Ibid., p. 252.


Ibid., p. 252.


Nicholas Mirzoeff, An Introduction to Visual Culture, 2nd ed., London/New York, 2009, p. 36.


Schmitter, Representation (as note 2), p. 414.


The texture of the king’s luxurious clothes and the flamboyant drapery in the background are painted in great detail and with a strong sense of accuracy. However, the portrait was anything but realistic. At the time when the portrait was made Louis XIV had already weathered various diseases, his body was gout-ridden and his face ravaged by the loss of teeth. It thus seems plausible in this context to interpret Rigaud’s painting as an highly idealistic depiction of the king’s natural body expressing an apotheosis of his mystic, immortal body.

From a modern perspective, the distinction between a ‘realistic’ and ‘idealistic’ representation of Louis XIV corresponds to what Claude Lefort has described as the «theologico-political formation»  [15] reflecting the relationship between the particular and the universal dimension of the sovereign’s body. «When the king is blessed and crowned as the Lord’s anointed, his power is spiritualized but, although he is the earthly replica of Christ, he differs from his model in that, whilst grace makes him divine, his nature makes him human.» [16] Following Lefort, the king’s body does not only represent an incarnation of divine authority which guarantees the identity of the body politic through the unification of the physical with the metaphysical but it also represents «the division between them» [17]. The distinction between the realistic and idealistic dimension of the king’s representation can be regarded as a continuation of this division which reveals the paradoxical duality of the king’s two bodies. The idealistic depiction of Louis XIV emphasises his absolute claim to power but it shows simultaneously that only through the process of (aesthetic) representation the division between the realistic and idealistic, between the particular and the universal, between the human and the divine, can be overcome.

Thus, Rigaud’s portrait symbolises the veneration for the king’s physical body which merged with his transcendent body to such an extent that the picture was treated in the same way as the actual king. For Louis XIV who had perfected the aesthetic staging of his daily routines this meant that the portrait served as a substitute for him at the court of Versailles during his absence. The courtiers had to pay the same respect to the king’s portrait as to the king himself and it was «an offence known as lèse-majesté, or contempt of Majesty, to turn your back on the portrait, (...).» [18] The identification of the king with his visual representations went so far that «some French jurists proposed the right of asylum for the ‘holy’ statues of the king, and injury done to royal statues and images counted as treason.» [19] As witnessed by such practices, the portrait of the king has become a placeholder of divine glory, a mimetic model of transcendent authority. In this regard, the portrait did not constitute an individual pictorial representation of the king’s physical body but rather an allegory of his transcendent body and the institution of monarchy.

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