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Louis XIII under the figure of Hercules
© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Adrien Didierjean
Publication date: November 2020
Commemorate a victory against Spain
This work is a portrait of King Louis XIII as a hero of the triumphant Heracles-Hercules mythology. This etching is based on a painting by Vignon made for Richelieu the previous year and entitled Hercules Admirandus where the Triumph of Hercules which this time portrayed the cardinal in Hercules. The work of circumstance is therefore intended to inscribe in the memory this "heroic" victory which was a very isolated French success in the mid-1630s.
Louis XIII, a modern Hercules
The work responds to the codes of royal mythological paintings which multiplied in the 17th centurye century. By portraying Louis XIII in the guise of the hero, she echoes Antiquity and modernity and infuses all the force of Antiquity into royal imagery. The king, wearing a wig and a finely drawn mustache, is dressed in the military outfit of theimperator (victorious general) Roman while the lilies of his breastplate recall the kingdom of France. Like Heracles who tramples a mythological monster at his feet, the king thrones on trophies of shields and flags decorated with the coats of arms of his enemies (Savoy, Castile, Spain). Louis XIII especially appropriates the attributes of Heracles, which allows him to identify, through image, with the hero of the Twelve Labors. The willingness (skin of the Nemean lion) capping his head and draped over his shoulders is reminiscent of the first heroic work and the club he carelessly wears symbolizes his battles against the monsters of disorder. Louis XIII is surrounded by motifs of victory on all sides: laurel and palm tree, two chariots in the sky which take up the iconographic codes of the apotheosis symbolically frame him (Héraclès on the left and, on the right, Henri IV in Héraclès la mace in hand), inscription on the frontispiece "foederatorum vindici"-" triumph over his enemies ". As for the rooster, symbol of French royalty and its people, it scares away the lion who embodies Spain while, behind the king, the army of French horsemen finishes off their Spanish adversaries. Printed on a placard including an ode of thirty sizains in four columns entitled "On the war declared in France by a herald", the work clearly equates the king with a hero of mythology.
Mythology in the service of royalty
This allegorical portrait is part of a highly political iconographic program in the service of the monarchy which uses the symbolic strength of the ancient hero to construct a superhuman royal image. Like Heracles-Hercules, son of sovereign Zeus-Jupiter, Louis XIII appears with an ancient majesty which grants him the qualities of the Greek hero: divine nature, warlike strength, capacity for victory, but also order and justice, since he is represented in a sovereign position, like a "peaceful" victor. This work shows how much mythology is part of Western culture and how much the figure of Hercules, reappropriated by modernity, retains its relevance under the kingship of France to herald a figure of temporal power.
- Louis XIII
- Thirty Years' War
- mythological portrait
- Acadamy of Arts
- Richelieu (cardinal of)
Pierre CHEVALLIER, Louis XIII, Cornelian King, Fayard, Paris, 1979.
Yann LIGNEREUX, The imaginary kings. A visual history of the monarchy from Charles VIII to Louis XIV, Rennes University Press, Rennes, 2016.
Jean-Christian PETITFILS, Louis XIII, Perrin, Paris, 2008.
Gérard SABATIER, The prince and the arts: figurative strategies of the French monarchy, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, Seyssel, Champ Vallon, 2010.
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