Tracing back the course of history to the king’s body is, from a modern point of view, not only a means of extending and representing royal power but also of curbing the uncertainties inherent in the conditions of history, a covering up of the contingent nature of political representation. However, it is important to stress that the experience of contingency is not a modern phenomenon. Oliver Marchart points out that the discussion of contingency in early European thought was experienced in the form of paradoxes which posed a potential threat to society’s normative foundations and were only articulated in mystic, theological or philosophical discourses. [23] Even though contingency was experienced in various ways, it was not generally acknowledged as a social factor and remained «a manoeuvring room within the framework of a solid order.» [24] Accordingly, in absolutist France the representation of the king as incarnation of divine authority was not part of a discourse in which the paradoxes of social foundations should be experienced and the depiction of the king’s power had to be cleared of any indications of his temporal and social conditionality.

As shown above, Le Brun encloses precisely this temporal or historical conditionality of Louis’ absolute power by means of pictorial representation and depicts his body as eternal certainty dominating the course of history. If the portrait of the king is to be understood as an extension of his body and an instantiation of his divine properties, Marin’s following suggestion is plausible: that «the king is only truly king in images» and that it is ultimately not possible «to trace the king otherwise than by retracing him in his representation, by redrawing him from his portrait.» [25] Even though it seems that the king is not «other than his image», Schmitter claims that the various portraits of the king cannot be regarded as a mimetic representation, because «instead of imitating they display the King who is without comparison.» [26] After having characterised the portrait of the king as a model of a transcendent order, an object of imitation as it were, I hesitate to follow Schmitter’s argument.

Instead, I would like to raise the question whether mimesis and display are necessarily mutually exclusive forms of depiction. In this context, I am inclined to suggest that in the king’s portrait mimetic and displaying elements are inextricably intertwined. The portrait of the king is a mimesis of the abstract concept of transcendent sovereignty which comes into effective existence through forms of depiction enclosing the temporal and social conditionality of the king’s authority. Max Black has subdivided the notion of ‹depiction› into ‹portray› and ‹display›, the former referring to an «original scene», the latter referring to a «certain subject» or content. [27] In this regard, the picture of the king is an amalgamation of display and portray in the sense that it depicts a subject (the king’s physical body) that is the reference to an imagined original scene (the incarnation of transcendent power).

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