Sunday 30 March 2014

Denis Monnet - working-class hero?

Although he is scarcely more than a name, working-class Lyon has long celebrated the life of the "virtuous canut" Denis Monnet.   Pierre Charnier,  leader of the early 19th-century workers' movement and founder of "Mutuellisme" chose to live in the same quartier, rue Peyrollerie, now the Quai Pierre Scize. In 2011 Monnet was commemorated on the Left-wing Lyonnais website REBELLYON (great pun!) - see refs. below.

It is no doubt convenient to have a popular Revolutionary hero other than politically-loaded (and in any case pretty crazy) Joseph Chalier.  The only problem is, Denis Monnet was on the wrong side.  He was not a Jacobin; he fought for the Lyon Federalists (and therefore the bourgeoisie) and was guillotined in November 1793 when Revolutionary forces regained control of the city.  He was executed "unjustly" say the modern commentators;  but are they right?

The Australian historian Bill Edmonds has researched Monnet's career thoroughly and offers  an answer to this question.  The following is a summary of his findings:

Monnet's early life 

There is almost no information.  Monnet was born in Aix-en-Provence in 1750 and apparently had some legal training before becoming a silk weaver, but under what circumstances we do not know.  He had qualified as a master weaver by 1786 so at this point he had been in the profession for at least five years.  He was poor, for in 1790 he did not pay sufficient tax to qualify as an éligible in the Lyonnais municipal elections.

In November 1786, following the August protests, Monnet was arrested and accused of seeking to revive agitation by circulating appeals for another strike and by providing a "rallying point" for the weavers.  After two months' imprisonment he was released without being brought to trial but was now firmly identified as a spokesman for the weavers' cause. 

Monnet and the early Revolution in Lyon

1789 was the highpoint in the struggles of the weavers of 18th-century Lyon.  In February the Grande Fabrique, in common with other guild organisations, was designated as a primary assembly for elections to the Third Estate. The master weavers took advantage of their superior numbers to exclude merchants from their delegation of electors; they howled down the opposition and returned only weavers, "above all the most turbulent ones"- among them Denis Monnet. (see Wahl p.55-57)  Their representation was subsequently whittled down, but a new spirit of confidence prevailed and demands were renewed for a just and binding tarif.  Monnet and a few associates organised a protest lobby, drew up petitions and in April even travelled to Versailles to press the weavers' case, with the result that by the end of 1789 they succeeded in clawing back the legal framework for a tarif guaranteeing better wages. The "Patriot" municipality which unseated the municipal oligarchy in 1790 was also sympathetic.  On May 5th 1790  Monnet was elected by acclamation to preside over a meeting of thirty-five maîtres-fabricants which took place in the Cathedral, expelled merchants from the corporation and chose him as their m

"Even if one considers silk workers only as mechanical instruments in the manufacture of cloth, abstracted from their quality as men; even if they are treated as domestic animals, they must still be given subsistence if one does not want soon to be frustrated of their work!" (p.26)

Mémoire of the silk-weavers of Lyon, 1790 - probably composed by Denis Monnet.

Monnet's later Revolutionary career 

From1790 onwards the suppression of the guilds and the onward momentum of Revolutionary politics tended to subsume the interests of the silk weavers in the wider popular struggle.  Monnet remained committed to the Revolutionary cause.  In December 1790 he created a stir and gained credence with the Lyon "patriots" when he denounced a supposed counter-revolutionary conspiracy - apparently he had been approached to entice his "followers" into rebellion on the mistaken grounds that workers in a luxury industry would see salvation in the royalist cause.  Meanwhile he was active as president of the Port Saint-Paul sectional assembly, campaigning against the octrois and demanding harsh penalties for those who protested against the Civil Constitution of the Clergy "on the vain pretext of religion".  A pamphlet printed by the popular society of the Saint-Vincent section praised him as champion of the silk workers and guardian of national liberty.

At this time too Monnet was drawn into more elevated Revolutionary circles as the protegé of  François Billemaz, juge de paix,  friend of Roland, and leading light in the patriot club movement, who engaged him as his secretary and published a lengthy eulogy of his civic virtues.  In November 1791, with the Rolandists in the ascendant, he was elected as a notable to the municipal council.

Despite the subsequent shift away of popular support , Monnet remained loyal to the Rolandists.  Having  lost all office for a time, he re-emerged as president of the Port Saint-Paul section, where in May 1792 he secured the election of  anti-Jacobin candidates onto a new sectional comité de surveillance

According to Bill Edmonds, Monnet's viewpoint challenges the simplistic identification of "Federalism" as a bourgeois or anti-populist movement. His example was not in fact so unusual but reflected the division and complex conflict which cut across the popular movement and resulted in the spread of  anti-Jacobinism to nearly a third of the sections of Lyon by February 1793The documents reveal Monnet's horror of Jacobin revolutionary improvisation, of uncontrolled popular violence and confiscatory taxation, and his identification of Lyon's troubles with the arrival of Chalier.  In his eyes, the Rolandists represented respect for constituted authority and a fruitful  co-operation between elected magistrates and popular societies.  In Lyon it was the Federalists rather than the Jacobins  who were the champions of sectional permanence and direct democracy.  No doubt the Federalist ideal masked an element of bourgeois control over the municipality, but there were also genuine popular gains such as the democratisation of the National Guard - culminating in the election of a weaver Joseph Juillard as commandant-général in March 1792.

