How the Ornate Tapestries from the Age of Louis XIV Were Made (and Are Still Made Today)

“Time is the warp and matter the weft of the woven texture of beauty in space, and death is the hurling shuttle.”

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

For the uninitiated, the warp are the plain vertical threads of a weaving or tapestry, through which the colorful, horizontal weft threads are passed, over and under, on wooden needle-shaped bobbins (or shuttles).

As Beatrice Grisol, Head Weaver at Paris’ venerable Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins remarks, in The Art of Making a Tapestry, above, weavers must possess a love of drawing and an abundance of imagination in order to translate an artist’s vision using silken or woolen threads.




21st century designs are more contemporary, and dying equipment more precise, but Les Gobelins’s weavers’ process remains remarkably unchanged since the days of the Sun King, Louis XIV.

As in the 17th-century, giant looms are strung with white warp threads, in readiness for the threads expert dyers have colored according to the artist’s palette.

The colored weft threads are stored on spools, and eventually portioned out onto the bobbins, which dangle from the backside of the tapestry, as the weaver works her magic, constantly checking her progress in a mirror reflecting both the project's front side and a print of the original design.

It’s worth noting that the pronouns here are exclusively feminine. The lavish tapestries decorating Louis XIV’s court hinted at years of unsung labor by highly skilled craftswomen. Tapestries were the ne plus ultra of princely status, a testament to their owner’s erudition and taste. Louis XIV amassed some 2,650 pieces.

That’s a lot of bobbins, and a lot of hard-working female weavers.

Witness the transformation from artist Charles Le Brun’s 1664 study for the figure who would become the seated youth in The Entry of Alexander into Babylon

…to the fully realized oil on canvas rendering from 1690…

…to its incarnation as a tapestry in the Sun King’s court:

Speeding ahead to the 21st-century, Les Gobelins appears to rival Brooklyn’s Etsy flagship as a pleasantly appointed, well lit, and highly respected Temple of Craft.

View some of the highlights of the Getty Museum’s 2016 exhibition Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV here.

Or grab your heddles and plan an in-person visit to La Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins here.

Related Content:

Watch the Bayeux Tapestry Come to Life in a Short Animated Film

How Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beautiful, Centuries-Old Craft

Artistic Maps of Pakistan & India Show the Embroidery Techniques of Their Different Regions

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on March 20 for the second installment of Necromancers of the Public Domain at The Tank. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Periodic Table of David Bowie: A Visualization of the Seminal Artist’s Influence and Influences

Mick Jagger ...

Dada poet Tristan Tzara

Chairman Mao…

What do these 20th-century icons have in common?

Correct! They’re also all elements on artist Paul Robertson's Periodic Table of Bowie.




The late musician David Bowie was a skin-shedding chameleon, and a remarkably stable isotope. His creative influences were varied.

Robertson's table debuted in 2013 as part of the Victoria & Albert David Bowie is exhibition, three years before rock's seminal Starman exited the planet. Following a 12-city tour, it's taking its final bow at the Brooklyn Museum.

“I’m not an idiot,” the artist confided in an interview. “I know that people are mostly interested in it because it’s David Bowie. But I think it’s still a valid artwork.”

In addition to positioning such influences as collaborator John Lennon, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, and former roommate Iggy Pop as atomic numbers, Robertson's table allows for artists who came after.

"Fly My Pretties Fly (Thank You. We'll Take It From Here)" includes Lady Gaga, Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, and fellow dandy, Morrissey, while Bowie's 90s-era costumer, designer Alexander McQueen and artist Jeff Koons hold down "History Is a Choice the Future Decides Upon."

Fittingly, author Oscar Wilde appears in the Hydrogen slot.

Buy a print of the Periodic Table of Bowie here.

Explore David Bowie is in person at the Brooklyn Museum through July 15.

