Astronomers / Beauvais
Woven at the Beauvais Manufactory, tapestry manufactory; under the direction of Philippe Béhagle, manufactory director; after designs by Guy-Louis Vernansal, painter; Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer, painter; and Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay, painter
French, Beauvais, 1697–1705
Wool and silk; modern cotton lining
W: 10 ft. 5 1/2 in.; L: 13 ft. 9 in.
Questions for Teaching

• Examine the objects and the actions of the figures in this image. What do you think is happening in this scene?

• Describe the setting for this scene. Where do you think this scene is supposed to take place?

• At the time this was made, travel to China was limited to only a few traders and missionaries, and images were often created from written descriptions, leaving much to the imagination of European artists. What about this scene looks Chinese to you? What looks like it might be made up?

• In this tapestry, European and Chinese figures are studying and discussing a grouping of astronomical instruments. One of these figures represents the Chinese emperor. Can you tell which one? (The figure standing behind the globe is the Chinese emperor. The older bearded figure seated is a German Jesuit priest, Father Schall von Bell.) What makes it difficult to tell the difference between the European and Chinese figures in this scene? (They are all dressed in similar clothes. Father Schall von Bell is dressed as a Mandarin of the first class. Apart from the fact that attention of most of the figures is directed towards the emperor, most figures in this scene are given equal prominence.)

• How do you think this image might have been made? What do you think it might have been used for?

• One Jesuit priest, Father Ferdinand Verbiest, said the following in relation to sharing knowledge of astronomy with the Chinese: "Our Holy religion, under the starry cloak of astronomy, is easily introduced among princes and governors of the provinces." In relation to what you see on this tapestry, what does this statement tell you about the sharing of knowledge between the Europeans and Chinese?

Background Information

In this tapestry from the set known as The Story of the Emperor of China Series, European and Chinese figures assemble on a stone terrace around an elaborately mounted globe. In the center of the group stands the Chinese emperor, wearing the imperial insignia of the winged dragon and gesturing with one hand, while resting the other hand possessively on the globe. The bearded man taking a measurement on the globe with a pair of compasses is the German Jesuit priest Father Schall von Bell who attained a high rank in the Qing (pronounced "ching") court through his knowledge of Western astronomy. He headed the Imperial Astronomical Bureau and developed a close personal relationship with the emperor, based on a shared interest in mathematics and astronomy. The large globe, telescope, and the ecliptic armillary sphere on the dragon-shaped base represent actual objects made by the Chinese after European designs. The originals survive today in the ancient observatory in Beijing.

The Story of the Emperor of China Series
The tapestry series known as The Story of the Emperor of China originally included 10 hangings, of which the Getty Museum owns seven. Four different artists were involved in designing the series, which was among the most popular designs produced at the Beauvais Manufactory. A document from 1731 records the names of three of these men—Guy-Louis Vernansal, Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer, and Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay—but the fourth artist remains unknown. The name of Philippe Béhagle, the director of Beauvais from 1684 to 1705, was also woven into two of the tapestries of this set.

See all six Getty tapestries from the series.

Scholars presume that the fictional scenes show episodes from the life of the Emperor Shunzhi (pronounced "shuuen dzj") or his successor Kangxi (pronounces "kahng shee"). Jesuit missionaries returning from Asia inspired the public's interest in the East with their stories of life at the Chinese court. The engravings of Chinese architecture, plants, and animals published in the 1660s (and later) provided a wealth of visual information for European artists.

Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, comte de Toulouse, a legitimized son of Louis XIV, commissioned this set. Each tapestry has his monogram, the Bourbon coat of arms, and the emblems associated with his rank, such as the anchor, which signified his position as admiral of the navy.

About Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory
Active: 1664–(combined with Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory in 1940)

As part of a constant effort to promote French industry, Louis XIV's finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert founded the Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory in 1664. Although it was established under Colbert and subsidized by the state, the Beauvais works was a private enterprise run by a succession of entrepreneurs with varying degrees of success. Beauvais made tapestries for the wealthy bourgeoisie and nobility of France, as well as for export.