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Title: The Majority of Louis XIII, October 20, 1614
Author : RUBENS Pierre Paul (1577 - 1640)
Creation date : 1622 -
Date shown: 20 October 1614
Dimensions: Height 394 cm - Width 295 cm
Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website
Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Thierry Le Mage Photographic agency
Picture reference: 00-010467 / INV1784
The Majority of Louis XIII, October 20, 1614
© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Thierry Le Mage
Publication date: October 2017
Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director
The end of the Regency
In order to fulfill the ambitions of the queen mother Marie de Medici, the Antwerp painter Rubens, then at the height of his artistic glory, produced a large series of twenty-four canvases intended to take place in the western gallery of the brand new Luxembourg Palace. Camped as a heroine, the Florentine princess becomes queen of France (1600), mother of the dolphin (1601), then regent on the death of ’Henry IV (1610), before being removed from power by her son Louis XIII in 1617 - which Rubens was obviously not, as he was taking arms against the king in the two "wars of mother and son." The reconciliation in 1622 and the return of Marie de Médicis to the king's council bring the series to a close with a restored balance that seems definitive.
The Majority of Louis XIII marks the end of the nominal regency of Marie de Medici and symbolically divides the right wall of the gallery into two distinct parts. The strength of the painter, however, lies in the addition in a scholarly composition of several allegorical figures around the royal couple to give him a new symbolic force.
The state ship in the hands of the king
Perched in front of the mast of the ship, France, encamped as a proud and strong woman (and in this evident parallel of Marie de Médicis), holds the globe of sovereignty - an explicit echo of the globe transmitted by Henry IV to Marie de Medici in The Proclamation of the Regency - and wields the sword of the exercise of authority. Helmet with a crest on her head, she overlooks with a masculine confidence a stage where two groups can be distinguished.
In the foreground, four powerful women row and keep the ship running; these are four royal virtues (access to meaning of which is allowed by the shields riveted to the ship): Strength (lion shield), Religion (illuminated altar), Justice (scales) and Concord (caduceus) ). Joining their efforts to that of the latter, two other women embodying Temperance lower the veil. To complete the allegorical approach, two Fames trumpet the event in a cerulean sky and legitimize the handling of the affairs of the kingdom by the queen mother.
At the stern of the ship, King Louis XIII wears all the attributes of sovereignty (closed crown, coronation mantle, sword, scepter) and firmly holds the rudder. He looks at his mother, still in mourning dress, who shows him the right way to steer the ship. The game of gaze continues to place Louis XIII under the dependence of his mother, despite the proclamation of his majority; he acts voluntarily and thus gives a new legitimacy to the exercise of authority by Marie de Medici.
The allegory to erase the real
The only canvas from the Rubenian cycle in which the young king wears all the attributes of sovereignty, The Majority of Louis XIII is also when the queen mother reports to the king for her virtues and her qualities to govern. The subtlety of Rubens is indeed to succeed in signifying the glory of Marie de Medici in the surrender of sovereign authority in the hands of her son: the queen mother has never seemed so powerful and close to power as by making it at its legitimate source. Each allegory can then refer to the political virtues of the king as well as that of his mother, all of these virtues having enabled the vessel of the State to have avoided the pitfalls of the royal minority, as written at the same time the libellist Fancan. The queen appears as the "liaison agent" of the French monarchy (F. Cosandey); it ensures the dynastic continuity without any other means than that of the family bond and the blood of France. It is also a way for a queen of Italian origin often accused of favoring foreign interests to embody France. The canvas therefore participates in the presentation of the queen mother "as mother of the country, mentor of the king and doctor of the state", and "the mythological and allegorical invasion assumes there [...] both the role of sail concealing a political message, and that of access key to decipher it ”(J.-F. Dubost).
A symbolic and real dyarchy naturally seems to prevail to secure the base of the sovereign globe. With Rubens, the latter becomes the official attribute of the French monarchy, sufficient in itself to say the perfect sphere over which the authority of the Most Christian King is exercised.
The reality is however far from this idealized vision. As well as in The Apotheosis of Henry IV and the proclamation of the regency, the role played by the Parliament of Paris in the proclamation of the majority (lit de justice on October 2, 1614) is retracted, as if to better underline the natural character of the delivery of the insignia of power to the young king now fully able to govern.
- Louis XIII
- Medici (Marie de)
- Henry IV
- Richelieu (cardinal of)
Fanny COSANDEY, The Queen of France. Symbol and power, Gallimard, Paris, 2000.
Id., “To represent a queen of France. Marie de Medici and the cycle of Rubens at the Luxembourg Palace ”, in Clio. Women, Gender, History [online], 19 - 2004, posted on November 27, 2005, consulted September 30, 2016. URL: http://clio.revues.org/645
Jean-François DUBOST, Marie de Medici. The queen unveiled, Payot, Paris, 2009.
Marie-Anne LESCOURRET, Rubens, Flammarion, Paris, 1990.
Marie de Médicis, government through the arts, Somogy art editions and Château de Blois, 2003 (exhibition catalog).
To cite this article
Jean HUBAC, "The majority of Louis XIII"