Manfacture des Gobelins

GobelinsIf you happen to visit any of the chateaux and grand maisons in Paris, chances are good that exquisite, impossibly detailed tapestries will cover the walls. These wall hangings, painstakingly handcrafted, serve a two-fold purpose. They are decorative, but also served to ward off the chill emanating from the stone walls in the cooler seasons. Chances are even better that each of those tapestries was produced by the Manufacture des Gobelins.

The family des Gobelin established themselves as one of the premier dyer families in the mid 15th century. They separated themselves from the competition by using secret ingredients to fashion more vibrant colors, making their tapestries less susceptible to fading. Commissioned as the official tapestry maker to King Louis XIV, the factory has since become a facet of the French Ministry of Culture.

The factory, which is located in the 13th arrondissement, is today responsible for the repair and restoration of the tapestries, many of which date back hundreds of years. There is also a school where apprentices, students and craftsman practice the craft that has been honed over the several centuries. If you happen to visit one a day where they are doing repairs, you can see the meticulous effort that went into each inch of cloth.

Situated off the tourist radar, the Manufacture des Gobelins is so steeped in French history that it’s an absolute must to appreciate the artistry of the tapestries. The medieval craft serves as a window through time, where you can almost imagine what Paris must have been like in centuries ago. The factory is housed in exquisite seventeenth century buildings, and brings you back to the days when the Gobelins were engaged in a fierce rivalry with another dyer family – the Beauvais.

The guided tours for the Manufacture des Gobelins are given in French, so if you feel that your French is a little shaky, be sure to bring someone who can translate. If you don’t have anybody available, don’t be intimidated by the language barrier – the factory itself is incredibly fascinating and offers a unique perspective on the behind-the-scenes element. Also, be sure to allow yourself at least an hour and a half at the factory. The tour takes at least that long, plus whatever additional time you would like to spend lingering in the galleries.

The tours expound greatly on the family history, including what ingredients were used in which dyes, and how they were converted to make the colors that made the Gobelins famous. Reds, in particular, were difficult to achieve and the family des Gobelins engineered a way around that issue. Visitors also learn the dedication that goes into weaving the tapestries – a single hanging can take over a year, with some of the larger, more detailed pieces taking up to a decade to complete.

Need to Know

Getting there: Metro Station Gobelins

Hours: The Galerie is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11am to 6:00pm. Guided tours are offered by reservation only.

Prices: Individual prices depending on age, there are group rates available as well. The last Sunday of every month, access to the public is free.

Image via Flickr/Jean & Nathalie

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