mercredi 12 août 2009

Military Iconography and Louis XVI: A New Interpretation of a Familiar Historical Figure

For many, Louis XVI does not often conjure up much in the way of martial prowess or skill. However, like his famed Bourbon predecessors Henri IV and Louis XIV, he used military allegory and iconography to strengthen the image of kingship embodied by Versailles. As an absolute monarch from 1774 to 1789 and even during his rule as a constitutional sovereign from 1789 to 1792, representations and allegories of the king with military themes were used to reinforce manifestations of the royal power and control. In the wake of France’s victory in the American War of Independence, the image of royal authority under Louis XVI was strengthened not only through martial prowess on the battlefield and high seas, but also within the context of absolutist Bourbon imagery, royal commissions and architecture.

Numerous objects, including ceramics, clocks, and medals represent the king in military glory, often outfitted in Roman-style armor. A unique example that survived the events of 1789 is a statue of the young king from Toulouse. Commissioned in 1776 by the capitouls (representatives from the six districts of the city elected to the town’s municipal council) the statue was created by François Lucas and commemorated the king's restoration of the parlements, the regional courts of appeal that often functioned as legislative bodies for their respective province. A hereditary body of lawyers, the parlements tended to support royal edicts and laws as they saw fit, leading Louis XV to abolish them in an attempt to centralize political control in 1771. With the parlements gone, Louis XV substituted law courts that had no influence on royal legislation. His grandson’s restoration of the institution in 1774 was hailed by the people as a mark of their young sovereign’s support of progress and desire for his subjects’ happiness.

Unveiled in 1777, the white marble portrait of the king by Lucas combines military allegory with that of French prosperity and wealth. The king, dressed as a Roman emperor complete with a cuirass or classical breastplate, sword, and laurel crown, rests his right hand on a horn of abundance. Defaced during the Revolution, it is conjectured that the left hand originally brandished a scepter. In this example from the early part of the king’s reign, the use of such martial iconography is readily apparent and follows the tradition of Bourbon absolutist imagery while incorporating the commemoration of his perceived enlightened acts as king.

mardi 11 août 2009

Bienvenue !

Painting of Charles and Robert Montgolfier at the Tuileries 1 december 1783, anonymous, musée Carnavalet, Paris

Bonjour ! I've just created this blog as a place to record my reviews on books, museums, movies, sites, and objects related to the hidden history of life in early-modern France, specifically Paris and Versailles. I'm just getting started, so look forward to more in the days to come ! Coming soon: reviews of Munro Price's "The Fall of the French Monarchy" and Louise Robbins' "Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots: Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Paris," and a post on the first appartements of Mme de Pompadour at Versailles.