Definition of an Aubusson Rug
An authentic antique Aubusson rug is an investment underfoot or on the wall that may have been danced on by the Sun King in his sunnier days.
Aubusson rugs began as flat-woven fine tapestries, handmade since the 15th century in a village in the center of France. Original Aubussons live on the walls of museums and in the collections of carpet connoisseurs. Copies are manufactured on industrial factory looms in India and China, and in small artisanal batches by artists still working in the French departement of Creuse and weaving the old patterns in the old ways.
In 1627, Louis XIII ordered that a rug-weaving operation be set up in an old soap factory, the Hospice de la Savonnerie at Chaillot, to create artist-designed lush pile carpets for palace floors and favored friends of the king.
No one else got a crack at the premier carpets, and demand among the moneyed classes grew more insistent over time, until a similar production was set up in the weaving village of Aubusson around 1743. The fluffier rugs from Savonnerie soon gave way to an indigenous flat-weave or pileless tapestry characteristic of the Aubusson district, and even the king wanted first pick of those.
By 1786, more than 100 Aubusson carpets were in Versailles alone. So, Aubusson rugs were always luxury items, destined for palaces, noble houses and great homes, and they have retained their high-end appeal for nearly four centuries.
What the royals have, the nobles want. And so began the saga of the Aubusson rug.
Garlands and Grecian Urns
Designs and Motifs
Designs favored by commissioners of the early rugs tended toward floral medallions, sprays of flowers, rosettes, garlands, urns, modified oriental and Renaissance architectural patterns, and classical Greek and Roman themes.
Colors were rich, deep hues, including many burgundies and blacks, dyed to match the opulent furnishings and hand-painted wallpapers in palaces and estate houses. Deeper colors expanded to include elegant pastels, with jewel-like intensity courtesy of costly, rare dyes.
How They Were Used
The rugs were as likely to be hung on the walls as displayed on the floors, and in drafty castles they served to insulate the residents from wintry chill. They were and remain trophy items, narrowly distributed, expensive and bespoke.
Where They Were Used
The heavy tapestries with their fine, painterly weaving muffled the echoing noise in stone rooms and great halls and testified to the wealth and influence of the owner. These were area rugs for great halls the size of gymnasiums, so Aubussons are among the antique carpets large enough to cover enormous spaces, without a dining alcove carpet among them.
Contemporary Aubusson Markings
Examine the back of a contemporary Aubusson, and you will see the loose thread of the woven design and the design itself, in a mirror image of the pattern on the front of the tapestry or carpet. Expect a new or authenticated Aubusson rug to come with a certificate of authenticity and a reliable provenance. And look for the two initials of the weaver, who leaves an artist's mark, just as a painter would.
Today, Aubusson tapestries and rugs are still woven in the department of Creuse, using traditional hand-loom technique, and they are authenticated with a "label" recognized by UNESCO as an example of cultural heritage.
The fine wools are locally dyed, and each weaver signs his work, the pieces are officially authenticated and numbered, and production is limited to no more than eight copies of each rug.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .