The tradition of the spectacular tapestries, which, to this day, are still produced at the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins, stretches back to the 15th century. Jehan Gobelin, who arrived from Reims, set up his dyeing workshop in the old Faubourg Satin Marcel which would later be moved to the banks of the Bièvre by his descendent. Becoming experts in dyeing wool scarlet, they were renowned to such an extent that, in the following century, they gave their name to the river and to the surrounding area: Henry IV favoured the manufacturers and installed his tapestry workshops in the Gobelins’ building; under Louis XIV, Colbert brought together various artisans allowing tapestry makers to rub shoulders with painters and goldsmiths; their fame soon spread beyond the French borders. Dyers and weavers bustled about to create sketches and cards which, after hours of work, would become huge tapestries, adapted from the works of great artists: today the average time it takes to make a tapestry fluctuates between 3 and 5 years. The art of tapestry making is the result of a collaboration between contemporary artists and weavers who have an exceptional knowledge of the tradition. Tapestry making is, in itself, a process which demands a real talent for adaptation. The card is the piece of the jigsaw which leads to the new creation, owing its originality to the material, the interpretative work of the dyers and to the talents of the weavers. All of the wools and silks used are dyed on site. More than 30000 colours are referenced and new ones are constantly being created according to the demands of the projects.
Today, there are thirty artisans working on different stages of the process, who preserve this centuries old tradition. They have woven for Pierre Alechinski, Alexander Calder and Louise Bourgeois among others, demonstrating the infinite possibility of reviving this artistic technique which rewrites the language of pictorial or photographic works. The manufactory currently has ten different tapestries on show, including La Tenture de Moïse, made there in 1685, which is presented alongside the Poussin painting which inspired it. Conferences and meetings are organised regularly, notably around the theme of textile writing in contemporary art.