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Leading the country to the golden age of absolutism, monarchs were smart enough to descry the suggestive power of visual art…
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Visual Arts and Film Studies Power and Prestige in Art The French royals of the 17th century were always generous with work of art and breathtaking pieces of architecture glorifying themselves and France. Leading the country to the golden age of absolutism, monarchs were smart enough to descry the suggestive power of visual art. Making use of all the artistic means of the epoch, kings and queens spared no expense to monumentalize the splendor and power of the French crown.
The tendency to elevation and monumentalization can be observed in the lavishness and grandeur of Versailles which was originally built as Louis’s XIII hunting lodge and then was expanded by his successors. The Baroque architects, gardeners and artists including the chief designer Louis Le Vau and the artist Charles Le Brun undertook a responsible mission in order to erect a palace suitable and grand enough to host the whole royal family and the large court (EAH). One of the most remarkable fragments of Versailles is the Hall of Mirrors built and decorated under the king Louis XIV in the period when absolutism was on its peak. The 73-meters-long gallery was created with intention to glorify the victory of France in the war and symbolize political, economic and cultural success of France (en.chateauversailles.fr). Marble, gilding, mirrors, crystal chandeliers and lavish decoration tell the spectator of the glory and prestige of the French court. The political achievements were depicted by Le Brun on the arches of the gallery referring to ancient allegories. The economic power of the country was transparently stated through the number of mirrors located in front of each window of the gallery and – thus – making the hall even more spacious. The key idea of such lavish mirror use was to demonstrate the production potential of France in mirror-making (mirrors were the objects of luxury at that time). Moreover, the Hall of Mirrors adorned with splendid Baroque paintings alluding to ancient mythology and marble sculptures of the ancient Greek gods was a brilliant specimen of the best cultural and artistic tendencies of the 17th century. To my thinking, the primary purpose is achieved successfully as Versailles and – particularly – the Hall of Mirrors inspires awe even nowadays: no wonder that the hall was often used as a waiting room for visitors because it is a perfect piece to be the “face” of the court and suggest the power and splendor of the King. In this respect, it should be also mentioned that the palace must have elevated the Crown in the eyes of the people of France: the suggestive power of such spectacle is great for sure as it all works on the principle “great palace – great king”.
One of the most vivid samples of the French Baroque painting is probably the special-order series of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens created for Marie de’Medici. The wife of Henry IV and the regent of Louis XIII, Marie was rather powerful and influential woman, though very kin on intrigues, wasteful and wicked (abcgallery). The series of 21 pictures glorifying her life were ordered for her palace. Though Marie was not beautiful at all, the painter successfully managed to put a gloss on the reality in order to satisfy her. All the pictures of the series tend to romanticize and elevate the life and personality of Marie de’Medici, particularly the painting “Henry IV Receiving the Portrait of Marie de’Medici”. The elements of the painting serve to glorify and celebrate the life of Marie and her husband Henry IV. The painting shows Hera, the ancient Greek goddess surrounded by cherubs showing the portrait of Marie to Henry, and the latter looks astonished and fascinated with her beauty. Moreover, there is Hymenaios, the patron of marriage, standing by him. The use of the Greek mythology characters brings the depicted personas closer to the divine, almost implying their (especially Marie’s) God-likeness. Zeus and Hera sitting on the clouds seem to symbolize the perfect marital harmony and a happy marriage of Marie and Henry – again – enduing it with some divinity (Saward). The wide use of mythological allusions, lavishness in details and the parallels to the divine union of Zeus and Hera make this picture almost iconic. To my thinking, such exaggeration looks somewhat comical nowadays, but nevertheless, it produced great effect in that epoch drawing the royal persona close to the divine creatures in the eyes of the subjects.
Reference List:
ABC Gallery. Peter Paul Rubens, Retrieved July 29 from: http://www.abcgallery.com/R/rubens/rubens45.html
Chateau de Versailles, the Place, Retrieved July 29 from: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/the-palace-
Encyclopedia of Art History, Palace of Versailles, Retrieved July 29 from: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/history-of-art/versailles-palace.htm
Saward, Susan. The Golden Age of Marie de Medici. Studies in Baroque Art History, no. 2. UMI Research Press, 1982. Read More
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