Aubusson tisse Tolkien

Tolkien – Rivendell, from The Hobbit. Aubusson weaves Tolkien © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

Aubusson weaves Tolkien

Cutting-off ceremony of the ninth Tolkien tapestry LIVE on Friday 4th September

Fourteen new tapestries based on the celebrated author’s illustrations woven in Aubusson over four years. Eight completed works are on display at the Cité internationale de la tapisserie with the latest to be unveiled this week.

In the heart of the Creuse region in central France, the town of Aubusson has produced tapestries and carpets since the 1500s. The area’s weaving industry has featured on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2009. Four years ago, in response to the accolade, La Cité internationale de la tapisserie was set up to preserve the Aubusson tradition and establish a contemporary relevance to keep the craft alive. 

An ambitious collaboration signed in 2016 between La Cité and the Estate of the English author J.R.R. Tolkien sees the creation of a series of unique tapestries based on the English author’s original illustrations.  Fourteen drawings and watercolours selected from the main collection held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford are being translated from paper to loom over four years. With eight already completed, the ninth in the series, woven by Atelier Françoise Vernaudon will be unveiled on 4th September.

Reconnecting with the tradition of large narrative hangings

Tolkien was inspired by the Swiss alpine villages of Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald and Wengen and the soaring mountain landscapes of the Berner Oberland seen on a hike during a school trip at the age of nineteen. His mental images of the Lauterbrunnen valley with its vertiginous peaks, glacial caverns, forests and wooded dells and the fantastical, milky Weisse Lütschine river provided the pictorial model for his drawings of Rivendell.

From Rivendell to the other side of the Misty Mountains,” Tolkien recalled in a letter to his son Michael, “the journey… including the [travelers’] glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods… is based on my adventures in Switzerland in 1911.” 

In a return to the large narrative hangings of the 17th and 18th centuries referencing episodes from epic writings in the genre of Homer’s Odyssey or Renaud and Armide from Jerusalem Delivered by 16th century Italian poet Torquato Tasso, the Tolkien tapestries construct a contemporary bridge from past tradition to future innovation.

Tolkien – Bilbo comes to the Huts of the Raft-elves. Aubusson weaves Tolkien © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

Adventurous scenes from Middle-earth hang throughout La Cité’s museum spaces next to tools of the trade including a basse-lisse loom, wools and other objects involved in the craft. Tolkien’s familiar characters from The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings and the 1977 work The Silmarillion published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien are depicted on a near-cinematic scale. Beloved Bilbo Baggins arrives at the village of the Raft-elves by barrel, the nocturnal Trolls stoke a forest fire,  and the villainous Smaug lies resplendent atop a pile of golden treasure.  

The Cutting-off

Many of the original drawings measure only 20cm long and the task of transferring the iconic images from small scale to woven works of several square metres has been undertaken by expert designers and weavers from Aubusson’s manufactories and ateliers. Once described as ‘harpists’ by French poet Jean Cocteau, they pick fibre and colour combinations to translate the artist’s work into textile. Working from the reverse in the basse-lisse technique, the minutely detailed planning and skill is only fully-revealed at the end.  The ‘Ta-Dah!’ moment of the tapestry comes when the weave is cut from the loom in the ceremonious ‘tombée de métier’.

Tolkien – Halls of Manwë – Taniquetil from The Silmarillion. Aubusson weaves Tolkien © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

With names like Mithrim, Halls of Manwë, Taniquetil and Rivendell, fans of Tolkien’s wondrous realms will gasp anew at his wild-running imagination, woven in brilliant Aubusson wool. 

Included in the thirteen wall hangings are some poignant pieces from The Father Christmas Letters, written and illustrated for Tolkien’s children between 1920 and 1942.  A woven rug called Numenorean Carpet is the fourteenth work in the project. 

Tolkien – Close-up Glorund sets forth to seek Tùrin, from The Silmarillion. Aubusson weaves Tolkien © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green
Tolkien – Christmas 1926, from The Father Christmas Letter. Aubusson weaves Tolkien © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green
Tolkien – Exhibition view. Aubusson weaves Tolkien © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

*** On Friday 4th September from 15:00 (CET), join La Cité international de la tapisserie LIVE on Facebook for the cutting-off ceremony of the 9th tapestry in the Aubusson weaves Tolkien project ‘Bilbo Woke Up Early With The Sun In His Eyes’

Aubusson weaves Tolkien until 31 December 2020.

View of the Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. © La Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson. Photo © Alexia Green

For further information go to www.cite-tapisserie.fr

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