[A translated transcript of Bernard Gaudfroy’s lecture]

Guilds and Lieux Privilégiés

Since the end of the eighteenth century, bowmakers have been recognised as distinct from violinmakers. In 1785, the famous “Encyclopédie” compiled by “Diderot and d’Alembert”, reveals that “there are in Paris artisans who make bridges, others who make bows, and similar minor accessories”. The phrase “others who make bows” shows clearly that bow making was already a recognized skill, even though it applied to these so-called “minor accessories”.

Drafted in 1599 and approved by the French King “Henri IV”, the statutes of the Parisian Music Instruments Making Guild made it clear that the decoration of instruments and the production of their accessories were jobs reserved for the official workshops. Competition was considered bad for business and many Parisians trades were organized in guilds to protect their activity. However, the numerous legal procedures show the insoluble difficulties experienced by the different trades in attempting to distinguish themselves through the application of strict rules.

It was also considered important to ensure knowledge was passed on to future generations, and to ensure the quality of workmanship through closely controlled apprenticeships and Diplomas called “Brevets”. The first Diploma was that of “Compagnon” (a highly qualified worker), after a strict six-year apprenticeship with one of the guilds which was obligatory in Paris. The more advanced “Maître” (Master) was reserved for the best (and richest) “Compagnons” and in particular, for the sons of Masters. Without these Diplomas it was not possible to work officially in Paris: the Masters could only employ qualified Compagnons, and the Compagnons could not open their own shop in Paris without the expensive Master’s Diploma. Furthermore, to become a member of a Guild, candidates had to be of the same religion as the King – Catholic – and to be one of his subjects – that is, French.

Those who were unqualified, poor, Protestant or foreign, or even in some cases Frenchmen having worked their apprenticeship outside Paris, were therefore obliged to work in one of the “lieux privilégiés” (Privileged areas). Among the owners of these places, called “enclos” (enclosures), were certain rich noblemen of high standing who benefited from ancestral privileges granted by successive French Kings. But there were above all a lot of ecclesiastical properties and monasteries with charitable and health care traditions.

These areas were sometimes in the suburbs of Paris, in the “Faubourgs” like that of “Saint-Antoine” – near the “Bastille” – highly populated around its Abbey. Most of them – about forty – were situated within the city. Like the famous “Quinze-Vingts” (15-20) Hospice founded in 1254 by King Saint-Louis (Louis IX) to accommodate three hundred (15 times 20) knights who had returned blind from the Crusades. As well as welcoming all kinds of artisans and small businesses, it was located in the city centre just next to the “Louvre”, to the great displeasure of the guilds for, as in all the areas of Privilege, the workers simply paid their rent and nothing else was asked of them.

So, hoping to convince the public of the supposedly inferior quality of the workmanship of the “free artisans”, the guilds had persuaded the Royal authorities to require them to mark their work with the name of the area where they worked, and, more significantly, to forbid the sale of these works outside that place. Poverty, lack of space, sometimes difficulty of access and the bad reputation of certain places would supposedly discourage potential customers. In addition, the guilds often tried to control or to confiscate the privileged goods. Sometimes without success: in 1722, for example, in the area of the “Saint-Martin-des-Champs” Abbey (nowadays, the national “Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers”), the official representatives of the instrument makers Guild, in spite of the fact that they were supported by the police, were obliged to withdraw when faced with workers bitterly defending their Privileges.

  • Faubourg St. Antoine
  • Quinze-Vingts
  • St. Martin
  • Label: 'Le Pileur, Abbaye St Germain'
  • Leclerc Quinze-Vingts