In the center of his handkerchief is a portrait of Marie Louis Jacquard (1752-1834), inventor of the jacquard loom. Patented in 1804, the loom included a punch-card mechanism for controlling the action of the warp, greatly simplifying the production of complex fabrics and revolutionizing the French silk industry, symbolized by the caterpillars and cocoons nestled in the oak wreath framing the inventor’s portrait.
Although advantageous for the silk manufacturers, the mechanism threatened the livelihoods of skilled laborers, an issue illustrated by the arguing couple in each corner. The man represents the fabricant and the woman the façonniere, who would have used the weaving implements pictured in the border as she worked the loom. Nineteenth century newspaper accounts describe violent protests against Jacquard’s invention, noting that twice Jacquard was almost drowned. One protest involved the public disassembly of a jacquard loom, “the iron[…] sold for iron – the wood for wood, and he, its inventor, […] delivered over to universal ignominy.”