Louis XIV: The Construction of a Political Image

Under Louis XIV, art was officially commissioned to demonstrate the Prince’s glory. It became an instrument of power and helped develop a philosophy of sovereignty based on examples taken from ancient history and an idea of government inspired by Machiavelli.

Louis XIV, king of France (1702) by Hyacinthe RigaudPalace of Versailles

These representations of the King, his actions, and his benevolence contributed to the image of his grandeur and power.

Louis XIV was the most portrayed person in the kingdom. Multiple copies of his portraits were made to ensure that they were distributed throughout the realm.

Louis XIV, king of France (Circa 1653) by Attributed to Jean NocretPalace of Versailles

1. The King, the Man, and Posterity

Here Louis XIV is represented at the age of approximately 15 in a ceremonial military uniform.

Bust of Louis XIV, king of France and Navarre (1665) by BerniniPalace of Versailles

It is no accident that Bernini, the architect and sculptor from Rome who created this likeness, agreed to come to France: he was attracted by the enthusiasm for creativity during the early years of the reign of Louis XIV, both in Paris and at Versailles.

Louis XIV (Around 1705) by Antoine BenoistPalace of Versailles

Antoine Benoist, “the King’s painter and his only coloured wax sculptor”, made at least eleven portraits of Louis XIV. This one, from around 1705, is surprising in its uncompromising realism. The artist probably composed it using several impressions cast directly from the King’s face.

The wax portrait of Louis XIVPalace of Versailles

Full-length portrait of Louis XIV (Circa 1670) by After Claude LefebvrePalace of Versailles

Images of Louis XIV were used both as a reminder and as a substitute for his presence.

Portait of Louis XIV, king of France (17th century) by Robert NanteuilPalace of Versailles

Engravings were the easiest way for his images to be circulated and to be used in the media.

The press, notably La Gazette, immediately made use of these for promotional purposes.

Louis XIV and the royal family (1670) by Jean NocretPalace of Versailles

The monarchy is considered timeless and the arts contribute to celebrating the memory of its power.

Thus, a connection with past reigns, from Caesar to Saint Louis, is reaffirmed, as is the dynastic principle of the Prince and his descendants.

The glory of Louis XIV triumphing over time (17th century) by Baldassare Franceschini dit il VolterranoPalace of Versailles

In this painting, Fame holds a trumpet and presents the King’s name to the Temple of Immortality, written on a phylactery: “Ludovicus XIV victor immortalis”. She triumphs over Time, which is personified by an old man carrying a scythe.

Statue of Louis XIV (17th century) by Jean WarinPalace of Versailles

2. Symbolic Images: The Use of Allegory

In the 17th century the use of metaphor was popular. Culture was based on references to the past.

Equestrian statue of Louis XIV transformed into Marcus Curtius (1671 - 1671) by François Girardon and Bernini said Le BerninPalace of Versailles

Ancient heritage and Renaissance models provided a wealth of symbolic images and myths. The ideal of a god or a demigod inspired the image of the King.

Versailles and Antiquity, Objective RomePalace of Versailles

Allegory of Louis XIV as Apollo on the Chariot of the Sun (1664) by Joseph Werner, le JeunePalace of Versailles

There is one particular myth the King attributed to himself that takes on all meaning at Versailles: the sun.

Apollo served by the Nymphs (1666 - 1675) by François Girardon and Thomas RegnaudinPalace of Versailles

The image of the god Apollo is connected with the sun, which is the centre of the universe, and the source of heat and harmony.

This parallel between the natural order and the political order was an obvious interpretation for the people of the time.

This topic can be seen on the walls of the Palace as well as in the gardens designed by le Nôtre.

View of the back of the Thetys Grotto of Versailles (1672) by Jean Le PautrePalace of Versailles

The Grotto of Thetis, which no longer exists, was a reference to the cosmic myth of the sun’s path from dawn to dusk.

View of the exterior façade of the Thetys Grotto of Versailles (1672) by Jean Le PautrePalace of Versailles

The King Governs by Himself (1681 - 1684) by Charles Le BrunPalace of Versailles

3. The “King Governs”: Temporal Power and Sacred Power

Absolute monarchy was religious. In France, it sought to instil a feeling of admiration and fervour toward the royalty that approached a religious emotion.

