Equestrian statue of Louis XIV (Bernini)
The Equestrian Statue of King Louis XIV is a sculpture designed and partially executed by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was originally brought to France to design a new facade of the Louvre, a portrait bust, and an equestrian statue. Bernini first discussed the project while in France in the mid-1660s, but it did not start until later in the decade, when back in Rome. It was not completed until 1684, and then shipped to Paris in 1685. Louis XIV of France was extremely unhappy with the end result and had it placed in a corner of the gardens of the royal palace at Versailles. Soon after, the sculpture was modified by François Girardon and altered into an equestrian sculpture of the ancient Roman hero Marcus Curtius.
|Equestrian Statue of King Louis XIV|
|Artist||Gian Lorenzo Bernini|
|Subject||Louis XIV of France|
|Location||Palace of Versailles, Versailles|
For much of the 17th century Bernini was regarded as the premier artist of the era, serving as the primary source of artistic works commissioned by Pope Urban VIII. As a result, Louis XIV invited him to come to France to work in the name of the French monarchy. Bernini accepted this invitation, traveling to Paris to construct an equestrian statue and a portrait bust, as well as a new façade of the Louvre.
Bernini in FranceEdit
The day after his arrival in Paris on June 3, 1665, Bernini concluded that the work that had been already done on the Louvre by Louis Le Vau, a French Classical Baroque architect who had been hired by Louis XIV, was inadequate, deciding instead to create his own designs, citing his own observations of palaces throughout his career. Bernini would eventually propose to abandon Le Vau’s ongoing project, instead insisting that he would provide the design details himself.
Bernini's first concept for the planned east façade, which placed a heavy emphasis on curved wings in the Italian style, was almost immediately rejected. Jean-Baptiste Colbert also stated that Bernini's plans to place the king's own room in the outwardly protruding central pavilion would be a noisy location due to its close proximity to the nearby street and foot traffic. Following the rejection of the first draft, Bernini sent in a second draft which too was rejected by Colbert, though unlike the first and the third drafts an image does not appear to have survived. The third and final draft, which had eliminated the curved wings that Bernini initially envisioned, was praised by Louis, who had held a formal ceremony to lay the cornerstone of the new facade. However as soon as Bernini left France to return to Rome, Louis ordered the construction of the to stop.
Construction and CreationEdit
Bernini followed French tradition creating equestrian statues of French kings in their own residences, with notable examples by Francois Mansart, Charles Perrault, and Pierre Cottard. Despite tradition, Bernini was the first in France to design an equestrian statue to be freestanding with a rearing horse rather than attached to building. The precedent for this was Pietro Tacca's sculpture of Philip IV in the garden of Buen Retiro (1642) in Madrid which had been considered to be the first equestrian monument displaying a rearing rider since antiquity. This emulation reflected the Franco-Spanish rivalry during the reign of King Louis XIV.
In many images that capture the likeness of Louis XIV, the principle component was the metaphor of Louis’ reign, the sun, which conforms to the tradition of the oriens augusti, or “the rising of the august one”, a term that identifies a ruler with the sun. The sun was also one of many symbols for Pope Urban VIII, Bernini’s greatest patron. In his time serving Urban VIII, Bernini was involved in the design of a frescoed vault within the Barberini Palace in Rome in which Divine Wisdom appears with the symbol of the sun on her breast.
Upon viewing the completed equestrian statue, Louis XIV had declared it to be an abomination and ordered it to be destroyed; however, he was later convinced by his courtiers to have it moved to a remote location within the palace grounds. As a result, it was placed at the end of the Lake of the Swiss Guards, completely separating the statue and the main palace grounds.
In spite of Louis's public rejection of the equestrian statue, its form inspired future royal portraits of the king, including a marble creation by Antoine Coysevox depicting Louis XIV on horseback which sits in the Salon of War at Versailles, making corrections to facial characteristics created by Bernini which the French king interpreted as a slight against him, creating a more somber expression and raising the forehead to a more 'suitable' height.
After Bernini's VisitEdit
Following the failure of Bernini's stay in Paris, French attitudes toward Italian culture changed, a shift in attitude that for the first time since the Renaissance recognized that a national self-consciousness and self confidence north of the Alps had developed, an attitude that developed as a result of the rejection of the Italian Baroque and the popularization of French classicism, resulting in Bernini's redesign of the Louvre never rising above its foundations.
Culmination of Themes in Bernini's WorkEdit
The Vision of ConstantineEdit
In his process to construct the equestrian statue, Bernini referred back to one of his earlier works, the Vision of the Emperor Constantine, which began construction in 1654 and was completed in late 1669.
The equestrian statue of Louis XIV was designed with his earlier work on the equestrian monument of the emperor Constantine in Rome in mind, with both horses striking similar poses and neither riders holding reins or stirrups. Whereas Constantine's gestures were raised above him to convey the vision of the Holy Cross and God above him, the Sun King’s gestures are grounded to convey his mundane and non-divine power in an act that Bernini termed as an ‘act of majesty and command'.
Bust of Louis XIVEdit
In addition to the equestrian statue, Louis XIV commissioned Bernini to sculpt portrait bust of himself. The bust was modeled on another Bernini had made ten years prior of Francesco d’Este, the duke of Modena. Both include many similar features, including the lance jabot, the shoulder clad in armor, and a cloak that appears to be floating in the wind. The most notable similarity between the two busts is the use of drapery to 'conceal' the lower torso. Both of these busts, along with the Louis XIV equestrian statue are examples of the ways in which Bernini depicts power in the context of seventeenth-century absolute monarchies.
“One of the visitors at this early stage [July 22] was the Marquis de Bellefonds, who said he would have liked to see some hair on the King’s forehead… Bernini’s comment on this occasion was that painters had the advantage over sculptors in being able… to depict hair on a forehead without obscuring it. This thought fired Bernini to attempt the impossible. A week after Bellefonds’ visit Chantelou noticed that Bernini had in fact added a lock of hair onto the forehead of the bust… The addition of this lock, of which Bernini was very proud, could only be achieved by cutting back all the upper part of the forehead except for the curl itself. This was later to be criticized adversely, and it did in fact falsify the shape of the King’s forehead.”
The anecdote points out that Bernini was more concerned with the technical side of the bust rather than carving with accuracy to the king’s likeness. The alteration resulted in a change in brow shape that was considered to be ‘unflattering’.
When recut by Girardon the equestrian statue was re-purposed to depict Marcus Curtius, an ancient Roman hero. In his story, an abyss appeared in the middle of the Roman forum that only the sacrifice of Rome's greatest possession would close. As a result Curtius determined that Rome's most prized possession with the bravery of its soldiers and hurled himself into the abyss while riding his horse, closing it.
Two major elements were changed; the flowing hair at the back of Louis XIV’s head was converted into the casque of a crested helmet and the flags were converted into a mass of flames at the horse’s feet.
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