Painted by Rigaud, the full-length portrait of Louis XIV, then 63 years old, is probably one of the Sun King's most famous. In this portrait, nearly three meters high and two meters wide, which is one of the most reproduced in history books, Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659 - 1743) wanted to highlight the power and role of Louis XIV, the Sun King, unlike other portrait painters of his time who wanted to express the character of the painted figure.
Rigaud, portrait painter at the court of the Sun King
Born in Perpignan, Hyacinthe Rigaud studied at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture and devoted himself to portraits in 1681. He specialized in faces by giving them a perfect likeness. Appreciated by the Greats of the Court, he painted the Sun King in armor for the first time in 1695 and when he became an Academician, in 1701 he produced this full-length portrait of the king and in coronation costume, a portrait which will remain his most famous composition. .
The King in a solemn allure, installed in the center, on a platform to make him even taller, not seated on his throne because he wants to be a modern king, occupying almost the entire surface of the painting, first attracts the eye of the spectator. All the light is on him and we notice - despite the king's sixty three years - his elegant and slender leg slightly forward, ready to begin a dance step. It is only after the details are observed.
Everything is symbolic in this portrait: to the king's right, the marble column symbolizes power and solidity. Themis Greek goddess of justice, at the bottom of the column, holds a scale and a sword: the king must be an arbiter. In the background, the throne symbol of power is surrounded by a purple curtain the color of majesty and placed under a canopy, this canopy forming a kind of frame.
The elements of the coronation also have their symbol: the sword of Charlemagne "the Joyful" marks the protection of the faithful (military power), the golden scepter whose owner is designated by God to guide his subjects, the crown signifying that the people must be faithful to the king, the hand of justice of Charles V explains the judicial power of the king, the fleur de Lys whose three petals represent the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the golden necklace and the cross of Holy Spirit symbols of a wise and considered policy, finally the cloak of the coronation once placed on the shoulders of the king makes the Man become a Being apart.
The portrait of Louis XIV will not go to Spain
Originally, this painting commissioned by the king who is sensitive to painting and a great lover of art, was to be offered to his grandson, the new king of Spain Philippe V. It was so successful that Louis XIV kept and only sent him a copy.
This original portrait was exhibited in the Throne Room and the Mercure Galant (social journal) wrote in 1702 “The Portrait of the King was exhibited in the large Apartment of Versailles. He is on foot with the Habit Royal. This work is by Mr Rigaud. Never has a portrait been better painted or more resembling. The whole Court saw him, and Everything admired him. A Book must be very beautiful and very perfect to attract general applause in a place where good taste reigns, and where there is no lavish praise ”. Reproductions were thus offered in embassies, but this work remained in the royal collections until 1793 when it entered the Louvre ...
With this portrait and this way of painting, we slowly enter the "sensual" of the 18th century using the play of light and the beauty of colors.
Louis XIV, by Rigaud. Louvre Museum.
Hyacinthe Rigaud: 1659-1743, the man and his art, by Ariane James-Sarazin. Faton editions, 2016.