(French; b. Lyon, 1658–d. Paris, 1734)
Neptune (representing WATER in a series of the four elements)
Probably woven 1771–1789
William A. Clark Collection
This portière—a door covering meant to eliminate drafts—was woven at the Gobelins factory, one of the luxury-goods manufacturers of the Bourbon kings. It is one of eight portières des dieux (curtains of the gods) that Jules Hardouin-Mansart, architect to Louis XIV, commissioned in 1699 from Claude III Audran. The tapestries comprised two sets: Elements and Seasons. The Corcoran owns four: three Elements (Neptune as Water [shown], Juno as Air, and Jupiter as Fire) and one Season (Venus as Spring).
Weavers create tapestries by placing the loom over a paper cartoon that is then followed for color and pattern. All of the portières have common elements such as garlands, birds, and a baldachino over the figure. Audran, however, created a variety of cartoons so that the patron could design a tapestry to his liking. Portières des dieux remained popular throughout the 18th century and were often used as diplomatic gifts by the royal household. In 1771, a Scottish weaver working at Gobelins, Jacques Nielson, introduced the rose damask seen in the Neptune portière. The style, called fond rose damassé cramoisi, was highly popular and mirrored a color used in Sèvres porcelain in the same period.
All portières had borders, and yet the Corcoran's tapestries are borderless. At the time of the French Revolution, these pieces probably remained in the factory and the borders, which contained the royal fleur de lis, were removed. The portières that remained at the factory after the Revolution were dispersed to various government buildings. A set of four, identical to the Corcoran's set, went to the Ministry of Police. It is highly likely that this set came to an American dealer later in the 19th century and was purchased by Senator William A. Clark.