Related Content:

The David Bowie Book Club Gets Launched by His Son: Read One of Bowie’s 100 Favorite Books Every Month

Dave: The Best Tribute to David Bowie That You’re Going to See

In 1999, David Bowie Predicts the Good and Bad of the Internet

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on March 20 for the second installment of Necromancers of the Public Domain at The Tank. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download 150 Free Coloring Books from Great Libraries, Museums & Cultural Institutions: The British Library, Smithsonian, Carnegie Hall & More

A news alert for fans of coloring books.

You can now take part in the 2018 edition of #ColorOurCollections–a campaign where museums, libraries and other cultural institutions make available free coloring books, letting you color artwork from their collections and then share it on Twitter and other social media platforms. When sharing, use the hashtag #ColorOurCollections.




Below you can find a collection of 20 free coloring books, which you can download, print, and color until you can color no more. Also find a complete list of 150 coloring books over at this site maintained by The New York Academy of Medicine Library.

To see the free coloring books offered up in 2016, click here. And 2017, here.

The image up top comes from The British Library.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

The First Adult Coloring Book: See the Subversive Executive Coloring Book From 1961

Download 15,000+ Free Golden Age Comics from the Digital Comic Museum

Read Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story: The Influential 1957 Civil Rights Comic Book

Dr. Seuss Draws Anti-Japanese Cartoons During WWII, Then Atones with Horton Hears a Who!

“The Artist Project” Reveals What 127 Influential Artists See When They Look at Art: An Acclaimed Video Series from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photographer Nan Goldin’s celebrated series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency would likely have sent portraitist Julia Margaret Cameron reeling for her smelling salts, but the century that divides these two photographers' active periods is less of a barrier than one might assume.

As Goldin notes in the above episode of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online series, The Artist Project, both made a habit of photographing people with whom they were intimately acquainted.  (Cameron’s subjects included Virginia Woolf’s mother and Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.)




The trust between artist and subject is evident in both of their work.

And both were roundly criticized for their lack of technical prowess, though that didn’t stop either of them from pursuing their visions, in focus or not.

Other participants in the six season series, in which artists discuss their influences, chose to zero in on a single work.

John Baldessari, who chafes at the “Conceptualist” label, has been a fan of Social Realist/Abstract Expressionist Philip Guston since high school, when he would tear images of early works from his parents’ Life magazines.

His admiration for Gustin’s nightmarish Stationary Figure reveals a major difference in attitude from museum goers sneering that their kids could have painted such a work. Baldessari sees both the big picture—the idea of death as a sort of cosmic joke—and the sophisticated brushwork.

Cartoonist Roz Chast chose to focus on Italian Renaissance painting in her episode, savoring those teeming canvases’ creators’ imperfect command of perspective and three dimensionality.

Mayhaps she is also a fan of the Ugly Renaissance Babies Tumblr?

The maximalist approach helps her believe that what she’s looking at is “real,” even as she grants herself the freedom to interpret the narrative in the manner she finds most amusing, playfully suggesting that a UFO is responsible for The Conversion of Saint Paul.

Other participants include Nina Katchadourian on Early Netherlandish portraitureNick Cave on Kuba cloths, John Currin on Ludovico Carracci's The Lamentation, and Jeff Koons on Roman sculpture.

The series also spawned a book, The Artist Project: What Artists See When They Look At Art.

See a list of all artists and episodes in the Artist Project here.

Related Content:

60-Second Introductions to 12 Groundbreaking Artists: Matisse, Dalí, Duchamp, Hopper, Pollock, Rothko & More

An Online Guide to 350 International Art Styles & Movements: An Invaluable Resource for Students & Enthusiasts of Art History

1.8 Million Free Works of Art from World-Class Museums: A Meta List of Great Art Available Online

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She tackles artist Jules Bastien-Lepage in New York City this Thursday, when Necromancers  of the Public Domain reframes his biography as a variety show, Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Discover the Japanese Museum Dedicated to Collecting Rocks That Look Like Human Faces

It says something about the human brain that we so often see the shape of human faces in inanimate things — and that we feel such amusement and even delight about it when we do. If you don't believe it, just ask the 618,000 followers of the Twitter account Faces in Things, which posts images of nothing else. Or go to Chichibu, Japan, two hours northwest of Tokyo, where you'll find the Chinsekikan, a small museum that has collected over 1,700 "curious rocks," all 100 percent organically formed, about a thousand of which resemble human faces, sometimes even famous ones.