In June 1793 Monnet was was active in the arrest of supposed "Jacobins" and in the collection of weapons for the rebel army.  He backed the "Federalist" cause and served it even after 12th July when the Convention outlawed all those who had held civil or military posts in the insurrectionary government.  With such a record, Monnet's death sentence as an enemy of the Revolution was a mere formality

Denis Monnet was executed on 27 November 1793 (8 frimaire Year II)  He was 43 years old.


Bill Edmonds, "A study in popular anti-Jacobinism: the career of Denis Monnet" French Historical Studies vol.13(2) 1983 p.215-51. [on JStor]

See also:
Bill Edmonds, "The rise and fall of popular democracy in Lyon, 1789-1795" (pdf) p.248-9

David L. Longfellow, "Silk weavers and the social struggle in Lyon during the French Revolution, 1789-94", French Historical Studies, vol.12(1) 1981 p.1-40. [on JStor]

Maurice Wahl, Les premières années de la Révolution à Lyon, 1788-1792 (1894)

Articles from REBELLYON, a Lyon-based "anti-authoritarian" web-journal:.
5th May 1790: the canuts decide to govern themselves!
27th November 1793: the virtuous canut Denis Monnet is guillotined.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Lyon silk workers protest

It would be impossible to establish a silk manufacture anywhere but Lyon, for nowhere else would one find people who neither eat nor sleep, like the workers of Lyon
(Abbé Bertholon, Du commerce des manufactures distinctives de la ville de Lyon, 1787)

Immensely populated, Lyon has always been split between a great number of privileged rich and oppressors, and a much greater number of poor, crushed beneath the weight of charges, demeaned by humiliation.
(Joseph Chalier, Declaration to the National Assembly, 1792).

Class struggle in Lyon

Ancien Régime Lyon is seen with some justification as providing a precocious example of the collision of class interests characteristic of industrial society. 19th-century Lyon was notorious for the radicalism of its factory-based weavers, the  "canuts", and it is abundantly that, despite the tradition artisan context, the canuts had  their forerunners in the 18th century. Certainly by 1789 the bourgeoisie of Lyon already had cause to fear the insurrectionary potential of aggrieved and desperate silk workers. 

In the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, the status of the independent master weavers of Lyon had suffered progressive erosion  as the industry came to be dominated by wealthy entrepreneurs who secured commissions in bulk, signed contracts with selected workshops and sold finished fabric on a wholesale basis.  Raw silk would be purchased from dealers in Italy or sometimes from the French provinces of the Vivarais and Bas-Languedoc. The maîtres fabricants found it increasingly prohibitive to work on their own account and came de facto to be regarded as a labour force to be paid in accordance with market prices.  Whilst the number of independent weavers decreased sharply during the 18th century, the number of subcontracted workers, still called masters, rose to over seven thousand.

Arms of the Communauté
Godart, J., L'ouvrier en soie, Lyon-Paris, 1899
This was not a change which happened without conflict. The framework for protest was provided by the the guild, the archaically named Communauté des maîtres marchands et maîtres ouvriers fabricants en étoffes d’or d’argent et de soie [known also as La Grande fabrique]  which had originally been set up as long ago as 1554 as a royally regulated artisanal corporation.  From 1619 the silk merchants who came to dominate the trade were themselves obliged to become members of the guild,  (though dispensed with skill requirement) and were known as maîtres marchands.   In 1667, under Colbert,  the original Règlement was revised in their favour,forcing  weavers to submit to a system of certification for completed contracts and laying down a standard piecework rate (the prix de façon). In the 18th  century the merchant members also came to dominate the offices of the guild:  In 1707 fees were imposed on weavers wishing to sell directly on market, which in 1712 were raised to prohibitive extent - only 113 master weavers were able to meet this charge and maintain their independent status.  In 1731 the number of looms they could operate was  restricted to two (whereas weavers working for merchants might have four).

The protest of  1744

The first major collision took place in 1744.  In 1737, thanks to the sympathetic policies of  Philibert Orry as controller general of finance,  the weavers had secured some revisions in their favour, but in 1744 a new set of guild regulations were published which  annulled these concessions and once more reinforced the power of the merchant members.  Behind this move were government reforms led by the new royal inspector of silk manufactures, Jacques Vaucanson, who had ambitions to rationalise the entire French silk trade under the control of Lyon merchants running giant silk throwing mills, designed on modern factory lines.  Publication provoked a popular uprising, from 3rd to 6th August 1744.  Weavers ceased work and pillaged the homes of several merchants. The prisons were thrown open, notables fled from the city and in the course of the week perhaps 15,000 rebels took to the streets.  Vaucanson was forced to flee to Paris disguised as a capuchin and the Prévôt des Marchants was temporarily obliged to reinstate the règlement of 1737.

