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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 5, The Friends of the V&A Gallery

Air

Hanging
1683 to ca. 1690 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

King Louis XIV's of France's mistress Madame de Montespan commissioned a set of embroidered wall hangings depicting the Elements and Seasons, with herself, Louis and some of their children taking the parts of the personified elements. The embroideries were probably worked at the Parisian convent of Saint Joseph de la Providence in the 1680s. Four of that set, with gold and silver grounds, are now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but a small number of other versions are known with slight variations, including the V&A's piece; this has a pink wool rather than gold thread background, but is otherwise identical with the original. It depicts Louis as Jupiter, in Roman style costume with flowing hair, sitting on an eagle's back among clouds. He is holding a shield with Medusa's head under his left arm and a thunderbolt in his right hand. The hanging is an allegory of Air, and depicts winged creatures including birds of prey, parrots and other exotic birds, butterflies, hunting horns and musical instruments, together with pipes blowing bubbles.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Linen canvas embroidered in wools and silks in tent stitch
Brief Description
Embroidered hanging depicting Louis XIV as Jupiter, Allegory of Air from series of the Elements and Seasons, France, 1680s
Physical Description
Hanging of linen canvas embroidered in wools and silks in tent stitch, approximately 18 stitches to the inch. The head of Louis is worked on a finer ground and applied.



The hanging depicts Louis XIV as Jupiter in Roman style costume with flowing hair, sitting on an eagle's back among clouds. He is holding a shield with Medusa's head on his left arm and a thunderbolt in his right hand. The scene is in a cartouche, loosely framed by the foreground, comprising the rest of the hanging. Immediately surrounding the cartouche are twining exotic and garden flowers, above is an oval containing a blazing sun with a face decked with wings and ribbons. Beneath are a peacock and a woman's head, which may represent Mme de Montespan, flanked with cornucopia. Also meant to represent Air, the hanging depicts winged creatures including birds of prey, parrots and other exotic birds, butterflies, hunting horns and musical instruments (bagpipes, transverse flute, oboe, panpipes and recorder, bells and castanets) together with bowls and pipes for blowing bubbles. There is a narrow, three-dimensional-effect border and an archway at the top. The colours used include many shades of blues, greens, reds and yellows; the background is dusky pink with a blue/grey sky in the cartouche and at the top of the hanging.



Dimensions
  • Max height: 440.5cm
  • Max width: 278.5cm
  • Including roller weight: 41kg
  • Weight: 15kg (estimated, during conservation inspection)
the object is pulled into parallelogram shape, so the display space needed for it is greater than its maximum dimensions, at least 304 cm wide.
Object history
Purchased from Christies, London, 06/04/1978, lot no. 84.



Meyer speculates, repeated by Standen, that the hanging representing Louis XIV as Jupiter that he notes as having been in the collection of Louis Philippe (described in 1852 as one of ‘quatre pieces de tapisserie au canevas non terminees, l’une est la reproduction du Louis XIV foudroyant, les fonds ne sont pas faits’), may be the V&A piece, which is worked with pink wool ground instead of metal thread. Horace Walpole recorded seeing ‘Louis-XIV in needlework’ at Sceaux, the chateau of the duc de Maine, in 1767, and this chateau passed by inheritance to Louis Philippe’s grandfather, the duc de Penthievre.
Historical context
Madame de Montespan commissioned a set of embroidered wall hangings depicting the Elements and Seasons, with herself, Louis XIV and six of their children taking the parts of the personified elements. The embroideries were probably worked at the Parisian convent of Saint Joseph de la Providence in the 1680s. Four of that set, with silver gilt and silver grounds, are now in the Metropolitan Museum. They may be identical to the wall decorations described as 'tapisserie de petit point' that decorated the King's apartment at the Château de Rambouillet.



A small number of versions are known with slight variations. The V&A’s version has pink wool rather than metal ground, and lacks the narrow band inside the borders, otherwise the design is identical. The set of embroideries of similar subject now in Cracow and Minneapolis were made for the Crecy family, with yellow silk ground.

Subjects depicted
Summary
King Louis XIV's of France's mistress Madame de Montespan commissioned a set of embroidered wall hangings depicting the Elements and Seasons, with herself, Louis and some of their children taking the parts of the personified elements. The embroideries were probably worked at the Parisian convent of Saint Joseph de la Providence in the 1680s. Four of that set, with gold and silver grounds, are now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but a small number of other versions are known with slight variations, including the V&A's piece; this has a pink wool rather than gold thread background, but is otherwise identical with the original. It depicts Louis as Jupiter, in Roman style costume with flowing hair, sitting on an eagle's back among clouds. He is holding a shield with Medusa's head under his left arm and a thunderbolt in his right hand. The hanging is an allegory of Air, and depicts winged creatures including birds of prey, parrots and other exotic birds, butterflies, hunting horns and musical instruments, together with pipes blowing bubbles.
Bibliographic References
  • Edith Standen, Children of the Sun King : Some Reconsiderations, Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol.28 (1993), pp.121-127
  • Daniel Meyer and Jean-Marie Clarke, A Lost Opportunity for the Musée de Versailles, 1852, Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol.26 (1991), pp.183-191
  • Edith Appleton Standen, European Post-Medieval Tapestries and Related Hangings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1985) II, pp.665-676
  • La Chronique des Arts, supplement to Gazette des Beaux Arts, 6th Series, 93 (April 1979), p.58, no. 295, illus.
Collection
Accession Number
T.106-1978

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record createdJuly 20, 2004
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