Today I have been documenting the textiles collection at Temple Newsam House. I came to this French, printed cotton, designed by Hippolyte Le Bas and manufactured at Christophe Oberkampf’s factory at Jouy-en-Josas in about 1816. It is because of this famous factory that we get the generally used term “Toile de Jouy”, which we use to refer to textiles printed with jolly, rural scenes.
On this cotton, the disciplines of sculpture, drawing, music and architecture are represented through depictions of a series of famous stories from classical antiquity.
Music is represented through the tragic story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus was blessed with the ability to charm anyone with his lute. He even charmed the keepers of the kingdom of death into granting him permission to retrieve his wife.
They imposed one condition that he must not look at her until he reaches the outside world. As they approached their exit he felt her hand loosen in his grip. In that terrible, panicked moment Orpheus turned round and saw her face, thus banishing her to the underworld forever.
Drawing is represented by the myth of Dibutades, the daughter of a Corinthian potter. She was distraught that her boyfriend would be leaving the city. Desperate to find some way of keeping him, or a memory of him with her, she traced the outline of his silhouette in the flickering light. In this moment of desapir and longing, the art of drawing was invented.
Sculpture is represented by the story of the sculptor Pygmalion, who created a statue of a woman so beautiful that he fell in love with it. He prayed to the goddess Venus to grant him a wife as beautiful as the statue. Dear Venus did even better, by sending to her son Cupid to kiss its hand. As his lips met the carved ivory form the statue changed, transforming into a beautiful woman called Galatea, who became Pygmalion’s wife.
I find these ancient stories rather moving and powerful or maybe I am just a hopeless romantic. There is something rather beautiful about how the French saw Love and Art as two sides of the same coin. Philisophers and art theorists at the time the cotton was made, wrote huge essays about the mutual inspiration of love and art. They used stories from the ancient past to demonstrate this closeness. Put more simply, paintings, music and sculpture can fill one with passion and emotion. An aesthetic experience can be a little like falling in love. For Dibutades love inspired art, moving her to scrape charcoal across a wall.
The cotton would have probably been used in a bedroom, perhaps furnishing the ceiling and curtains of a canopied bed. The hope being, of course, that in this case, art would inspire love.