"The museum’s founder, who passed away in 2010, collected rocks for over fifty years," writes Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft. "Initially, he was drawn to rare rocks, but that evolved into collecting, well, strange rocks — especially unaltered rocks that naturally resemble celebrities, religious figures, movie characters, and more.




These days, the founder's daughter keeps the museum running, and it has been featured on popular, nationwide Japanese TV programs." It has also, more recently, become a subject of CNN's internet video series Great Big Story, which highlights interesting people and places all around the world.

The Chinsekikan stands in walking distance of a local river rich with rocks, where we see the museum's proprietor Yoshiko Hayama performing one of her routine searches for wee faces staring back at her. "To find rocks, we walk step-by-step," she says. "If we walk too fast, we won't find them." She explains that a proper jinmenseki, or face-shaped stone, needs at least eyes and a mouth, reasonably well-aligned, with a nose being a rare bonus. Only decades of adherence to these standards, and hunting with such deliberateness, can yield such prize specimens as a rock that looks like Elvis Presley, a rock that looks (vaguely) like Johnny Depp, and a rock that looks like Donald Trump — though that one does benefit from what looks like a pile of thread on top, of a color best described as not found in nature.

Related Content:

The Philosophical Appreciation of Rocks in China & Japan: A Short Introduction to an Ancient Tradition

Wabi-Sabi: A Short Film on the Beauty of Traditional Japan

How to Draw the Human Face & Head: A Free 3-Hour Tutorial

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Free: Download 10,000+ Master Drawings from The Morgan Library & Museum’s Online Collection

It’s hard for the casual browser to know where to begin with a collection as vast as the master drawings belonging to the Morgan Library & Museum.

The Library’s Drawings Online program gives the public free access to over 10,000 downloadable images, drawn primarily from—and in—the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. Many images are fleshed out with inscriptions, information on provenance, biographical sketches of the artist, and, in over 2000 instances, images of the verso, or flip side of the paper.

Researchers and similarly informed seekers can browse by artist or school, but what if you don’t quite know what you want?




You could tour the highlights, or better yet, bushwhack your way into the unknown by entering a random word or phrase into the “search drawings” function.

Knowing that the internet is crazy for cats, I made that my first search term, but the results were skewed by an 18th-century Dutch artist named Jacob Cats, whose work abounds with cows and sheep.

Caricaturist Al Hirschfeld’s portrait of Kathleen Turner in the 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  is unavailable for viewing due to copyright restrictions. (It’s easily viewable elsewhere…)

And the Where’s Waldo-esque excitement I felt upon an anonymous artist’s Mountain Landscape with Italian-Style Cloister faux-Bruegel dissipated when I realized this return owed more to the abbreviation of “catalogue” than any feline lurking in the pen-and-ink trees.

Next I entered the word “babies.” I’m not sure why. There certainly were a lot of them, almost as many as I encounter on Facebook.

Returning to the pre-selected highlights page, I resolved to let the experts pick for me. I saw a charming rabbit family by John James Audubon and the old favorite by William Blake, top, but what really grabbed me was the first page's final selection: Honoré Daumier’s Two Lawyers Conversing, circa 1862.

Part of the Morgan's recently closed Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection exhibit, the subjects' dress may be archaic, but their expressions are both humorous and evergreen. Lawyer. I had my search term.

My favorite of the seven search results is illustrator Edmund J. Sullivan’s Soumin an' Roumin from 1914. One of a dozen or so drawings Sullivan made for an updated edition of George Outram's Legal and Other Lyrics, it shows "an old woman in a farmyard surrounded by livestock fleeing three monstrous lawyers wearing wigs and robes and armed with hideous talons instead of hands and feet. One … chases a cow with a scourge, the thongs of which end in scorpions.”