Royal repression swiftly followed, in the course of which one weaver was hanged for sedition and four more sentenced to the galleys.  In  February 1745 the arrêt of 1744 was finally imposed, and, apart from Turgot's shortlived suppression of the Grande Fabrique in 1776, was not to be substantially modified until the Revolution.  By setting an elevated fee for admission to mastership the new rules laid down with clarity the barrier between maîtres marchands and "workers" (artisans and compagnons)as a declaration of 1753 put it, "the state of merchant and that of worker ("l'ouvrier") must be distinguished from one another".

The atelier: another late 19th-century image from the Musée Gadagne
Already, then, by 1744 weavers were prepared to take to the streets in violent collisions. Henceforth they were forced to accept their position as waged workers and aims centred on improvements in piece rates for work done.  Whilst trade expanded their situation, though diminished in status, was tolerable, but from the mid-century onwards declining markets for silk brought hardship and, with it, renewed threats of unrest.  A serious slump in trade drove down de facto rates, whilst traditional municipal reliance on the octrois  - taxes on staples brought into the city -  meant that the price of food and other necessities remained high.  Agitation now focused on need for binding increases in payment and a just tarif (ie. a table of guaranteed piece-work rates)  Petitions multiplied for the upward revision and enforcement of the prix de façon.

The strike of 1786

The rising of 1786, just a few years before the Revolution, cut across several industries.  Unlike the protest of 1744 it was the product of poverty and desperation. In  August 1786 after several months of unrest, artisans in a number of trades - hatters, pastry-cooks and carpenters as well as silk workers -  threatened by an increase in wine prices, stopped work. Agitation rapidly centred on the silk workers and their demand for a doubling of the prix de façon from 2 to 4 sous per aune of fabric (hence it became "l’émeute des deux sous").  The weaver's strike was powerful enough to persuade the local authorities to endorse a new tarif at the end of August but in the end repression was swift and merciless.  Three strikers were hanged and not only was the new tarif  quoshed but the piecework scales abolished. leaving the weavers entirely without protection. Recourse to collective action once again led only to reinforcement of the merchants' position, with the inherently unequal system of bargaining piecework rates officially incorporated into royal legislation for the first time.

The disturbances of 1786 were followed by alarming decline in the fortunes of an already ailing industry. Finished cloth stockpiled in merchant warehouses and the harsh winter of 1786-87 destroyed most of Italy's mulberry plantations.  By Spring 1788 the municipality estimated the number of unemployed at twenty-two thousand. Perhaps half the city's looms idle and many of the rest were devoted to poorly paid silk "plaincloth". On the eve of Revolution,  Lyon was already an economy  in crisis, with a desperate and volatile workforce ready for change.


David L. Longfellow, "Silk weavers and the social struggle in Lyon during the French Revolution, 1789-94", French Historical Studies, vol.12(1) 1981 p.1-40. [on JStor]

Bill Edmonds, "The rise and fall of popular democracy in Lyon, 1789-1795" (pdf) 

Jean-Jacques Boucher, Arts et techniques de la soie 1996 [Extracts on Google Books]

Monday 24 March 2014

Making silk - the weavers of Lyon

Anonymous depiction of a silk weaver' s atelier, 1820s.
Musée Gadagne, Lyon
The weavers of Lyon represented the impoverished underbelly of the glittering trade in luxury silk. Although the 19th-century "canuts" were  notorious for their unrest and radical labour politics, their 18th-century predecessors can seem remote, largely because so few contemporary illustrations survive of their everyday lives.  The L'Histoire par l'image website features two19th-century depictions of "canut interiors" from the Musée Gadagne which give some insight into the earlier period.

Pre-Revolutionary pirn
winder similar to the
 one in the picture
The picture above probably dates from the industrial conflicts of the 1820s and harps back nostalgically to the small-scale production of the past. The costumes recall those of the 18th century and the scene, with its cat and playing children, suggests a certain level of prosperity. The loom is a  métier d’unis for making plain silk fabric.  Five workers are represented: the weaver himself, his wife la tisseuse who, sitting on the bench of the loom, pulls a chord to set the shuttle in motion. Three other women wind bobbins using different devices.

The workforce 

Lyon was the only major urban centre in 18th-century France where the textile industry remained confined within the city limits, and regulation by the guild, La Grande Fabrique,  ensured a strong corporate identity among weavers.  Of a population of 140,000 plus, up to a third were directly or indirectly dependent on silk manufacture, which at this period had yet to spread out onto the plateau of the Croix-Rousse, the celebrated quartier of the canuts. Instead the industry was concentrated on the right bank of the Saône (Saint-Georges, Port-Saint-Paul, Pierre-Scize) and the slopes of the Grande-Côte to the north, where workshops clung to the hillside to benefit from the light. A small  impoverished enclave also existed in the old city itself near the Hôtel-Dieu. Between 1667 and 1752 the number of looms more than quadrupled - from 2000 to 9400. In 1786 almost 15,000 were in operation.

The second "canut interior" - in this later 19th century
depiction the atelier is sparse and impoverished.

