The Louis XIV art collection returns to Versailles

The Louis XIV art collection returns to Versailles

The King Louis XIV of France (1643-1715) was the maximum exponent of absolutism, a political regime in which the sovereign enjoys absolute power, without legal limits or of any other nature. From his father he inherited the lust for greatness and the idea that kings were chosen by the grace of God and therefore ruled with unconditional divine right. The monarch used the iconography of classical antiquity to convey that ideal of magnificence and deity that he believed to gather in his person.

When he was young, still under the tutelage of his mother Ana de Austria, who had ceded the government of the country to Cardinal MazarinLouis XIV attended a masquerade ball dressed as the sun, with rays around his head and gold dust on his face. Later he would adopt the symbol of the Sun as his personal seal.

After the death of Mazarin in 1661, Louis XIV assumed all his royal functions and he was concerned that great artists of the time such as Jean Nocret and Charles Le Brun, would paint him as the glorious rulers of antiquity and even as the gods themselves. He had a predilection for Apollo, the Greek god of the Sun, carrier of heat and light for men, and in that way he would go down in history as Louis XIV "The Sun King".

The monarch had a bad experience at age 10, when a group of Parisian rebels broke into his rooms in the Royal Palace located in the French capital, movements known as The Frond. Louis XIV did not want such an act to be repeated and that is why he looked for another place of residence on the outskirts of Paris, in a quiet town where he had total freedom to rule without being disturbed by a people full of anger and hunger.

The palace of Versailles It was in its beginnings, a hunting lodge for Luis XIII, and that Louis XIV used frequently to retire with his favorite away from the gossip of the court. However, the places and its imposing beauty ended up seducing the king and he decided to make this palace the nerve center of his government. He forced his court and the nobles to move alongside him and in 1682 Versailles would finally become the epicenter of royal power.

Louis XIV was the sun and everyone had to revolve around him. The feudal lords, who once had their own domains and even enjoyed private armies, now had to compete with newly ennobled courtiers to perform menial tasks that pleased the monarch.

Throughout the centuries, their ancestors, especially Francis iThey had bought a large number of ancient sculptures from Italy. Unfortunately, these collections were dispersed during the various reigns and ended up disappearing or simply destroyed. Louis XIV only inherited a life-size Roman marble statue representing Artemis with a deer, which is now in the Louvre Museum. The rest of the ornaments that decorated his palace were paintings and tapestries, many of which showed the king with the appearance of the heroes of classical antiquity.

The visit of the baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini when Louis XIV He was only 27 years old, it made him realize that his art collections weren't flashy enough for a king of his category. Bernini was invited to Paris in 1665 to present a new design for the Louvre's façade, however his work did not meet with the approval of the monarch.

Instead, Bernini made a bust of the king, an idea that seemed to enchant the ruler, and that today is considered a masterpiece of baroque sculptural portraiture. Luis posed for Bernini a total of 13 times during the development of the work, and it is known that the artist followed him everywhere with the intention of capturing the greatness of the monarch in its purest form.

The sculptor observed little splendor in the king's quarters and in public statements Bernini stated that «the decorations in this room and adjoining rooms are decorations for the ladies«. These words hurt the pride of Luis, who spent the rest of his days accumulating ancient sculptures of enormous dimensions or imitations of them. In this way, Louis XIV made Versailles a real museum.

Sadly, during the French Revolution the Palace was completely looted. Much of his collection of antiquities as well as his sculptures, paintings, tapestries and other decorative elements, were distributed to French museums and sold abroad.

Fortunately, a new exhibition called, Versailles and Antiquity is being held in Versailles, which aims to bring together the collection of The Sun King with other antiquities of the time and display them in ten rooms of the palace that were once adorned with those same works.

The idea is that these pieces donated by museums around the country, mainly from the Louvre, are promptly returned to the exact places they occupied during the reign of Louis XIV, XV and XVI. Some of the works that are already placed in their old positions are: "Artemis and her deer”, “the Venus of Arles" Y "Hermes the Sandalbinder”.

«The castle looks splendid«, Commented Catalina Pegard, the museum's president. «It is of great emotional impact: old masterpieces that now return to their place thanks to the magic of the Italian theater director Pier Luigi Pizzi, who has been in charge of the scenography. It is not just an exhibition, this is theater: it takes us directly to the home of the king, to the privacy of his art collection«.

«I tried to build a dialogue between a great king like Louis XIV and the masterpieces on display, to revive the exact atmosphere that corresponded to the spirit of the 17th and 18th centuries"Observed Pizzi. «It was much more than the problem of designing a stage, all this scenography is just as important as the one we put on in the theater. It was necessary to adapt the rooms of the royal palace to the context of the collection«.

The exhibition is open from November 13 to March 17 of next year and small advertising videos are already being launched in the Versailles YouTube channel, which explain the role of antiquities in the history of the palace.

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