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French Antique Aubusson Rugs

Aubusson is a town in south-central France in which Aubusson rugs originated. Initially, the region was known mostly for its tapestry, but from the mid-16th till the 19th century, the carpet weaving had been flourishing there. Later the situation altered, and the production of Aubusson-style products had to be relocated to other places on account of high taxation. As a consequence, today we can come across just a few restorer’s studios and workshops there.

The production of less known Aubusson pile carpets began in 1743. At that time the first workshops were established. The target group for whom the rugs were manufactured was mostly nobility. Besides, carpets were also produced for the royal residences. It was a significant period in the history of Aubusson rugs, since the town could have exported the carpets to other countries, including Portugual, Spain, Sweden, Italy and America.

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As a curiosity, the earliest Aubusson pile carpet known to survive was made for the palace of the Prince-Bishop of Strasbourg, Cardinal de Rohan in 1745. What is more, it is still there, on the floor of the cardinal’s chapel. Jean-Joseph Dumons was responsible for the design, whereas Jean-Francois Picon’s workshop in Aubussion for making it. The inspiration for the design comes from the 18th century large-medallion Ushak carpet, with the addition of a prominent central blazon with the Cardinal’s coat of arms.

Aubusson rugs that were made using the tapestry technique are recognized to be one of the most chic and deluxe antique carpets. Bearing in mind that these rugs were predominantly placed on aristocracy’s floors, it is not difficult to guess why most of them are so large. Those who were affluent wished to impress their guests and show their status also through the size of the carpet that would give the impression of splendor and majesty. The reason for the French aristocracy being so enthusiastic about these carpets was undoubtedly their similarity to pile Savonnerie rugs which were out of their reach. Savonnerie rugs could only be made for King’s palaces that time. 

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The word Aubusson is sometimes interchangeably used with a flat-woven French carpet. It has always been associated with refinement and luxury. Some of the typical motifs of Aubusson rugs are center medallions and lyrical floral patterns.

Nowadays, Aubusson rugs are replicated in India, Pakistan, China and Iran, however the production of hand-woven rugs in Aubusson is now diminishing. They are increasingly hard to source, and as a consequence, they became highly precious.

Source:  HALI – Carpet, Textile and Islamic Art, issue 132.

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