For the first time, the Château de Versailles devotes a large scale exhibition to Louis XIV. It brings together more than 300 exceptional works coming from collections all over the world and never shown together before. Paintings, sculptures, objets d’art and furniture will be exhibited. These masterpieces, some of which have never been presented in France since the days of the Ancien Régime, will enable visitors to get to know the famous monarch better in both his personal tastes and through his public image. The exhibition “Louis XIV, the Man and the King” at the Chateau de Versailles. west of Paris, Monday, October 19, 2009. The exhibition brings together works coming from collections all over the world. It will run through October 20, 2009 through February 7, 2010.
The richness of the image of Louis XIV has no precedent in history: Louis XIV is the Sun King, i.e. Apollo as the sun god. But his image is also associated with other historical or mythological figures at different times during his reign: Alexander or Hercules, Augustus or Saint-Louis, etc. Fashioned by the king himself and his counselors, this image constantly evolved to convey emblematic figures of the royal power: the king of war leading his troops, the patron king and protector of the arts, the very Christian king and Defender of the Church, the king of glory, an image constructed for posterity. This visible glory, given mythical proportions, which was constructed during his lifetime, took shape thanks to the excellence of the artists chosen, such as Bernini, Girardon, Rigaud, Cucci, Gole, Van der Meulen and Coysevox who set out to sublimate the royal portrait, which the exhibition allows the visitors to rediscover.
Apart from his public image, if we wish to see the man behind the sovereign, we need to study his personal. He saw himself as a king who was the protector of the arts and a collector, competing with other sovereigns of Europe who were also genuine connoisseurs. Benefiting from the example of Mazarin, Louis XIV formed his taste in direct contact with artists, and through the personal relations that he established with them: Le Brun and Mignard in painting, Le Vau and Hardouin Mansart in architecture, Le Nôtre in the art of gardens, Lully in music, and Molière in theatre. By assembling the works appreciated by the King, a genuine portrait emerges of a passionate lover of the arts and a man of good taste through the jewels, cameos, medals, miniatures and objets d’art, as well as the paintings and sculptures that he loved to surround himself with in the Petit Appartement in Versailles.
He showed a keen personal interest in artistic creation by coming every day to follow up the progress being made in the works of Le Brun, by participating in the design and setting out of the gardens with Le Nôtre, by taking part in the ballets given in the Court, as well as by orchestrating the construction work of the Château de Versailles with Hardouin-Mansart and Le Vau.
The Château de Versailles, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful.
In 1661, Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre with the design and laying out of the gardens of Versailles which, in his view, were just as important as the Château. The works were undertaken at the same time as those for the palace and took forty years to complete. But André Le Nôtre did not work alone: Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Superintendent of the King’s Buildings, directed the project from 1664 to 1683; Charles Le Brun, appointed First Painter of the King in January 1664, produced the drawings for a large number of statues and fountains; and, a little later, the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart drew up increasingly understated scenic plans and built the Orangerie. Lastly, the King had all the projects submitted to him and wanted the “details of everything”.
The visit to the Château and gardens of Versailles will prolong the exhibition tour and enable the visitor to appreciate the great work of Louis XIV.