Tuesday, November 22, 2011


(Louis XIV, Hyacinthe Riguad, 1701, Louvre)

One of my favorite characters in all of history is France's illustrious leader, Louis XIV.

Known as the Sun King, Louie made his mark on French history for a boatload of reasons.

Here is the short list:

 *  He enjoyed the longest royal reign in European history to this point - 72 years!

*   He believed he was destined to rule France by "divine right" so he wasted no time imposing bunches of rules and regulations to keep his 20 million subjects in line.

*   Because he desired to dominate Europe,  he directed his army to engage in a series of wars in order to gain power and position on that continent.

*   He was a tireless promoter of French culture and the arts.

That last point is the one I want to focus on today.

Louie loaded his palaces with paintings, sculpture, tapestries, candlesticks, vases, chandeliers, mirrors, rugs, porcelains of every variety and luxurious fabrics.

(Louie used this candlestick to kill Mrs. Peach in the library, Versailles)

Money was no object.

(Louie liked to feather his nest.  Bed canopy complete with ostrich feather plumes, Versailles)

If Louie liked it, Louie acquired it or he had it built to his personal taste.

(Louie's media room, Versailles)

And he wasn't particularly shy about sharing the joys of his "cottages" with the ladies and gentlemen of his court.

(Louie's casual portrait, Chenonceau)

Louie loved throwing lavish dinner parties and spectacular balls for his 12 million closest friends.

All in all, he was quite the dude!

That's why I love the top portrait of Louie by renowned court painter, Hyacinthe Rigaud.

I have affectionately titled it, "I'M DA MAN!"

One glance at this portrait and there is little doubt in anyone's mind who is king of France.

Mercy! - where do we start?

How about that magnificent robe?

First of all, it's cobalt blue topside is literally smothered in fleur-de-lis, the coat of arms of the French royal family back in the day.

And just in case you missed them, Louie's chair/throne, ottoman and pillow are swathed in the same "I am the head honcho" symbols.

The white underside of this robe is ermine, by the way.

That massive robe had to be scorching hot to wear, don't you think?

Louie is probably thinking to himself, "Hey, Hyacinthe, would you get on with it, my man?  I'm dying a slow death under this furry tent!"

Next, we notice that Louie is leaning ever so regally on his scepter which just happens to be pointing to his gold crown.

How's that for subtlety?

It's obvious by now that Louie liked to live large.

Check out the size of that column behind his right arm.

And what about that dramatic ruby-red drapery hanging from the rafters?

Have you noticed that gold sword dangling from his left hip?


Look at the size of it!

I'm pretty sure Louie could spear 300  soldiers at once with that thing.

Not that he'd ever want to, of course.

I hate to get personal but let's take a closer look at Louie's more delicate attire.

He's drowning in lace and silk as was the custom of the day for aristocratic males.

Frankly, I'm coveting those lacey cuffs on his sleeves.

And I wish my legs looked as good as Louie's.

You can tell he really knows how to strut his stuff.

But I'll bet his tootsies are screaming for breathing room in those darling little heels!

I've just got to say it - Louie can seriously keep his curly black wig.

That's just a little too much hair for me to deal with on any day of the week.

Well, now, I've thoroughly trashed the good king, haven't I?

Here's the thing:

Sometimes art is just plain funny.

Especially if the subject of the art is kind of asking for it.

Which, viewed from our 21st century American perspective, he is.

It's okay to snicker in an art museum.

You can even laugh your silly little head off if you want to.

Visitors will probably turn around and shoot you a death stare but that's their problem.

This is the wonderful thing about art.

It's supposed to be a human experience.

Not everything in life is drop dead serious.

Ditto for art museums!

So, go!




Have a rollicking good time.

But here's a final thought:

Louie's portrait is hanging proudly in the Louvre these days.

That's in Paris, France.

This is just me, but I'd probably skip the "laugh your silly little head off" directive if I was standing in front of Louie and his over-the-top painting.

Louie's French museum guards might not take too kindly to my gut busting outburst.

Grinning, however, would be good.

Don't be surprised if Louie flashes one right back at ya!


Louis XIV founded the academies of Painting and Sculpture in 1655.  He established the academy of Science in 1666 and the academy of Architecture in 1671.

In 1680, he created the Comedie Francaise.

Louie's interest in improving Paris never waned.

He razed the city's medieval walls, built the Invalides as a home for disabled veterans, planned the great avenue of the Champs-Elysees, and refurbished the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

His personal example of long, dedicated rule made France the bureaucratic model for 18th century, absolutist Europe.

Louie's influence on architecture and interior design was monumental.  His style was a French adaptation of baroque, emphasizing formal grandeur and lush ostentation.  The king's palace at Versailles was the supreme example of this style, in which all the arts - architecture, sculpture, painting, interior design, and landscape design - were integrated into a unified expression of royal taste.    

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