Tapestry – Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham

Polychrome wool and silk tapestry

Paris, between 1661 and 1668


Polychrome wool and silk tapestry.

Flemish manufacture du Fabourg Saint-Germain, before the Gobelins manufacture c. 1661-1668, Atelier of Sébastien François del La Planche (. – 1695) based on the cartoons of Michel 1er Corneille (1601-1664) or Coneille the Elder, a pupil of Simon Vouet.

The scene represented tells of the return of Sarah to Abraham, by the king of the Philistines Abimelech. In Genesis it is in fact narrated how Abraham, intent on crossing the kingdom of Gerar, pretended that Sarah was not his wife to avoid being killed by those who, fascinated by the beauty of the woman, wanted to get rid of him. On the contrary, in order to win the favors of his admirers of her, he introduced her as her sister. Abimelech, who fell in love with her, had her kidnapped, but warned in a dream that the woman was actually the wife of Abraham, her guest, he returned her along with rich gifts.

At the center of the scene the Philistine king is depicted as a young blond bearded man, wearing a short yellow damask tunic and a red cloak, also damask. With his right hand he hands a bag (presumably full of riches) to Abraham (placed on the right of the scene), with a tunic and a cloak, worn as a toga, also damask. Sara is instead on the opposite side of the tapestry, introduced to the bridegroom by the king; she the young woman wears a long yellow tunic and a blue cloak with the same decoration as that of her companions and which in this case creates a rich play of drapery at the height of her legs; her blond hair is gathered and held by a triple row of pearls, her head is covered with a pink veil.

Behind the main characters, in order to contextualize the scene, other figures are represented such as ladies-in-waiting, soldiers and elderly diplomats, representing the rich court of Abimelech. The scene takes place in a setting of the royal palace that overlooks the outside, but which denotes its splendor, as evidenced by the rich flooring and the balustrade decorated with marble inlays, as well as the mammoth tapered columns, which can be guessed at their lower part. which plausibly support the roof of the building. A lush and green landscape serves as a background, inhabited in the distance by a lakeside city, while more closely the carrying out of a daily activity such as that of a merchant is used as a pretext to represent an exotic animal such as a camel.

The tapestry has a wide border within which motifs are represented that reflect the type of grotesque, with rods, cherubs, storks, vases, a trophy of arms, and phytomorphic elements.

Dimensions: 320 x 310 cm

Historical-critical analysis:

The Fabourg Saint-Germain factory was established on the premises of the Hopital des Teigneux (Rue del la Chaise) in 1633, following the separation between the two cousins ​​Raphael de La Planche and Charles de Comans, heirs of the company established on May 29 of 1601 by Marc de Comans, Jérome de Comans and Frank Van der Planken (Frenchized into François de La Planche), called by Adenaarde to Paris by King Henry IV, who issued a series of decrees between that year and 1607, involving in fact the monopoly of the Flemings in the making of tapestries. In 1661, on Raphael’s death, the business was inherited by his son Sébastien-François de La Planche until 1668, when he was forced to close it due to the establishment of the royal Gobelin factory by Louis XIV. The production of the Fabourg Saint-Germain manufactory was abundant and of high quality and saw a boost from 1627 with the arrival in Paris of Simon Vouet: the artist, coming from a stay in Italy, brought an original style, characterized by vivacity of colors and great decorative richness, organizing an atelier of artists specially specialized in the creation of cartoons derived from his drawings and paintings.

The tapestry in question is part of the vast production carried out by the Fabourg Saint-Germain manufacture, under the direction of Sébastien-François de La Planche, therefore between 1661 and 1668; the subject belongs to a larger series with Scenes from the Old Testament, the episodes of which were designed by Simon Vouet. In particular, the work in analysis here is made on a preparatory cartoon by Michel I Corneille (or Corneille the Elder), a pupil of the Parisian artist and one of the founders of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, together with Charles Le Brun , Philippe de Champaigne.

As usual on similar occasions, different tapestries were produced from the same cardboard, sometimes with some modifications depending on the client or the will of the artists (both in the design phase and in the weaving phase) to demonstrate their skill and ability. inventive. Certainly attributable to ours are in fact two other examples, depicting the same subject. The first of these (sold at auction by Tajan, on 10 October 2017, lot 91), although mutilated in the lower part (the edge of the border is missing, which instead on the three remaining sides is almost identical to that of ours), is a faithful reproduction of the one in question, albeit with the addition of the three characters on the left of the scene. Entirely identical to ours (even if the figures on the margins are not cut by the border) is the specimen kept in the castle of Châteaudun (inv. CHA1996000130), belonging to a series consisting of six pieces.

Probably the tapestry in question is among those referred to by Maurice Fenaille (p. 311): “In the inventaire de la manufacture du Faubourg Saint-Germain, en 1661, on trouve à plusieurs reprises la mention d’une tenture de l’Histoire d’Abraham qui doit être la Tenture de l’Ancien Testament. Item, six pièces peintes en huile sur toile, représentant l’Histoire d’Abraham […] “. Although the subject represented is not better specified, the notification that several examples exist and the numerical correspondence with the cycle preserved in the castle of Châteaudun suggest that it could probably be the Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham. Other tapestries belonging to the same series are the ten pieces acquired by the crown in 1668 and today preserved in the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte and in the collections of Louis XIV, although the latter, now considered lost, was woven in Brussels in the seventeenth century .

Further comparisons are also possible with other series of tapestries from the same manufacture, such as those belonging to the History of Diana (Fenaille 1903, pp. 231-240) and the History of Psyche (Fenaille 1903, pp. 287-292): the setting is in fact very similar, with the protagonists at the center of the scene, often accompanied by secondary characters and with a background always meticulously described, both landscape-natural and architectural, in order to contextualize but at the same time enrich the narrated episode; also present the sumptuous border decorated with phytomorphic elements, cherubs, vases. In particular, the Bacchini that support vases at the lower corners of the border are practically identical, with those in the same position present in the Psyche Meal, belonging to the series of the same name. The border is characterized in a slavish way on the various creations as if it were a trademark.


– Maurice Fenaille, État général des tapisseries de la manifacture des Gobelins (Éd. 1903), Paris, Hachette livre, s.d.;

– Il libro degli arazzi, a cura di Joseph Jobè, Milano, Garzanti, 1965, pp. 89-91;

– Jean Vittet e Arnauld Bréjon de Lavergnée, La Collection de Tapisseries de Louis XIV, Dijon, Éditions Faton, 2010, p.355, n. 54.

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