3D model of the bust of Louis XIV sculpted by Gian-Lorenzo Bernini, says Bernini.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) was invited to France by Louis XIV in 1665. Told to accompany him and act as interpreter, Paul Fréart de Chantelou wrote down everything the great Roman artist said and did. Having arrived in Paris on 2 June 1665, Bernini met the king at Saint-Germain-en-Laye two days later.
Drawn up by the king himself on 20 June, the commission for a bust was accepted by the old artist, albeit reluctantly. The working method adopted by Bernini expressed his idea of the royal image, where physical resemblance is subservient to the concept that determines the sense of the work, sovereign expression of greatness, pride, heroism and majesty. Compared to the work of someone like Varin, who concentrated on resemblance, Chantelou explained that “the important thing was to combine nobility with grandeur”. Thus, when Bernini worked on the marble, he did not refer to his sketches. “I don't want to copy myself, but create something original”. The reinterpretation of the royal figure came from his imagination. “In the main he only looked in there”, indicating his forehead, “where he said he had the idea of His Majesty”. Nevertheless, there was no lack of realistic features, from the wart on the bridge of the nose to the hairs on the chin, included against the king’s wishes. But, paradoxically, as Bernini himself put it, the portrait is largely idealised. Thus the sculpted eyes were bigger and more deeply set than in reality: firm and determined, the look should dominate the face. It was also the allegorical portrait of a hero: although the modern costume placed it accurately in historical terms, many people saw a resemblance with Alexander the Great, thanks to the abundance of hair and the prominence of the eyebrow arches. Moreover, at the same time as providing an ingenious solution to the problem of the cut-off arms, the floating drapery suggests the presence of a draught that the king is affronting in a spontaneously courageous manner. The masterpiece was placed in the Diana Room in September 1685 on a pedestal decorated with gilded bronze trophies, topped by an arc on which two gilded bronze putti are holding a royal crown. Underlining the majesty and authority of the model, these ornaments were cast by Balthasar Keller from designs by Pierre Mazeline and Noël Jouvenet. The bronzes were gilded by Devaux.