The five to seven thousand master weavers (maîtres-fabricants or maîtres-ouvriers) of Lyon were not of course true proletarians but small artisans whose economic horizons were bounded by the traditional economy of fair price and regulation. Each owned a workshop with up to four looms and themselves employed journeymen (compagnons), apprentices and servants. But production was on a strictly domestic scale with the number of looms per weaver restricted by the merchant members of the Grande Fabrique to four (or two for weavers working on their own account.) 

All aspects of the silk industry were minutely regulated by the Grande Fabrique;  entry into the trade was restricted by letters of mastership and the obligation to complete a chef d'oeuvre.  In this sense the weavers were a privileged workforce. The position of  journeymen (compagnons) and apprentices was likewise laid down, become progressively more complicated in 1667, 1737 and 1744. Only one apprentice could be employed at any one time, tied by contract, and his parents were obliged to pay a sum to his master. At the end of five years he would be eligible, on payment of 24 livres, to become a compagnon, and after five more years he could apply for mastership at 120 livres.  Journeymen could not be paid less than half the price of the product they made and, although they were bound to their masters by credit, advances were restricted. In reality  masters and journeymen worked side by side and their interests were closely bound together.

In addition the trade employed large numbers of auxillary workers: readers (liseuses) who transposed the patterns from point paper into simples, loopmakers, drawgirls, bobbin-winders (dévideuses) and remetteuses who mended damaged threads and cords. Four looms employed as many as seven auxiliaries, in addition to the weaver himself, his wife, journeyman and apprentice.  Most of these workers were women, young girls from the surrounding countryside on minute wages, who represented a transient (and potentially unreliable) source of labour.

Economic conditions

Real life: traditional workshop photographed in 
Spitalfields in 1895.
Many London silk weavers were of Huguenot ancestry.
Hamlets Local History Collection
The daily life of all  was narrowly dependent on the prosperity of "la manufacture". The classic researches of Justin Godart  [L'ouvrier en soie, 1899] showed that the silk industry was susceptible to the slightest slowing in the market. The narrow regulatory framework meant that it was difficult to adapt, for instance by making different kinds of cloth.  Even temporary changes,  like a period of mourning in the Court could be problematic and, from the 17th century onwards heavy dependence on exports meant that the trade was at the mercy of the international politics.  Godard identified no less than seventeen short-term "crises" between 1689 and 1791.  Even in the relatively prosperous years before the mid-century, prosperity could be threatened - for instance in 1729 when the Saone froze over and brought transportation to a halt.   For master weavers, whose enterprises were tightly restricted in size, unemployment or prolonged depression in silk prices could force sale of looms and threatened  destitution;  for journeymen, apprentices and servants indigence was an ever present threat.  Accounts preserved in the Lyon archives, with their minute itemisation of expenditure - salt, tobacco, a coat for the weaver -  reveal long hours and tight margins of survival. The rectors of the Charité in Lyon estimated that an unemployed worker in silk could be reduced to penury in a fortnight to a month and in 1725 high prices meant that the town was full of workers who "lived from day to day".


Canut interiors : Histoire par images

See also:  

  Philippe Demoule, L'atelier du canut Lyonnais au XIXe siècle
Maison des canuts (museum), La Croix-Rousse, Lyon

Friday 21 March 2014

Making silk - novel technologies

With increasingly ambitious silk design, came a drive to improve weaving technologies.  The breakthrough design, the Jacquard loom, is a phenomenon of the early years of the 19th century but - to the excitement of computer historians - Jacquard's basic principle of encoding patterns on machined paper - was anticipated by 18th century pioneers.

Traditional looms - the métiers à la tire

From the early 17th century onwards, Lyons characteristically complex silk brocades, known as "figured" fabrics,  were made using a type of loom called a "drawn loom" (métier à la tire) . In plain weaving, warp threads were pulled into groups linked to vertical coupling cords (lisses) fixed into frames (lames) which were operated by pedals.  Patterns could be sophisticated but were always symmetrical and repetitive.  With the métiers à la tire, on the other hand, the warp threads were selected individually and, rather than being gathered into frames, were pulled by hand with attached cords. To do this, the cords were arranged into small groups linked by lashes or "loops" (lacs) and tied to a thick cord in the order they had to be pulled.  Each loop corresponded to one colour of the weft. The weft in turn was composed of threads (duites) of different shades reeled on small shuttles.

Jean Revel, paper template (mise-en-carte)
 for a silk design 1733, 
Musée des Tissus, Lyon
 To set up a simple from a design template was a skilled and laborious process; each simple had up to eight hundred hanging cords and took twenty-five days to complete.  When the master weaver had finished weaving one design he would have to move to another loom  whilst the new simple was loaded on the first.

© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

The looms of Bouchon & Falcon

TThe 18th century saw number of technical improvements aimed at lowering the cost of simples, reducing number of auxillary workers and facilitating more complex patterns. Liliane Pérez,  historian of these inventions, has emphasised the positive role of the Lyon guild organisation, the Grande fabrique, with its wealthy merchant members, in encouraging and supporting innovation in both loom technology and fabric design.

