The Golden Age

Like any art form, tapestry weaving was part of the cultural, political, and social framework of its time. During the golden age of tapestry production, from about 1500 to 1750, the industry was highly regulated and required large numbers of extremely well-trained workers. The painters who made the designs were often renowned artists in their own right, and the skilled weavers who translated the painted creations into woven threads went through long apprenticeships with master weavers.

Tapestry workshops within a town or region were often run by managers from a small circle of families connected by kinship—either through marriage or the appointing of colleagues as godparents. Such manufactories were vital to the economy of a region, and their importance can sometimes be deduced from historical documents indicating their exemption from taxation on beer and wine—the tax incentives of their day. Alternatively, a workshop could be created by the monarchy, as was the case with the Gobelins manufactory outside Paris, which was established by Louis XIV’s finance minister for the express purpose of creating the royal image. Autumn, along with tapestries of the other seasons, was designed to serve as an allegory glorifying the French king, Louis XIV.

Autumn (detail) from The Seasons, 1700/20. After a design by Charles Le Brun. France, Paris. Gift of the Hearst Foundation in memory of William Randolph Hearst.