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Title: Full-length portrait of Louis XIV aged 63 in full royal costume (1638-1715).
Author : RIGAUD Hyacinthe (1659 - 1743)
Creation date : 1702
Dimensions: Height 277 cm - Width 194 cm
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage place: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Daniel Arnaudet / Gérard Blot
Picture reference: 82-000294 / MV2041
Full-length portrait of Louis XIV aged 63 in full royal costume (1638-1715).
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Daniel Arnaudet / Gérard Blot
Publication date: September 2020
Professor at Paris VIII University
Portrait of Louis XIV in coronation costume
We read, in Briefs from the Marquis de Dangeau: “Thursday March 10, 1701, in Versailles: the King's drop continues; he had the afternoon painted by Rigaud to send his portrait to the King of Spain, to whom he had promised. The king to whom Louis XIV intended this painting was his second grandson, Philippe d'Anjou, mounted on the Spanish throne under the name of Philippe V following the will left in 1700 by Charles II who, opposing the sharing of his States, had bequeathed them to him on condition that he renounced his rights over the crown of France. It was to Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743), famous from the 1680s for his art of portraiture, that the creation of this painting was entrusted.
The Unpublished memoirs of members of the former Royal Academy of Painting allow to trace precisely its genesis: "Having made in 1700 for Louis XIV the portrait of Philippe V, king of Spain, his grandson, a few days before his departure from France, this one prayed to the king his grandfather , to also give him his portrait painted by the same hand, which His Majesty granted him. Rigaud had the honor of starting it the following year and, being completed, this monarch found it of such a perfect resemblance and so magnificently decorated that he ordered him to make a copy of the same size to send it. to the King of Spain in place of the original, which was placed at Versailles, in the throne room. "
In fact, Rigaud's two large portraits, the original and the replica, remained in Versailles. The painting was presented at Versailles in January 1702, in the large apartment, to the devout admiration of the courtiers.
This large ceremonial portrait would in fact be a montage, made with several hands, in the studio of Rigaud: the king's head, sketched by Prieur, one of the master's pupils, would have been painted on an independent canvas, then fixed on the large canvas.
Everything opposes, in fact, the lower part of the body - the legs of a young man, sheathed in silk, initiating a dance step - and the upper part: the realistic face of a man then sixty-three years old.
An old man with a young man's body, Louis XIV is surrounded by the insignia of royalty: the collar of the order of the Holy Spirit, the scepter - held upside down like a cane! -, the closed crown, the hand of justice, and he appears there as out of time, in a kind of eternity.
Rigaud's painting thus constructs a syncretic portrait, which perfectly illustrates "the two bodies of the king", the heart of the problematic of the ledger of Ernst Kantorowicz (see bibliography), who clearly explained the double nature of sovereignty: the symbolic king, who never dies (the greatness and attributes of the monarchy), and the physical king, the mortal “simple body” of the king-man, the person of Louis XIV.
This physical king is seized at different times of his life: master builder of a brilliant court (the elements of the worldly costume, under the cloak of the coronation, help to create a distance between the symbols of royalty and the person of the king ), in perpetual representation; great ballet lover; absolute sovereign during a reign already long of forty-seven years.
This emblem of the absolute monarchy of divine right was produced the same year that the Palace of Versailles reached its ceremonial and symbolic perfection when the king set up his room in the heart of the Palace of Versailles, right next to the Council chamber where he brings together ministers and secretaries of state, thus showing the "two bodies of the king". Louis XIV was so fond of this painting that he ordered more copies to be made. Saint-Simon did not hesitate to call Rigaud "the first painter of Europe, for the likeness of men and for a strong and lasting painting".
From 1702, a number of artists, painters and engravers, reproduced this same figure and its pose, almost identically. And the Rigaud workshop produced, until 1715, a very large number of "Louis XIV", of various sizes, in armor or in coronation mantle, in foot or in bust, which were immediately distributed in France and in the European course.
This painting has become the archetype of official portraits even beyond historical ruptures: since IIIe Republic, the presidents are represented in a posture similar to that of the king as painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud.
- official portrait
- Louis XIV
- absolute monarchy
- Great Century
Ernst KANTOROWICZ, The King’s Two Bodies: a Study in Mediaeval Political Theology, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1957.
Ernst KANTOROWICZ, The King's Two Bodies: An Essay on Political Theology in the Middle Ages, translated from English by Jean-Philippe Genet and Nicole Genet, Paris, Gallimard, 1989.
Philippe de DANGEAU, Briefs.
· Unpublished memoirs of members of the former Royal Academy of Painting.
· Myriam TSIKOUNAS, "From glory to emotion, Louis XIV in coronation costume by Hyacinthe Rigaud", in Companies & Representations, 2008, n ° 26.
To cite this article
Joël CORNETTE, "Official portrait of Louis XIV"