Louis XIV made an appearance in Versailles in 2009 for an exhibit that featured over 300 pieces of art work and artifacts either bought, or made, for the "Sun King." Here is my piece for Time on the show.
The more than 300 pieces honouring Louis XIV that now hang in the gilded halls of Versailles attest to a life of opulence that now seems not only extraordinary but almost extra-terrestrial. "Louis XIV was a world unto himself," Nicolas Milovanovic, the shows curator, has said about the works, which were unveiled at the palace in late October in "Louis XIV: The Man and the King".
He had his official collection, which by tradition had to be of a splendor rivalling those of Europe's other sovereigns, Milovanovic explains. But the king "also had his own private collection of objects he loved, constituted according to his taste." This show is dedicated largely to the king's "taste", which was grand and surreal as one might expect from the mastermind of Versailles. On view are floor-to-ceiling tapestries; portions of a 400-metre-long carpet (that took 15 years to make); Le Brun cabinets covered in jewels; and portrait's encased in diamonds. Louis XIV's passion for collecting was unprecedented, as perhaps was his addiction to indulgence.
Yet the Sun King's love affair with luxury doesn't inform the essence of this show. Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the director of Versailles, wanted audiences to walk away with a deeper understanding of the man behind the crown. And so the eight exhibition rooms have been divided into facets of his personality—eg, "the king's glory", "the king's physical body"—in order to create a "cultural portrait of the king," explains Aillagon in the exhibition catalogue.
Mounting this show was no easy feat. Curators spent three years scouring Europe for certain works, some of which hadn't been in France since the Ancien Regime. On loan from Queen Elizabeth is a painting from 1680 of labourers slogging away on the construction of the palace: the Duke of Northumberland bestowed a cabinet.
Mounting this show was no easy feat. Curators spent three years scouring Europe for certain works, some of which hadn't been in France since the Ancien Regime. On loan from Queen Elizabeth is a painting from 1680 of labourers slogging away on the construction of the palace; the Duke of Northumberland bestowed a cabinet.
Striking pieces here include Bernini's alabaster bust of Louis, with flowing locks and an impenetrable gaze (pictured above). Also a 16th-century lapis lazuli cup, adorned with gold and silver and flanked with an image of the king on one side and the head of a dragon on the other. A beeswax portrait of the king with a sallow complexion and small-pox scars, made just ten years before his death, looks disarmingly real (pictured right). A suit of armour given as a gift from the Venetian Republic for Louis's help in fighting the Turks reveals the monarch stood at a modest 5 foot 6 inches.
Sponsoring the show is none other than Moet Hennessy, which set up a series of 20-course dinners featuring not only Louis' favourite dishes, but also an endless supply of what was rumoured to be his favourite drink—Dom Perignon.