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Louis XIV: a round-up of exhibitions

29 July 2015
La Récolte des Ananas from 'L'Histoire de l'Empereur de la Chine' tapestry series

La Récolte des Ananas from ‘L’Histoire de l’Empereur de la Chine’ tapestry series Getty Center

It now looks as if the tercentenary of Louis XIV’s death will not pass entirely unnoticed. Yet, those who want to take the anniversary as an opportunity to immerse themselves fully with the arts of the Grand Siècle may have to travel far! Rather than one large special display dedicated to the patronage and collecting of France’s absolute ruler, there will be several exhibitions, each concentrating on one aspect or medium. The Getty Center in Los Angeles, for example, is mounting two major shows to mark the occasion, both of which were prepared in co-operation with curatorial colleagues in France. ‘A Kingdom of Images: French Prints in the Age of Louis XIV, 1660–1715’ (16 June–6 September 2015) explores the importance the Sun King and his artistic advisors attached to print culture and the ways in which engravings were employed as political and diplomatic tools. The same exhibition will also be shown at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (opening 3 November), where the King’s unusual collection of globes is on permanent display. ‘Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV’, also at the Getty (opening 15 December), promises a visual spectacle, as it intends to present a compelling selection of Louis XIV’s fine tapestry collection, mostly shipped over from the Mobilier national in Paris.

c. 1630/1632, Nicolas Poussin

The Assumption of the Virgin c. 1630/1632, Nicolas Poussin oil on canvas National Gallery of Washington

As Versailles exhibited a comprehensive overview of the Sun King’s art patronage relatively recently, the château will instead present a history show focusing on the immediate aftermath of Louis XIV’s death: ‘Le roi est mort!’ (26 October 2015–21 February 2016). Based on new research, it seeks to make tangible the symbolism, the traditions and rituals attached to royal funeral and the handing over of the French Crown from one generation to the next. Paris also saw two significant exhibitions on 17th-century painting: ‘Charles de La Fosse’ at Versailles and ‘Poussin et Dieu’ at the Louvre – marking the 350th anniversary of Poussin’s death. Louis XIV was an avid collector of the work of the classical painter, acquiring numerous canvases between 1665 and 1685, many of which came from other keen contemporary connoisseurs: the young duc de Richelieu, nephew of the cardinal, Eberhard Jabach, Paul Fréart de Chantelou, Nicolas Fouquet, Paul Scarron, etc. – really, the Who’s Who of the Parisian art world.

Gold medal made by Jean Warin, 1672; Obverse: portrait of Louis XIV facing right; reverse: Louis XIV as the sun warming the earth

Gold medal made by Jean Warin, 1672; Obverse: portrait of Louis XIV facing right; reverse: Louis XIV as the sun warming the earth

Triumph and Disaster: Medals of the Sun King at the British Museum in London (until 15 November) offers a fascinating and highly focused display, which reveals both positive as well as negative propaganda spread by means of contemporary medals. Finally, the V&A, to celebrate the reopening of the European Galleries, 1600–1800, will host an international conference on ‘Ornaments and Decorative Arts in the Time of Louis XIV and Beyond’, looking afresh at the impact the Style Louis Quatorze had across Europe since 1715.