In the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles, Louis XIV receives Mehemet Raza-Bey (18th century) by Attributed to Antoine CoypelPalace of Versailles

Diplomacy at Versailles:

Ambassadorial receptions held in the Hall of Mirrors were moments of refined festivities that were not to be missed at Court.

Reparations made to Louis XIV by the Doge of Genoa in the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles on 15 May 1685 (17th century) by Claude Guy HalléPalace of Versailles

Louis XIV trampling on Heresy (Circa 1692) by Thomas GobertPalace of Versailles

The fight against Protestantism:

Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Here the sculptor Thomas Gobert depicts the King crushing the heresy, which is represented by an old lady.

Allegory of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV (17th century) by Guy Louis Vernansal, le VieuxPalace of Versailles

Louis XIV at the siege of Lille (17th century) by Adam Frans Van der MeulenPalace of Versailles

4. Historial Images: King of War and King of Peace

Warrior representations outnumber images commemorating peace.

The solemn entry of Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse into ArrasPalace of Versailles

Louis XIV at the siege of Lille (17th century) by Adam Frans Van der MeulenPalace of Versailles

After the ancient myths and mythology came the new myth of Louis XIV, based on a modern expression of historical language.

The King used historical narrative to reaffirm his power over history.

War against Spain for the rights of the Queen by Charles Le BrunPalace of Versailles

Louis XIV was passionate about military glory. He continuously expanded France at the expense of the Habsburgs of Spain.

The War of Devolution (1667-1668), which ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and the Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678), which came to a close with the Treaty of Nijmegen gave France part of Flanders and Franche-Comté.

The decision to go to war against the Dutch (1681 - 1684) by Charles Le BrunPalace of Versailles

In 1671, Louis XIV decided to go back to war against the Dutch. Charles Le Brun immortalised this act of war in the Hall of Mirrors.

Franche-Comté taken for the second time (1681 - 1684) by Charles Le BrunPalace of Versailles

In 1674, Louis XIV conquered Franche-Comté for the second time. Charles Le Brun represented the King standing amid the chaos of war.

Equestrian portrait of Louis XIV in front of Namur (17th century) by Pierre MignardPalace of Versailles

Pierre Mignard, a rival to Charles Le Brun, in turn painted Louis XIV at the siege of Namur in 1692.

Trophy bearing Louis XIV’s coat of arms (17th century) by Ecole de Pierre MignardPalace of Versailles

Louis XIV explained the choice of his motto “Nec pluribus impar” to the Dauphin in his Memoirs:

“Those who saw me managing the cares of royalty with such ease and with such confidence induced me to add the sphere of the earth, and as its motto Nec pluribus impar, by which they meant to flatter the ambitions of a young king, in that with all my capacities, I would be just as capable of ruling still other empires as would the sun of illuminating still other worlds with its rays.”

Allegory of Louis XIV, protector of the Arts and Sciences (1670/1672) by Jean Garnier and Claude LefebvrePalace of Versailles

5. The Monarch, Prince of Arts and Sciences

Protection granted to the Fine Arts (1681 - 1684) by Charles Le BrunPalace of Versailles

The arts were organised in a pyramid that converged towards the King at the summit. This academic system was a response to a desire to regulate all forms of thought so that they would serve the glory of the Monarch. Charles Le Brun was the mastermind behind this system.

Louis XIV visiting the Gobelins Manufactory (17th century) by Simon Renard de Saint-AndréPalace of Versailles

At the “Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne” (Royal Factory of Furniture to the Crown), over 250 people worked to produce furnishings, objects, and tapestries to decorate the royal residences.

Arrival of Louis XIV preceded by his guardsmen at the old palace of Versailles (1669 - 1669) by Adam-Frans Van der MeulenPalace of Versailles

Nothing was too good for the sovereign. Versailles was born from his desire and required full attention, becoming a place where everything was possible.

Louis XIV "Protector of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture" (17th century) by Henri TestelinPalace of Versailles

On his deathbed on 1 September 1715, Louis XIV is said to have had these last words:

“I depart, but the State will always remain".

Credits: Story

Catherine Pégard, President of the Palace of Versailles

Laurent Salomé, Director of the museum

Thierry Gausseron, General administrator

Béatrice Sarrazin, Curator of the digital exhibition

Thierry Gausseron, Administrator

Ariane de Lestrange, Head of communications

Maïté Labat, Coordinator of the digital exhibition

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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