The six-year-old subject of this regal bust became king the preceding year, at the death of his great-grandfather, Louis XIV. The infant's grandfather, father, mother, and elder brother had all died earlier, leaving him under the regency of his cousin, the Duc d'Orléans. The young king's plump features could not be expected to register any trace of experience, but Coysevox has given him a lively expression, with wide-open eyes and parted lips. His subjects claimed the child to be as beautiful as Cupid.

Following traditions of international court portraiture of the late sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, when even mature persons often were defined chiefly by their clothes, the sculptor has relied on costume, wig, and pose to endow the child with majesty. The portrait derives much of its interest from the bravura carving of costume details and surface textures. The soft, fringed stock, frogged coat, and bold sweep of cloak are elaborately finished, in striking contrast to Coysevox's bust of Robert de Cotte, with its simple, casual fall of drapery in the antique mode. Even the king's wig is stiffer and more formal than the architect's. Coysevox's ability to change his approach, to select for emphasis what might be appropriate to his subject, helped make him the most popular as well as the greatest portrait sculptor of his period in France.

Several variants of this portrait of Louis XV, which is signed and dated on the back of the base, have survived. All were made within a few years of the Frick bust, thought to be the earliest of the series. The Frick Collection also owns a miniature Sèvres porcelain bust of the king depicted as a mature man, aged about fifty, based on a sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

Source: Art in The Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.


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