The “Gobelins”

The name “Gobelins” represented many things ; an area in Paris, a tapestry workshop, but also, from the Protestant point of view, a family belonging to the Reformed faith and a place of refuge for the XVIIth century Huguenots.

The area of Bourg Saint-Marcel in Paris was associated with Jean Gobelin

  • Old buildings belonging to the Gobelin tapestry workshop 1898 © Collection privée

Jean Gobelin, a craftsman specialising in the dyeing of scarlet cloth, settled in Paris in 1443 in the area of Saint-Marcel, near the Bièvre river. The Gobelin family founded several successful firms, together with their neighbours the Canaye family, who came from Milan. Intermarriage between the two families strengthened business ties.

They owned all the plots of land from the Rue Mouffetard (now the Avenue des Gobelins) up to the Bièvre (now the Avenue Berbier-du-Mets). At first they were dyers, but later they also wove cloth and made tapestries.

From 1559 onwards, the names Gobelin and Canaye can be found on the registers of the church in Charenton.

We do not know when the descendents of Jean Gobelin, who were related by marriage to the Canaye family, joined the Reformed Church.

In 1568, a member of the Canaye family, who had come to buy yellow and Lauragais pastel dyes, was hung in Toulouse. Another was sent to prison in Paris and died in 1572, at the time of the Saint-Bartélemy massacre.

In the Charenton church registers, baptisms and so on. were recorded in the name of Gobelin and Canaye. The families were even able to use the Protestant churchyard in the “rue des Poules” (now the “rue Laromiguière”), in the Saint-Médard region of Paris.

On 26th September 1621, the Gobelins' house became a place of refuge for Huguenots.

During the wars of religion in the reign of Louis XIII, (known as the wars of Monsieur de Rohan), the Duke of Mayenne, brother to the Duke of Guise, who was also his successor as leader of the League, was killed at the siege of Montauban. On hearing the news, a group of angry vagrants attacked some Huguenots who were returning from church in Charenton. The next day they returned to Charenton to set fire to the church. Another riot broke out in the Saint-Marcel area – four houses belonging to Huguenots in the “rue des Postes” were ransacked and there were casualties on both sides.

The governor of Paris, the Duke of Montbazon, went to the place where the riot had broken out to try and re-establish order. To protect the Gobelins’ house and contents, he stationed 50 archers from the town of Paris as guards. Indeed, it is said that “a large number of people belonging to the Reformed Church had taken refuge in this house”.

In 1601, at Henri IV’s request, the tapestry workshops expanded with the arrival of two Flemish tapestry makers, François de la Planche and Marc de Comans, who were friends but also relatives of the Gobelin family. As their names were recorded in the Charenton church registers, they were probably members of the Reformed Church. They created the first royal tapestry workshop, which Colbert bought in 1662 and which became a celebrated tapestry and upholstery workshop to the Crown, now called the Gobelin tapestry workshop.

There is no trace of the Gobelin family today. All we know is that after the Revocation, a man called Gobelin was sent to the Bastille because he refused to renounce his faith. Sadly, all that remains now to remind us of the Gobelin family are the tapestry workshop buildings and the area of Paris which bears their name.

The “Gobelins”

Bibliography

  • Books
    • LANGLOIS Gilles-Antoine, Le 13e arrondissement, une ville dans Paris, Délégation à l'action artistique de la ville de Paris, 1993
  • Articles
    • LACORDAIRE Antoine Louis, "Les Gobelins", Bulletin de la SHPF, SHPF, Paris, 1855, Tome 4, p. 500

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