit are composed of wool, silk, and gilt metal- or silver-wrapped thread. Since the materials used faded at different speeds, the tapestry makers decided how to dye the thread both for immediate viewing and for a predicted harmonious collaboration of colors.
Understanding the time and expertise devoted to each design imparts a deeper appreciation of the tapestries which have survived the centuries. King Louis XIV’s contributions to this art form were immense. An inventory taken in 1666 noted 44 suites (or groups) of tapestries. At the time of his death, there were 304 suites with approximately 2,650 tapestries in the collection. In addition to commissioning new work, King Louis XIV actively purchased antique tapestries. Of all these tapestries, only an estimated 600 still exist. Many degraded over the years and were consciously destroyed. Others were lost during or after the French Revolution; some were burned to extract the gold and silver bullion within.
Remarkably, the Gobelins Manufactory is still functioning and the tapestry-weaving tradition carries on today. One difference is that the weavers now are all women and one weaver typically completes the entire tapestry—this would surely please Thérèse!
Marking the 300th anniversary of the death of King Louis XIV, Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV is the first major showing of tapestries in the Western US in four decades. An interesting conclusion to the exhibit is a modern piece (2001–2004) made of wool and linen by Raymond Hains. Related events such as talks, courses, and a symposium begin January 5, 2016.
Thérèse Makes a Tapestry and the exhibit are ideal companions for one another, though either can be enjoyed alone. The book is exclusively available through the Getty until its release for sale to the general public on March 8, 2016; the tapestries exhibit runs through May 1, 2016. This is an opportunity for families to spend time together then bring home a keepsake. The exhibit and the book acquaint us with this enduring craft which may seem anachronistic with our instant-gratification world. By viewing these tapestries and enjoying the accompanying book, perhaps our children will build an appreciation for the humanity and soul instilled in these masterpieces which have gracefully withstood the passage of time.
The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049. Closed Mondays.
To purchase book, please click here.
For more information on the exhibit including talks, tours, and courses: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/french_tapestries/
- Article by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success Editing Services
Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales
On Twitter as @WFSediting and @ChristineVZ
Don’t miss Christine Van Zandt’s part one of a two part interview with Thérèse Makes a Tapestry’s author and illustrator. Thérèse Makes a Tapestry, Part 1: Illustrator, Renée Graef
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