Portrait Bust of Louis XIV

Gianlorenzo Bernini

"The supreme Baroque image of princely apotheosis"

This quote from John Rupert Martin's Baroque (142) encapsulates Bernini's conception--a portrait not of a mere man but a symbol of a divinely ordained, absolutist monarch. As a likeness, it was not very accurate since Louis had small eyes and a low forehead but as a symbolic representation, the noble forehead, the contrapposto turn of the head, the upward gaze--all give a sense of authority and grandeur. According to Howard Hibbard, Bernini's portrait bust of Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena and this heroic bust "set the standard for monarchical portraiture up to the time of the French Revolution" (126-8).
Bernini had some concerns about doing portrait sculpture since he felt that marble was unnatural--too white, and when he did execute portraits, his methods were eccentric. He preferred to sketch his subject in motion, engaged in daily activities. For the thirteen actual sittings for this portrait (about an hour each), he "worked directly on the marble, a practice few sculptors would dare imitate. The last things he carved were the pupils of the eyes. When the bust was finished he marked the blank eyeballs with charcoal to achieve the effect of light reflecting from the centre of the pupil. He then chiselled out the places he had marked so that the darkness of the charcoal was replaced by shadow" (Hibbard 177).
Louis wears a wig, armor (the plates are seen on his right arm), a lace (or brocade) cravat, and billowing drapery.

Works Consulted or Quoted:
Howard Hibbard. Bernini. New York: Penguin, 1965.
John Rupert Martin. Baroque. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

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© 2007 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.