Jean Revel, the Golden Age of Lyonnaise Silk

A major figure in Lyonnaise silk from the 18th century and a pioneer of the French style, Jean Revel (1684-1751) carried his innovative style beyond the courts of Versailles and Paris. Nicknamed the “Raphael of silk,” he met great success with the European elite from Madrid to Saint Petersburg. This painter, a virtuoso of color and drawing, developed a textile universe marked by strong motifs. Jean Revel revitalized the floral repertoire of traditional Baroque work, bringing them to life with oversized bouquets, pastoral scenes and chinoiseries on bright backgrounds. He painted in an expressive style on mockups that were then translated into fabric and took on their full force in silk.
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Fragment of woven silk, Jean Revel, early 18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, n° Inv. 3.49.1
His meticulous work took advantage of the textile innovations of the Enlightenment. The invention of the pulling loom – an ancestor of the Jacquard loom – made it possible to produce complicated designs with finesse. His peerless talent in drawing brought him international attention, and he developed high-quality card sets for looms that he sold for great sums throughout Europe.
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Mise-en-carte (or draft), Jean Revel, France, 1733, Musée des Tissus, Lyon, n° Inv. 40932
At once tradesman, entrepreneur and artist, Jean Revel also brought technical innovation, inventing a weaving pattern that allows for color changes to occur more gradually. The point de berclé, also known as the point rentré creates intermediary tones on the weft by entwining silk threads of different colors, obtaining a more subtle dégradé. This produced reliefs silks with a naturalistic, striking effect. Meanwhile, his multicolor brocades exude opulent seduction. They were used to upholster as well as for clothing, notably for “banyans,” mens’ Asiatic-inspired housecoats.
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Banyan, silk, France, 1735-40, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, n° Inv. 909.33.1
Jean Revel and his contemporary (and neighbor), the renowned textile designer Philippe de La Salle, dominated the decorative arts scene and produced the hundreds of patterns now preciously conserved in their archives. This unprecedented success marked the climax of Lyonnaise hegemony in European silk, which came to compete with workshops in Holland, Italy and England. In its perpetual search for novelty and its commitment to aggressive commercialism, Lyon earned the title “Metropolis of silk,” benefiting from its proximity to Paris, the city that set the tone for style.