 The key innovation took place in 1725 when Basile Bouchon, son of an organ-maker and weaver (odd combination that) adapted a mechanism based on the cylinders of musical automata to control the métier à la tire using perforated paper tape. The hanging cords which controlled the warp threads had horizontal needles attached to them which struck against the paper.  When the needle hit the paper (as opposed to a hole) it was pushed back and grasped by a fork, connected to a pedal operated by a draw girl,  which would then pull the warp thread down. 

  Bouchon's partner, Jean-Philippe Falcon, refined the device in 1728 by replacing the roll with a chain of perforated cards hanging from a prism, which allowed greater numbers of needles and more complex patterns.  His so-called "reading-machine", using cutting stamps tied to hanging cords, allowed for mass production as patterns could be copied  many times. 

In 1744 the Royal Inspector of Silk Manufactures and famous automaton designer Jacques de Vaucausson made a further refinement by connecting his mechanism to a pedal operated by the weaver himself, so eliminating the need for a second worker .

The inventions of Bouchon and Falcon were modestly successful: about 40 such looms had been sold by 1762.  


Liliane Pérez "Silk fabrics in eighteenth-century Lyon" in Guilds, innovation and the European economy, 1400-1800. CUP, 2008 [Extracts on Google Books]
and "The economics of open technologies" - conference paper

Liliane Pérez  uses the example of the Lyon silk weavers to show how the interplay of central and local government with traditional guild structures could be constructive in the promotion of innovation.  Of the 170 Lyonnais inventions addressed to the Bureau de commerce in Paris between 1700 and 1789,  a high proportion related to weaving, submitted by the artisans themselves, mostly by independent masters.  From 1725 innovation was rewarded by a fund created from a tax on foreign silk.  After 1752 this was controlled by the intendant, but its procedure of inquiry involved both corporative, municipal and academic institutions.  The rewarded inventions were deposited in the Fabrique’s office, close to the guild’s chapel (église des Jacobins). From there inventors could teach their technics to others and the deposited inventions could be integrated to the traditional procedure for the creation of masterpieces. In 1744, under the impetus of the new Royal Inspector  Jacques Vaucanson, the Fabrique’decided to promote Falcon’s looms; they were made compulsory in the production of masterpieces, and masters were allowed an additional fifth loom provided it was “un Falcon”.

Conservatoire des vieux métiers du textile [Website of looms and textile technology]
Entry for Bouchon and Falcon on "History of computers" website:

Thursday 20 March 2014

Making silk - grand designs

English aficionados of French silk are eagerly awaiting the opening of the new European galleries at the V & A scheduled for later on this year.  In the meantime, there are loads of sites on the internet relating to European and US collections.  Since it is much better than anything I could write, I am reproducing here a summary of design trends by silk textile expert Elizabeth St-George, written to accompany an exhibition at Kent State University in 2009. The pictures of the exhibits are no longer available on the website, so I have included a few alternative examples:

In Bloom: Patterned Silk Design Innovations in Eighteenth Century France

Light blue silk fragment featuring birds,
 squirrels, bouquets with animated 
sun disks in a scatter plan executed in
 metallic thread brocading
 and overlapping a second damask floral
French, early 18thcentury 
"The eighteenth century was of one of the most spectacular periods of silk production in France. Due to regulations initiated to improve the quality of cloth produced during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), silk manufacturing centres such as Lyon were able to capitalize on advancements in weaving technology to create luxurious textiles that were vital to the French economy."

"Early eighteenth century silk design is marked by the evolution of textile motifs towards greater naturalism. While floral ornamentation had consistently appeared in Medieval and Renaissance silk decoration, these forms were heavily stylized. Semi-naturalistic flowers begin to appear about 1700, after which a tendency towards more naturalistic forms accelerated until the middle of the century. The beginning of the eighteenth century is also noted for the production of "Bizarre silk named for the asymmetrical arrangement of exotic motifs and odd color combinations. The resulting informality of "Bizarre Silk" patterns greatly complemented the  increasing naturalism in design."

French brocaded silk,c.1735,
Design attributed to Jean Revel.
an Museum
During the 1730s, an entirely new style developed marking a dramatic shift in French silk design. Silks of the 1730s are characterized by large and completely naturalistic fruits and flowers often depicted in relief.

This new style can be linked to the beginning of the career of Jean Revel (1684-1751) one of the most renowned and technically sophisticated Lyonnais silk designers. Revel and other contemporary silk designers also focused considerable attention on how textile motifs were rendered in thread. Instead of depicting flat, single coloured motifs, designers of the 1730s conceived motifs more three-dimensional in appearance through shading or gently blending contrasting shades of colour.

"Having developed naturalism to its fullest extent in the 1730s, silk designs of the 1740s and early 1750s returned to a more stylized manner of depicting forms, a trend that continued through the end of the century. The scale of fruits and flowers also diminished and silk designers played with a lighter composition by organizing meanders of flowers, ribbon, lace or fur patterns across the fabric. While meanders of the 1740s tend to flow more freely through the space of the fabric, meanders of the early 1750s are more static in nature. The light hearted charm and vigour that develops in silk designs during the 1740s is characteristic of mid-eighteenth century Rococo silk production".

