"Louis XIV, the man and the king": a tribute exhibition

Since October 20, 2009, an exhibition in honor of the Sun King: "Louis XIV: the man and the King", is held at the Palace of Versailles. Until February 7, 2010, she presents more than 300 works never collected until now, such as furniture, paintings, sculptures and other art objects. The visitor is invited to discover the many passions of the monarch. This article will attempt to answer some of your questions. Why devote an exhibition to Louis XIV through image and taste? Why now ? What is behind the official representations of the king?

Review of the circumstances of the exhibition

It was in 2007, at the request of Jean-Jacques Aillagon, President of the Public Establishment of the Museum and the National Estate of Versailles, that the project to collect and exhibit flagship and unpublished works to the glory of Louis XIV. This ambition responds to the need to showcase the Sun King within the Palace of Versailles, which until then had never devoted an exhibition to its most famous resident and builder! As a reminder, the latter stayed at the castle from 1682 to 1715.

The subject of the exhibition " Louis XIV: the man and the king "Comes from a choice that is meant to be original. There was no question for Jean-Jacques Aillagon, of showing the king from a too classic angle with themes like "The century of Louis XIV ” or " The Versailles of Louis XIV » but rather to train his cultural portrait. In addition, presenting his different images seemed essential. According to Nicolas Milovanovic, curator of the exhibition, no figure has been the subject of such rich iconography since Alexander the Great.

Studies carried out over the past twenty years have made it possible to learn more about the king's taste. Unlike her son, Louis XIII did not show such a passion for the arts. The visitor is ready to better understand the character, through his personal tastes, relationships with artists and his public image. However, this is a tribute and not a general presentation of the reign of Louis XIV. Thus, testimonies relating to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the economic difficulties of the kingdom or the authoritarian character of the monarch are not highlighted.

The works on display come from, among others, the Louvres, the National Library, the Natural History Museum and the collection of the Queen of England located at Alnwick Castle. They testify to the greatness of the king but also to a difficult end of reign marked by fatigue and illness, as revealed the beeswax profile. This relief was made from several direct impressions of the king, who was then 65 years old.

The Sun King and his glorifying images

Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, is universally known by this symbolic name which has largely passed down to posterity. Why the sun? This comparison can find its origins in the Ballet de la nuit of February 23, 1653 where Louis XIV shows himself disguised as the Sun. In addition, its official motto "Nec pluribus impar" appearing on his coat of arms accompanied by a sun, would point to a king above all. Like the star: " the king could rule several kingdoms as the sun could illuminate several worlds ».

The king is assimilated to Apollo, sun god, of music and songs. Thus, the first work presented during the tour is “ Apollo served by the nymphs » sculpted by François Girardon and Thomas Regnaudin between 1667-1675. La Fontaine wrote a poem in honor of the king and this sculpture "When the sun is weary and it's done its task, it goes down to Tethys and takes a break. This is how Louis goes to relax from a treatment that you have to start over every day. »

Other historical figures participate in constructing the heroic image of the king: Hercules, Alexander, Augustus or Saint Louis. When it gets older, the comparison with Saint Louis accentuates to make him a very Christian king. In iconography, he is presented as a miracle-worker and religious king, in particular, because of the power to heal scrofula and the construction of the Royal Chapel of the Palace of Versailles.

According to the Briefs of Louis XIV, the conquering character of Alexander the Great, fascinated the king. He liked to identify with the roman grandeur. To this end, he collected the busts of Roman emperors that he had installed in the Hall of Mirrors and which are presented at the end of the exhibition. The image of Louis XIV as king of war is illustrated in the antique style, on a terracotta model with the features of an emperor wearing a crown of laurels and crushing the sling.

Beyond the King: an art and show enthusiast

The exhibition reveals a esthete and a great collector. The king was undoubtedly influenced by Mazarin, his cardinal, who was a great enthusiast. Architecture has a major place in the life of Louis XIV, described as King Builder. Works from official commissions and representing the castle in a panoramic view attest to his taste for architecture and gardens.

The king worshiped gems which are fine precious stones, ancient medals, bronze statues and paintings. We can see a painting that he had installed in his interior apartment and that he appreciated for its quality and for its model: King David incarnating the musician king. This is the work by Domenico Zampieri entitled « King David playing the Harp ».

Dance and music are his other passions, in particular the work of Lully who is the creator of lyrical tragedy. It is important to remember that he attended rehearsals and danced there. In 1654, the king played the role of a Fury alongside Lully in the Wedding of Peleus and Thetis. A sound environment recalls this passion and punctuates the visit. The hall dedicated to the show includes, among other things, a silk satin ballet costume, sheet music and portraits of artists such as Molière.

Louis XIV maintained a personal relationship with his painters and other great artists of the time he financed, such as Molière, the gardener André Le Nôtre, the musician Jean-Baptiste Lully, the painter Charles le Brun. Works by Le Brun and Mignard are highlighted because they were successively the official painters of the King.

Useful information

Palace of Versailles, rooms of Africa and Crimea

Hours: open every day from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. except Monday

Exhibition site:

Find the music of Louis XIV: "From Ballet To The Opera" and "From Salon To Church" and the book dedicated to the exhibition: Louis XIV: The man and the king.

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