Our equestrian portrait depicts the king aged thirty. Louis XIV appears there as an army commander, dominating a battle scene in the background. He holds the staff of command, a sign of his authority, and is mounted on a white horse called "milk soup", rearing up, symbol of victory. The king is sumptuously dressed in a leotard embroidered with gold thread, a black hat with a white feather, and a lace tie. His sword, his stirrups as well as the harness of the horse are adorned with precious stones and diamonds, testifying to the wealth and power of the rider. The horse is there to enhance the power and the greatness of the one who rides it, represented as a conquering king, who is moreover painted on a scale slightly larger than that of the horse in order to emphasize his majesty.
Workshop of Réné-Antoine Houasse, circa 1690
Oil on canvas, h. 99 cm, l. 79 cm
A Louis XIV carved giltwood frame, dimensions h. 122 cm, l. 102 cm
Provenance: royal collection of the House of Hanover, Blackenburg castle at late 19th century, on deposit at the Hanover Museum (Provinzial Museum, inv. N ° 235) as inalienable property of the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg between 1905 and 1926, then by descent to the heirs of the House of Hanover, private collection.
Our portrait is a smaller format version of the painting made by Réné-Antoine Houasse and kept at the Arras Museum (h. 280 cm, 230 cm).
In 1674 Charles le Brun received the commission for a portrait of Louis XIV on horseback in front of a battlefield. Le Brun provided a drawing and Houasse produced the full-size cardboard kept at the Department of Graphic Arts at the Louvre Museum.
We know that five versions of the large painting are documented in the inventory of the Garde-Meuble. The most famous is the one exhibited at the Salon de Mars in Versailles. (h. 255 cm, l. 200 cm). Other large formats are in Perpignan, Besançon, at the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte and a version is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Lisbon, brought to Portugal by the French ambassador, Oppède. The version of Arras, for which Houasse was the best paid, would be the closest to the first version. The other large-format versions would be studio works executed under the direction of the master, even if that of Versailles is very successful. There are also several small format workshop versions. The best known is that of the Lastic collection presented at the exhibition of the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (see the catalog of the exhibition Georges Lastic (1927-1988). The cabinet of an amateur. Collector and curator, Paris, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Senlis, Musée de la Vénerie and Clermont-Ferrand, Musée d'art Roger-Quilliot, 2011-2012, no 15, reproduced in color). Other versions are kept in Troyes, museum of archeology and natural sciences, Chantilly museum Condé, Dijon, museum of fine arts.
This equestrian portrait was one of the most beautiful effigies of the sovereign and its success led to the execution of several copies between 1680 and 1690.
In the composition, which derives from the great Titien-Velazquez tradition, Louis XIV is not in armor but is richly dressed in a ceremonial costume. The very cold color and the design of the garment embroidered with gold threads are extremely delicate., Houasse innovates by representing the king on a gray horse taking the form of a unicorn thanks to the position of the command staff. This new idea of ??the horse reinforces the divine and glorious character of the king, winner of the Flanders campaign in 1667, even if the battlefield here is not identifiable.
René-Antoine Houasse (Paris, ca. 1645-1710): This painter was one of the closest collaborators of Charles Le Brun, who employed him from 1670 at the Tuileries and especially at Versailles, where he played an important role in the decoration of the large apartment (decoration preserved, but repainted): he first worked in the current salon of Mars, then, around 1680, in the salon of Venus and that of Abundance, the latter distinguished by the taste for illusionism. From 1688, he painted a series of mythological paintings for the Grand Trianon. Received at the Academy in 1673, he was, from 1699 to 1705, director of the Académie de France in Rome. We also owe him this Equestrian Portrait of Louis XIV which is one of the sovereign's most beautiful effigies and which has been copied several times. Its style, of neo-classical inspiration, stands out above all for the refinement of a particular gray-blue color. The Louvre preserves several of the artist's works.