Fragment of silk lampas, French c.1760-65
ia Museum of Art,
 illustrating fur meanders.
"Although the designs are not as stiff as their predecessors, silks of the late 1750s and the 1760s are designed with a similar formula of meanders and smaller, stylized motifs. Meanders of this period are commonly arranged parallel to one another creating an asymmetry across the vertical axis of the fabric. This contrasts greatly with the rigid vertical symmetry employed in silk designs of the 1740s and early 1750s". 

"The 1750s also marks the beginning of the career of Phillip Lasalle (1723-1804), another extremely successful Lyonnais silk designer who is credited with being the first to utilize the fur patterns that were extremely popular in the late 1750s and 1760s".

"Owing significantly to the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 1748, neo-classical themes became increasing influential in textile design at the end of the eighteenth century. While rsmall, stylized flowers emained, the meanders that were popular in earlier decades weregradually replaced by straight lines beginning in the 1760s. During the late 1760s meanders scattered with floral motif curled above or between rows of stripes. By the middle of the 1770s, the floral motifs that were once contained within meanders were now dispersed across or within stripes creating a stiffer composition  that contrasts greatly with the airy designs that were popular earlier in the century".

Elizabeth St-George
Guest Curator

Louis XVI striped silk satin robe, (from
Kent State University Museum, "In bloom: patterned silk design innovations in eighteenth-century France" Exhibition March 6, 2008 - February 8, 2009 Guest curator, Elizabeth St.-George.



Other references
Article on the new gallery at the V & A, The Guardian 15th January 2014.
."The silk industry of Lyon" in A textile lover's diary [reference website]

Metropolitan Museum - Textile production in Europe: silk, 1600–1800

Philadelphia Museum of Art: "The Bizarre and the beautiful: silks of the eighteenth century" Exhibition July 1, 2006 - November 11, 2007, Curator Dilys Blum 

 Lesley Ellis Miller "A portrait of the 'Raphael of silk design'"  V&A Online Journal, Issue No. 4  (2012). [on Jean Revel]

Sunday 16 March 2014

18th-century Lyon - virtual reality!

Ever wished you could walk the streets of an eighteenth-century town?  Soon your wish can come true!

Lyon en 1700 is an ambitious and ongoing project, launched in 2009 by 3D designer Fabrice Pothier in partnership with the Musées Gadagne and various Lyon archives and libraries.  The project uses the modelling program Sketch Up to create a detailed virtual reconstruction of the historical centre of Lyon at the turn of the eighteenth century - quite a challenge as most of the buildings have long since disappeared.  Eventually you will be able to enjoy a Google street-view type experience of the early 18th century, with links to documents and pictures from the museum and archives.

"Lyon en 1700"

Here is a trailer for a six-minute film produced by the project for the exhibition Lyon au 18e, un siècle surprenant,  Musées Gadagne,  Nov 2012-May 2013.

Google maps: patrimony of Lyon in the 18th century
This is another really cool project created for the exhibition, a Google street map highlighting the remains of 18th-century Lyon.  If you go into "street view" then click on the icons to the left of the location entries, the little yellow man will park himself in front of each building. (A pity they all seem in such a terrible state)

Monday 10 March 2014

Meetings: Jean-Baptiste Rousseau and Voltaire (1722)

The lifelong enmity between Voltaire and the poet Jean-Baptiste Rousseau began on a carriage-ride in Brussels in 1722.....

The personalities:


Anonymous portrait of Rousseau.
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes  
In 1722 Jean-Baptiste Rousseau was 52 years old and recently arrived  in Brussels.

In 1712 he had been embroiled in a legal dispute over some defamatory verses and condemned to exile from France.  Permission to return had been offered in 1716 but, since it was not accompanied by  a complete rehabilitation, Rousseau had refused  and, apart from a brief clandestine visit in 1738,  was to spend the rest of his life abroad.  After some time in Solothurn (Soleure) in Switzerland under the patronage of Prince Eugene of Savoy he had settled in Vienna and now travelled to Brussels, which was at that time part of the Hapsburg Empire.

Rousseau enjoyed - and continued throughout the century to enjoy -  growing acclaim for his poetic accomplishment.  Even before he fled from Paris his still unpublished poems had won him enough renown for him to be referred to as a "Rousseau, famous poet".  

