A representation of Louis XIV

A representation of Louis XIV

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  • "The King governs by himself"

    LE BRUN Charles (1619 - 1690)

  • Fastes of the neighboring powers of France.

    LE BRUN Charles (1619 - 1690)

"The King governs by himself"

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Franck Raux / Dominique Couto editing

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Title: Fastes of the neighboring powers of France.

Author : LE BRUN Charles (1619 - 1690)

Creation date : 1678 -

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Franck Raux / Dominique Couto editing

Picture reference: 09-578200 / inv2924; inv2925

Fastes of the neighboring powers of France.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Franck Raux / Dominique Couto editing

Publication date: December 2012

Professor at Paris VIII University

Historical context

Decided soon after the Peace of Nijmegen (August 10, 1678), the iconographic program of the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles constitutes a real revolution in the representation of the king. Indeed, we know from Nivelon, the king's biographer, that during a meeting of the “Secret Council of his Majesty” in which Colbert participated between the end of the year 1678 and the beginning of the year 1679 ( perhaps in September 1678), it was decided to modify the paintings chosen in order to sanctify the end of the Dutch War (1672-1678) and to perpetuate the victories of Louis XIV.

Charles Le Brun had initially conceived a cycle of allegories relating to Apollo or Hercules (the apotheosis, for the first, the works for the second). It was decided otherwise: “His Majesty resolved,” explains Nivelon, “that his story on the conquests should be represented there. "

Immediately locking himself up in the Hôtel de Gramont, the painter completed the entire vault project in two days: a large program representing the king's military campaigns during the Wars of Devolution and Holland. It was recommended to Charles Le Brun "not to include anything in it that does not conform to the truth".

Image Analysis

The painting "The king governs by himself", which occupies the first part of the central panel in the gallery, is the largest in the series of twenty-seven compositions of the vault. We see Louis XIV surrounded by allegorical and mythological figures, wearing an antique breastplate and draped in a blue cloak. His right hand rests on the tiller of a ship: like a captain, he is the only master aboard the great state vessel. A woman, sitting on a cloud and who symbolizes Glory, hands the sovereign a crown of stars. She dominates the king who looks at her and who seems to ignore the procession of loves, nymphs, gods and goddesses who surround her.

The sign "Fastes of the neighboring powers of France" responds to this large picture. These powers are recognizable thanks to the allegories which distinguish them: Germany by the figure of a woman on a cloud with an eagle and the imperial crown; Spain by the figure of another woman leaning on a lion devouring a king of the Indies stretched out over his treasures; Holland by a woman leaning on a lion holding seven arrows (the seven united provinces) and which, according to Piganiol de La Force, "marks, by her trident and by a chain to which Thetis is attached, his power over the sea. vessels and the goods below, signify his great trade ”.


Piganiol de La Force (1673-1753), royal historiographer, explained the significance of this painting, pivot of the Hall of Mirrors, in what can be considered one of the first guides to Versailles, the New description of the chasteaux and parks of Versailles and Marly, published in 1701: “This prince is represented in the flower of his youth on a throne with his right hand on a ship's pole. Graces are standing beside him, and Tranquility, under the figure of a seated woman, holds a pomegranate, symbol of the union of peoples under sovereign authority. France is also seated, it crushes with a shield on which it leans, Discord, the Himeneus lights it up with its torch and marks that we were still in the festivities of marriage. The Seine marks by the flowers and fruits that come out of its urn, the fertility of the country it waters. As for the naked children, they represent "the parties and the pleasures one enjoys in a young court all polite and all brilliant." Minerva is next to the Throne, Mars below. The other divinities, Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Vulcan, Pluto, Hercules, Diana and Ceres, “are attentive, and look down from Heaven on this young monarch. The Sun in its chariot hastens to be the witness, and Mercury flies to announce its glory to all the earth ”. See also: The King governs by himself, 1661, in the iconographic catalog of the Hall of Mirrors

Should we read here the utopia of a pacified Europe under the benevolent and domineering gaze of the victorious king? Note that only France is identified with the sovereign who governs her; the other "powers" are only entitled to allegories. This image of the omnipotence of Louis XIV, made to impress, in particular the ambassadors of foreign states, did not, it seems, left contemporaries indifferent: the paintings in the Hall of Mirrors, writes Saint-Simon in his Briefs, "Have had no small part in angering all of Europe against the King".

Is it a coincidence that on January 18, 1871, Chancellor Bismarck proclaimed the birth of the German Empire precisely in the Hall of Mirrors, under the paintings of Charles Le Brun?
Like a posthumous revenge from Germany on the Sun King's humiliations ...

  • Versailles
  • Louis XIV
  • allegory
  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Holland
  • absolute monarchy
  • Great Century
  • Colbert (Jean-Baptiste)
  • Holland War
  • the Brown (Charles)
  • Heracles
  • war of devolution
  • antiquity
  • mythological references
  • Europe


PIGANIOL OF FORCE, New description of chasteins and parks of Versailles and Marly containing a historical explanation of all the paintings, pictures, statues, vases and ornaments that can be seen there, their dimensions & the names of the painters, sculptors & engravers who made them: enriched with several intaglio figures…, Paris, F. Delaulne, 1707.

Joël CORNETTE, Chronicle of the reign of Louis XIV, Paris, Sedes, 1997.

SAINT-SIMON, Briefs, Paris, Hachette, 1897.

Claude NIVELON, Life of Charles LeBrun and detailed description of his works, ed. critique and introduction by L. Pericolo, Geneva, Droz, 2004.

To cite this article

Joël CORNETTE, "A representation of Louis XIV"

Video: Discover Palace of Versailles documentary en


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