Louis XV child receiving a lesson

<em>Louis XV child receiving a lesson</em>

Louis XV as a child receiving a lesson, in the presence of Cardinal de Fleury and the Regent

© RMN-Grand Palais / Agence Bulloz

Publication date: July 2016

University of Evry-Val d'Essonne

Historical context

The education of the king

Louis XV, who became king at the age of 5 after the death of his great-grandfather, has yet to complete his training.

This anonymous painting, produced during the Regency, evokes the organization of the teaching given to the young sovereign. The scene probably takes place in the Tuileries, where the latter settled at the beginning of 1716, after leaving Versailles for Vincennes on the death of Louis XIV.

Some clues suggest that the lesson represented here takes place around 1717. The king was then 7 years old, the age at which the elementary education entrusted to his governess, Maman Ventadour, came to an end. Until his majority (13 years), he was surrounded by men who organized his theoretical and practical training intended to prepare him for the exercise of power.

The speakers are named in the will of his great-grandfather, then confirmed by the Parliament of Paris and the Regent, Philippe of Orleans: the Duke of Maine, legitimized bastard of Louis XIV, is Superintendent of Education; Marshal Villeroy, a soldier loyal to the late king, occupies the post of governor, while prelate André-Hercule de Fleury, former bishop of Fréjus, becomes tutor; two deputy governors (the Marquis de Saumery and de Ruffey) and several sub-preceptors complete this group.

Image Analysis

The pedagogical team

The young sovereign is represented seated, surrounded by seven figures. An eighth joins the library, located in the back plan. It may be the governor, surprisingly absent from the scene as his mission requires constant surveillance of the sovereign.

The Regent, easily recognizable by the blue ribbon of the Order of the Holy Spirit, visits his grandnephew. The latter shows with his right hand the documents he is studying, an oblong volume open on the table as well as a plan that extends to the floor, as if to signify that he is a good student. Behind them, three valets from the King's Civil House act as apparitors, bringing documents and objects. It is probably a course in military architecture on the art of fortifications - a subject that the sovereign is fond of - because the plan studied by the young king as well as that carried by one of the valets represent the lines of defense of a citadel.

Three prelates are seated on the other side of the marble table. André-Hercule de Fleury, facing the sovereign, is probably the master of the lesson; the future cardinal holds an increasingly important place with the monarch, and will become a few years later, between 1726 and 1743, his principal minister. The other two prelates probably belong to the group of sub-preceptors, which includes the abbots Jehan Vittement, Robert Pérot and Pierre-Joseph Alary. Fleury also secures the services of specialists in various fields, such as Father Dufour de Longuerue, who teaches historical geography.

Interpretation

Awakening to the sciences

This representation shows the important place of science in the training program of the young Louis XV. While classic disciplines, such as French, Latin or mathematics, are not neglected, the education of the sovereign also calls for new knowledge, such as biology, anatomy, astronomy or cartography. Thus, the painter represents a series of maps, volumes and scientific instruments, with a globe, a set square, an astrolabe, compasses or even a sundial, a scientific paraphernalia reflecting an educational change with an important practical component based on exercises.

Conversely, traditional subjects such as theology (including the Latin name, theologia, is inscribed at the top of the library) seem relegated to the background.

In this sense, this painting is a work of activism by placing modern tools of knowledge on the front of the stage. It follows on from representations of Louis XIV's visits to the new Royal Academy of Sciences and the Paris Observatory.

Subsequently, the educational program for the children of France further integrates scientific disciplines, which have become real management tools in the administration of the kingdom.

In the XVIIIe century, the sovereign moves less in learned institutions, because demonstrations come to him, as in Versailles, which becomes the "place of science education" (Pascale Mormiche).

  • regency
  • Louis XV
  • Tuileries
  • Fleury André Hercule (cardinal)

Bibliography

ANTOINE Michel, Louis XV, Paris, Fayard, 1989.

MORMICHE Pascale, Becoming a prince: the school of power in France (17th-18th centuries), Paris, CNRS Éditions, 2009.

PETITFILS Jean-Christian, Louis XV, Paris, Perrin, 2014.

SAULE Béatrix, ARMINJON Catherine (dir.), Sciences and curiosities at the court of Versailles, cat. exp. (Versailles, 2010-2011), Paris, Meeting of National Museums / Versailles, Palace of Versailles, 2010.

To cite this article

Stéphane BLOND, " Louis XV child receiving a lesson »


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