Early on at least, he was an ambivalent figure, for his brief association with the Temple and the undoubted violence of his youthful epigrams had saddled him with a powerful reputation as a satirist and libertine.  The notorious Moisade was often ascribed to him.  A manuscript of his works in Troyes, doubtless representative of those which circulated, contains various genuine poems but also the Moisade and no less than175 epigrams, about half of which are erotic or obscene, dealing above all with monks or nuns. Rousseau himself admitted to only thirty or so "épigrammes libres" which he regretted and none appear in his published works (see Grubbs, p.140-141)

Rousseau went to considerable lengths to get authorised versions of his works published and set the record straight.  He had a first edition of his collected works published in Solothurn in 1712 and  a second was shortly to appear in London in 1723.  Much of this verse, on which Rousseau's 18th-century reputation rested, consisted (according to Wikipedia)  of "formal and partly sacred odes and cantatas of the stiffest character", of which the most famous was the Ode to fortune. Rousseau hadn't entirely abandoned his biting wit, but he sought respectability and rehabilitation.  His correspondence with Brossette, the editor of Boileau, reveals a writer who aligned himself with such Catholic poets as Louis Racine and with the Jesuits of the Journal de Trévoux who were among his most devoted admirers.


In 1722 Voltaire was 27 years old and riding high on the wave of the recent success of his tragedy Oedipe.  Having taken on Sophocles to acclaim he was now seeking to rival Homer himself with his new epic poem the Henriade.

His acquaintance with Rousseau went back a long way -  to 1710 when at the end of his year of "rhetoric" at the College Louis-le-grand, the young Arouet had been awarded first prize for both Latin discourse and Latin verse.  At the prizegiving, his master, Father Tarteron introduced him to Rousseau, who was in the audience (see Rousseau's account below).

Following this first encounter, Voltaire had tried to cultivate Rousseau as his patron in lyric poetry.  In 1712 he had contributed to the collection made on the newly-exiled poet's behalf by Madame de Ferriol (the mother of his friend d'Argental).  Only his father's intervention had prevented him composing verses in Rousseau's defence.   He continued to correspond with him sycophantically in exile - it was to Rousseau that he first announced his change of name to "Voltaire" (sending Oedipe in 1719). The elder poet tried to warn him away from the composition of satirical verses, aware as he was that  "there is nothing more dangerous than to make yourself known in society before you understand its workings" (Letter of 1717 following Voltaire's youthful arrest and incarceration).

Comtesse de Rupelmonde by  Nicolas 
Largillière, Château de Versailles
In August 1722, the miseries the Bastille firmly behind him, Voltaire embarked for Holland, with a view to finding a Dutch publisher for the Henriade.   He did not travel alone.  With him was the delicious Marie-Marguerite de Rupelmonde, a pretty, pleasure-loving young widow in her early thirties, who conveniently had business of her husband's to settle in Holland. (Largillière painted her fetchingly; a "personnage de Watteau, ou de Marivaux" says Voltaire's biographer René Pomeau.)  

During six weeks en route in Brussels and at the Hague Voltaire was fêted and enjoyed himself immensely; he was taken to a brothel (Marie-Marguerite notwithstanding), rode every day, played tennis, drank tokaji, and felt so well that he was astonished.  Madame Rupelmonde's  religious scruples - only increased by Voltaire's unseemly ridicule of a Mass they attended in Brussels prompted her companion to pen the daringly deistic Epître à Uranie.  in which the vengeful Christian god is abandoned in favour of a more comforting and forgiving "Father".


Voltaire spent several days in Rousseau's company on the outward journey to Holland, but the crucial encounter took place when they met up again on on the return journey. 

With Madame de Rupelmonde still in tow he stopped off again in Brussels and sought out out Rousseau.  It was at this point that everything was spoiled. Voltaire had begun to find the exiled poet something of a bore and was less patient with him than before. But he had still to comprehend Rousseau's conventional religious piety.

In the course of  a carriage journey in the environs of Brussels Rousseau began to read from his latest works, the Ode to posterity and The Judgment of Plutus, an allegory against the Parlement of Paris. Voltaire could not resist commenting that was not the work of "the great Rousseau" and that the poet had "lost his talent but conserved his venim".  He then offered up his latest  poem, the Epître à Uranie for the appreciation of "the father of Numa" (ie. the author of the Moisade, which Rousseau clearly was not) .  He did not get very far into the recitation before a petulant Rousseau asked be set down rather than listen to any more of this terrible blasphemy. They patched things up and went to the theatre together in the evening, only for Voltaire to ruin relations definitively with a vicious parting quip that the Ode to posterity was unlikely ever to meet its destination.

Henceforth, as Duvernet commented, the two poets remained "tout à fait brouillés".


Roger Pearson, Voltaire almighty (2005) p.57-61; 

René Pomeau, D'Arouet àVoltaire (1985) p.148-149.

Henry A. Grubbs, "The vogue of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau", PMLA (1940), p.139-66 [on JStor]

Duvernet, Vie de Voltaire, p. 42-44

It was at this time that Madame de Rupelmonde, daughter of the Maréchal d'Allegre, suggested a trip to Holland in 1722.  Voltaire arranged to stop over in Brussels.  For a long time he had desired to meet Rousseau who had been banished from France ten years previously.  He saw in him only a great poet and an unfortunate man.  He rushed straight to see him the moment he arrived in Brussels.  This first meeting was a occasion for heartfelt emotion and mutual respect; Voltaire called him his master and his judge and under that dual title, showed him his poem the Henriade....

On the return trip from Holland, they stopped off again in Brussels.  The two poets scarcely left each other's company. They visited company and went together to Mass and to the Comedy....

