Louis XIII and Poussin

Louis XIII and Poussin

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Poussin, arriving from Rome, is presented to Louis XIII by Cardinal Richelieu

© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Hervé Lewandowski

Publication date: December 2019

Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director

Historical context

A great historical setting

Originally commissioned in 1828 for the Charles X Museum, which housed Egyptian and Greco-Roman antiquities in the south wing of the Louvre's square courtyard, Jean Alaux's canvas was not completed until 1832, when Louis-Philippe was became king of the French. Louis-Philippe made him a member of the artistic establishment (director of the Académie de France in Rome at the end of the 1840s) asked to decorate the royal residences (Versailles, Louvre, current Palace of the Senate, Château de Saint-Cloud …).

Thus stretched on the first floor of the Sully wing, the work of Jean Alaux is seen as a new manifestation of the attachment of the restored monarchy to the first absolutism and as a testimony of the necessary rapprochement of art and power. . It represents the first meeting of the painter Nicolas Poussin with King Louis XIII in December 1640.

Image Analysis

Poussin, Louis XIII and the intervention of Richelieu

The scene takes place outside. To the right, a vast portico made up of hangings carried by marble columns opens onto a large terrace deployed to the left. It shelters the dignitaries of the court, two halberdiers and some pages. In a pink leotard, the Marquis de Cinq-Mars proudly camped out, showing little interest in the event.

In the center, the group inextricably includes King Louis XIII - standing, three-quarter-length, wearing a cape, a large plumed hat and carrying the sword to the side, index finger pointed at Poussin -, and the cardinal de Richelieu - from the front, in a cardinal's cassock, looking tired and leaning on a young page. Just behind Richelieu, as inseparable from his own figure, Father Joseph is symbolically associated by the painter with the mysteries of power. The contrast between the king and the cardinal is striking; on one the strength of will, the elegance of the setting and the sovereign movement, on the other the weight of years and the need to be supported.

On the left, the painter Nicolas Poussin leads a group of a few men, hat in hand in deference. He appears in a dark suit and stands on the edge of a shadowy area (clearly visible on the terrace floor); turned towards the king, he prepares to take advantage of the light that the latter radiates.

The few steps in the foreground accentuate the theatrical character of the scene, as if the spectator were attending an emblematic event of a period in history that was then particularly popular with the general public - Alfred de Vigny publishes Cinq-Mars in 1826, Alexandre Dumas began his saga of Three musketeers in 1844.


The staging of the meeting of art and power

The work of Jean Alaux is part of the history painting in vogue during the first XIXe century, during the Restoration and the July monarchy. It is then a question of re-legitimizing royal power by replenishing it and fueling the project of a French history museum designed by Louis-Philippe within the Palace of Versailles. Another painting, more than fifteen years older, already featured Louis XIII, Richelieu and Poussin. Made by Jean Joseph Ansiaux, it represents Louis XIII giving the painter the patent of first painter to the king in 1640, shortly after the meeting between the painter and the prince. The three actors are arranged there in the same order but camped in a curial interior. Richelieu already holds the center there and appears there as an intermediary between art and power.

The specificity of Alaux's canvas is the way Richelieu depicted as a worn-out man, against the traditional representations of the cardinal during the first XIXe century, which more exalt the grandeur, the pride and the power of the Red Man, as well as the hold exerted by Richelieu over a Louis XIII camped as an unfortunate figure - historically questionable - of the romantic drama. Here, if the king embodies a certain panache, the fact remains that the strong presence of the cardinal in a way diverts the spectator's attention from the two main theoretical characters of the event (the king and the painter) and values ​​the action of the prelate as a necessary intermediary of the meeting.

Wanting to seize for posterity the moment of the first meeting between Louis XIII and Poussin is both an act aimed at reinforcing the greatness of a reign by that of an artist of immense renown - the two men appear from elsewhere on an equal footing despite the deference of one to the sovereignty of the other - and a way to ward off the failure of the outcome of Poussin's stay in Paris, which neither the neither the king nor the cardinal succeeded in convincing the painter to continue beyond the month of November 1642. This scene is thus a way of better connecting Poussin to France, he who spent the longest part of his life in Rome and who refused. to stay in Paris, although he exercised a decisive influence on French painting.

  • Louvre
  • Louis Philippe
  • rome price
  • history painting
  • July Monarchy
  • French Academy in Rome
  • Versailles
  • Louis XIII
  • Richelieu (cardinal of)
  • Vigny (Alfred de)
  • Dumas (Alexandre)
  • Restoration
  • Museum of the History of France


The Legend of Richelieu, Somogy Éditions d’art, Paris, 2008. Book designed for the exhibition The Legend of Richelieu presented at the Historial de Vendée from April 25 to July 13, 2008.

Valérie BAJOU (dir.), Louis-Philippe and Versailles, Somogy Éditions d’art, Paris, 2018. Book designed for the exhibition Louis-Philippe and Versailles presented at the Palace of Versailles from October 6, 2018 to February 3, 2019.

Alain MEROT, Chick, Éditions Hazan, Paris, 1994 for the first edition, 2011 for the revised, corrected and augmented edition.

Jacques THUILLIER, Chick, Flammarion, Paris, 1992.

To cite this article

Jean HUBAC, "Louis XIII and Poussin"

Video: What is Poussin?