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The King Governs by Himself, 1661

Charles Le Brun1681-1684

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

This painting was “the principal key to everything”. Charles Le Brun imagined it first when the initial project depicting Hercules was refused. Le Brun obeyed the King and abandoned the metaphor: he depicts Louis XIV in person but without renouncing the richness of the composition, combining allegories and gods. The King is in the centre, seated on his throne, holding the “tiller of the state” in his right hand. The three Graces around him symbolise the talents that Heaven has granted him. The King’s face is reflected in Minerva’s shield: Le Brun has thus cleverly associated the symbol of Prudence (the mirror) with the tutelary goddess of this virtue, Minerva, who more generally represents royal wisdom. She shows to the king Glory seated on a cloud and holding out to the King the crown of immortality: a gold circle surmounted by stars. Glory is also designated by Mars, the god of War, understood here as the royal value, demonstrating that the Glory likely to be obtained by the King “can only be obtained through his wisdom [symbolised by Minerva], and his courage [symbolised by Mars]” (Rainssant).

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  • Title: The King Governs by Himself, 1661
  • Creator: Charles Le Brun
  • Date Created: 1681-1684
  • Physical Dimensions: w5000 x h8000 mm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Backed canvas
  • Style: French painting, 17th century
  • Provenance: Decor of the Hall of Mirrors, painted between 1681 and 1684
  • Original Title: Le Roi gouverne par lui-même, 1661

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