In one of their promenades, with Madame la Comtesse de Rupelmonde as the sole third party, Rousseau read his Ode to posterity and then the Jugement of Platus.  This last work was a violent satire against the Parlement of Paris...Interrogated on his satire, Voltaire replied that it was not worthy of "our master, the good and great Rousseau".

The amour propre of the elderly versifier was offended by this frankness.....Take your revenge, Voltaire said, here is a little poem that I submit to the judgment and correction of the "father of Numa"  Before the reading was finished, Rousseau, in an aggrieved tone said, "Spare yourself, Monsieur, the trouble of reading more.  It is a horrible impiety".  Voltaire put the poem back in his portfolio saying, "Let us go to the Comedy; I am sorry that the author of the Moisade hasn't warned the public that he has become a dévot".
After the performance, Voltaire spoke to him of his Ode to posterity, and in caustic tone said, "You know, master, I belief that this ode will never arrive at its destination..."

Thus a relationship which started off with mutual respect ended up in a bitter quarrel.

Letter of Rousseau, "On the calomnies spread against him by the Sieur Arouet de Voltaire", .22  Mai 1736.
Lettres sur divers sujets (1750)  Vol. 5  p.235-261.

"Let me put you in a position to know, by a brief history, everything that has passed between Voltaire and myself since I have known him.....

Some ladies of my acquaintance took me to see a Jesuit tragedy in the month of August 1710.  At the prize-giving which followed, I noticed that they called up the same schoolboy twice, and I asked Father Tarteron who this young man was who so distinguished himself among his comrades.  He told me that it was a boy who had a surprising bent for poetry and he proposed to introduce me; to which I agreed.  He went to fetch him and I saw him return a moment later with a young scholar of about sixteen or seventeen, with  a rather unattractive face but a sharp, alert look in his eye, who greeted me with very good grace.

I heard nothing more from him after that, until two years later in Soleure, I received a letter asking my opinion of an Ode that he had composed for the Academy prize -  which I gave him with the sincerity owed to a young man that one likes....  He continued to write to me from time to time, always in exaggerated terms, calling me his master and his model, and sending me some occasional pieces which demonstrated his biting and bitter wit......

I was still in Vienna when he sent me his tragedy Oedipe...I replied to him in a manner which would have satisfied a more reasonable man ....He sent me some time afterwards a copy of his Poeme de la Ligue.

[A few months later Voltaire arrived] in the party of Madame de Rupelmonde whose domestic affairs called her to Holland. I cannot restrain  myself from recounting here the manner in which I learned of his appearance in Brussels.  Monsieur le Comte de Lanoy asked me who the young man was that he had just seen in the Eglise des Sablons, who had so scandalised everyone by his indecencies during the service that people had been on the verge of throwing him out. Moments later I received an announcement from Voltaire's that he had just arrived.

His stay lasted about three weeks, during which I suffered, for my sins, all kinds of importunity, extravagance and disputes...though I continued to shower him with every civility and kindness.  He showed me his Poeme de la Ligue....  I warned him as a friend to correct the satirical and passionate declamations, against the Roman church, the Pope, priests [etc],  advising him that an epic poem should not be treated as a satire and that he should take Virgil rather than Juvenal as his model.  At the same time I gave him the praise which his characterisations merited .....

I decided to restrain my feelings for the time he remained in Brussels and  everything was going well until one day he invited  me on a carriage ride out of town. He took it upon himself to recite his  Epître à  Julie, a poem filled with horrors against everything we hold sacred in religion, and against the person of Christ himself, who was qualified by an epithet that I cannot recall without shuddering. It was so marked with the blackest impiety that I felt I would have failed religion and the public if I had listened to any more of this  frightful work.  I finally interrupted and very seriously told him that I could not  understand why he had addressed to me such a detestable confidence.

He wanted to start reasoning and to demonstrate the proof of his principles.  I interrupted him again and I said I would get down from the carriage if he didn't change the subject.  He was quiet then and asked me only not to talk about this piece;  I promised him and I kept my word..... 

Note on a portrait of J.- B. Rousseau 
Rousseau by Nicolas de Largillière 1710
Uffizi Gallery Florence
This  portrait of Rousseau by Largillière, apparently dated 1710, is now in the Uffizi. It is splendid, much reproduced but with no accessible notes on provenance. 

I can find only one documented early portrait.
According to the correspondence with Brossette, in 1715 a wealthy patron of letters from Lyon by the name of Mazard requested a portrait of Rousseau for his study. The poet journeyed to Vienna to be painted by the  French-trained artist Jacob Van Schuppen (who also painted Eugene of Savoy).  Rousseau states categorically that this was the first time that he had sat for a portrait.  (Grubbs p.144)

The whereabouts of the Van Schuppen portrait is unknown.  

 There are two possibilities:

EITHER: For some reason didn't mention the (much earlier) portrait by Largillière.

OR: This is in fact the missing painting by Van Schuppen, an accomplished artist who had studied under Largillière.  But, of so, why should it be misidentified and how did it get to be in Florence?

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