Download that one for all your lawyer friends or your lawyer spouse… upload it to a t-shirt if you’re crafty.

Claud Lovat Fraser’s set design for Pergolesi's short comic opera La Serva Padrona (or The Maid Turned Mistress) at the Lyric Hammersmith doesn’t depict any lawyers, to the best of my knowledge, but he himself was one—also a caricaturist, lampooning the literary and theatrical luminaries of his day, and a soldier whose life was cut short due to exposure to gas in World War I.

In addition to the Morgan’s particularly well-fleshed-out artist bio for this work, the verso is a treat in the form of a printed announcement for the Chelsea Arts Club Costume Ball.

Browse the Morgan Library & Museum’s Drawings Online in its entirety here, or narrow it down by artist, School of Art, or personal whim.

Related Content:

300+ Etchings by Rembrandt Now Free Online, Thanks to the Morgan Library & Museum

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Public Domain, Making Them Free to Reuse & Remix

Download 2,500 Beautiful Woodblock Prints and Drawings by Japanese Masters (1600-1915)

1.8 Million Free Works of Art from World-Class Museums: A Meta List of Great Art Available Online

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her New York City  on February 8, when she hosts Necromancers of the Public Domain, a variety show born of a single musty volume - this month: Masterpieces in Colour, Basten-Lepage. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Enroll in Seven Free Courses From the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): “Modern Art & Ideas,” “Seeing Through Photographs” & “Fashion as Design” Start Today

If you would like to know more about modern art, but have difficulty wrapping your head around the Futurists, Neo-Impressionists, Abstract Expressionists, and the myriad other -ists and -isms  of this vast subject, perhaps you should untether yourself from timelines.

Modern Art & Ideas, a free online course from the Museum of Modern Art (aka MoMA), shifts the focus away from period and movement, instead grouping works according to four themes: Places & Spaces, Art & Identity, Transforming Everyday Objects, and Art & Society.

It’s an approach that’s worked well for MoMA’s Education Department. (Another upcoming online class, Art & Ideas: Teaching with Themes, is recommended for professional educators looking to develop the pedagogical skills the department employs to get visitors to engage with the art.)

The course, which begins today, is taught by Lisa Mazzola, Assistant Director of the museum’s School and Teacher Programs and a veteran of their previous forays into Massive Open Online Courses.

An early lesson on how artists capture environments considers three works: Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43), and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Bingo. Vintage photos and footage conspire with period music to whisk students to the settings that inspired these works—a bucolic French mental hospital, New York City’s bustling, WWII-era Times Square, and a derelict house in down on its luck Niagara Falls.

Regular readers of Open Culture are likely to have a handle on some of the ways art stars Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol explored identity, the course's third week theme, but what about Glenn Ligon, a living African American conceptual artist?

Ligon may not have the renown or tote bag appeal of his lessonmates, but his 1993 series, Runaways, is powerful enough to hold its own against Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair and Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe.

In fact, teachers looking to expand their Black History Month curriculum could spark some lively discussions by showing students the extremely accurate facsimiles of 19th-century runaway slave ads featuring physical descriptions of Ligon, solicited from friends who'd been told they were supplying details for a hypothetical Missing Person poster.

Ligon’s series is also a good starting place for discussing conceptual art with a friend who thinks  conceptual art is best defined as White Cow in a Snowstorm.

Offered on Coursera, the 5-week course requires approximately 2 hours of study and one quiz per week. Enroll here, or browse MoMAs other current offerings also on Coursera:

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses, it helps support Open Culture.

Related Content:

The Tree of Modern Art: Elegant Drawing Visualizes the Development of Modern Art from Delacroix to Dalí (1940)

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Puts Online 75,000 Works of Modern Art

What to Say When You Don’t Understand Contemporary Art? A New Short Film, “Masterpiece,” Has Helpful Suggestions

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

More in this category... »
Quantcast