«The portrait of Caesar is Caesar» [10]

In his book Portrait of the King French historian and philosopher Louis Marin shows the complex enmeshment of King Louis XIV’s absolutist claim to power with its numerous dimensions of artistic representation and proposes the following interpretation of the king’s portrait: «The king is only truly king, that is, monarch, in images. They are his real presence[11] Thus, the portrait of the king, his painted picture, grants us access to a complex network of ideas woven around the nodes of religious beliefs, political power, historical determination and aesthetic experience. As indicated above, the king derived his earthly power from his divine descent which grounded his person in a metaphysical sphere beyond space and time. The king himself, as it were, was a portrait of God, his sovereignty legitimised by divine mandate. It is thus no surprise that in the king’s glorious self-understanding Apollo, the Olympian deity of light, truth and the sun, was the preferred role model of le Roi-Soleil.

Whereas the image of Christ constituted a reference to the general theological-political authority and the absolute power of Louis XIV, the image of Apollo served as personal allegory expressing an enhanced understanding of his individual grandeur. Thus, Louis XIV understood the sun «as another version of the king himself.» He described the sun as «the noblest of all stars, (...) which, by virtue of its uniqueness, by the brilliance that surrounds it, by the light it imparts to the other heavenly bodies that seem to pay it court, by its equal and just distribution of the same light to all the various parts of the world, (...) assuredly makes a most vivid and a most beautiful image for a great monarch.» [12] Louis XIV took on the form of the sun not only in a metaphorical way but as a self-aggrandising comparison to God.

In his description of Versailles, André Félibien, the official court historian to Louis XIV, wrote accordingly: «Le Ciel, qui a répandu dans V.M. tant de graces & de tresors, & qui semble avoir entrepris en la formant de faire un chef-d’œuvre de son pouvoir, en donnant à la terre un parfait modele d’un grand Roy; (...).» [13] The king, therefore, is himself the living and omnipotent portrait of God; Louis «is the perfect model of a great king, and he is the unique model only because he is already the portrait of the absolute, the ‘unique’ copy of the king of kings.» [14] The picture of the king is thus adjudged divine qualities and can be understood as a model, an object of imitation, that is supposed to resemble an ‘image’ of God.

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