Our next #fancyfriday contender is Hyacinthe Riguad’s portrait of Louis XIV. Louis XIV (that’s Louis the fourteenth for those of you who get as mixed up with Roman numerals as I do) reigned as king of France from 1643 to 1715. That’s 72 years, the longest of any monarch in European history to date (though the current English monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is catching up).He’s also known as Louis the Great or the Sun King, and is especially remembered for his patronage of the arts. Louis was a big fan of both theatre and the visual arts, which flourished under his rule. In addition, he commissioned the building of the palace at Versailles.
The most famous portrait of Louis is by far Hyacinthe Rigaud’s Louis XIV. Painted in 1701 when Louis was 63, this painting is the epitome of all things fancy.
Take a look at what he’s wearing and where he’s standing. Louis has broken out all the royal garb for this painting—he’s draped in his stately blue royal robes, trimmed with ermine and bearing the royal fleur-de-lis insignia, and holds his scepter in one hand and his great gilded sword at the opposite hip. He’s showing off his legs—Louis claimed to be an excellent dancer who starred in many performances. His crown isn’t on his head—perhaps not to muss up his elaborate hairdo—but still lurks beneath his scepter, resting on a trunk that is also draped in his cloak. The backdrop and floor are composed of extremely elegant fabrics, and the throne is tucked behind Louis in all his majesty.
This may seem like a thoroughly pompous picture, but there’s a point. Louis XIV was an absolute monarch, meaning everything in the kingdom was ultimately under his control. The Sun King was as adamant as his name—everything revolved around him, as stipulated by his claimed divine right. This painting confirms Louis XIV’s absolute rule, as he had control over the arts as well. In 1648, he formed a Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture that was to be the envy of all other courts in Europe. Louis XIV commissioned many portraits of himself, but Rigaud’s was supposedly one of his favorites, perhaps because it conveys his absolute rule while still allowing him to look rather fancy. His crown, scepter, throne, and robe all take a backseat to his commanding presence. This is a king, the portrait seems to be saying. Louis liked it so much he ordered Rigaud to make several copies, an order with which she readily complied.
So Louis XIV—self-absorbed and vain absolute monarch or benevolent champion of the arts? You decide. What strikes you most in Rigaud’s portrait? Do you see more of the absolute, strong ruler, or does Louis just strike you as a pompous old windbag? Let us know in the comments!
There’s at least one thing we can all agree on—Hyacinthe Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV makes him out to be the fanciest monarch around.