Various artists/makers

Not on view

Tapestry-woven upholstery for two settees and twelve armchairs was commissioned at the same time as the wall hangings depicting the Four Continents (1978.404.1–.4).¹ The Four Continents was one of two suites・each including four wall tapestries and coordinating seating furniture・that were ordered from Beauvais in 1786; the subject of the other suite was to be a series illustrating the arts, sciences, agriculture, and commerce. An earlier suite of tapestry furniture covers depicting the continents was produced at the Royal Manufactory of Gobelins in 1748, and the arrangement of the motifs in Le Barbier’s covers is similar: personifications of the continents are set against a landscape on the seat backs, and native animals populate the seat covers.²This subject in tapestry aligns with the contemporary popularity of the Four Continents in eighteenth-century European art: everything from porcelain table decorations and tablewares to dinner napkins and ceiling frescoes incorporated personifications of the continents (see MMA 64.101.1347, 1348).

The settee showing America and Europe emphasizes the close relationship between France and the new United States, which France promoted so forcefully in the tapestry depicting America. The figure of France occupies the center of the sofa back, and America is seated off to the left. In this composition, France is ‘introducing the new nation to Europe across Neptune’s domain, the Atlantic; France’s discarded armor lies at her feet, as the war has been won, and Victory crowns her.’³ The armchairs repeat the female personifications of each continent, attended by male figures and some of the fauna typically associated with each. There are three variations on each of the four continents, and, although they are all slightly different, the iconographic program is consistent.

It appears that this upholstery was not affixed to furniture frames until sometime after 1852, decades after its production.⁴ Usually, a client commissioned or purchased high-quality tapestry upholstery before furniture frames were made to accommodate the weavings. This type of upholstery was quite popular in the late eighteenth century, and the Beauvais manufactory made many such sets.⁵ However, the combination of matching wall hangings and seating furniture was more unusual, and clearly more expensive. A suite of furnishings would have been reserved for a formal room, such as a salon or drawing room.

[Melinda Watt, adapted from Interwoven Globe, The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800/ edited by Amelia Peck; New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: distributed by Yale University Press, 2013]


1. See Standen, European Post-Medieval Tapestries, vol. 2, pp. 572–73.

2. Ibid., p. 573; the Gobelins tapestry upholstery depicted the continents as merchants on the sofa backs. Some of Le Barbier’s designs for the upholstery survive; none of the cartoons for the wall tapestries exist today. See ibid., pp. 572, 588–603, figs. 67–74, all in the Mobilier National, Paris.

3. Ibid., p. 591.

4. Ibid., p. 573, from the sale listing of May 18, 1852, hotel of the duc de Richlieu; no furniture frames were mentioned, nor was the ownership indicated.

5. Kisluk-Grosheide, ‘Peregrinations of a Lit à la Duchesse en Impériale by George Jacob,’ p. 144, and personal communication.

Armchair, Tapestry upholstery by Beauvais, Carved and gilded wood; wool, silk, French, Beauvais

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.