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Louis XIV receiving Louis II of Bourbon, known as the Grand Condé, in Versailles after the battle of Senef
© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot
Publication date: December 2019
University of Evry-Val d'Essonne
Glory by arms
Charles Doërr (1815-1894) was a pupil of Léon Cogniet, painter of historical scenes whose influence is undeniable in this painting presented at the Salon of French artists in 1857. The art critic Louis Auvray, secretary-administrator of the Central Committee of Artists, maintains a catalog of works which evokes the fashion perpetuated in historical painting during the Salon of 1857, but it does not cite the painting by Doërr, whose notoriety is late.
Traditionally, history painting is then oriented towards official buyers, which confirms Catherine Granger, who identifies the Return of the Grand Condé in the civil list of Napoleon III. Twenty years later, the painting is attested in the apartment of the Quaestor of the Senate installed in Versailles, which supports the thesis of a purchase for this institution.
The artist takes as his subject of study the commemoration of an emblematic battle of the beginning of the personal reign of Louis XIV. The French army was led by Louis II de Bourbon-Condé (1621-1686), known as Le Grand Condé, a formidable strategist honored in this painting.
A warlord received as a hero
The scene represents the reception of the victorious chief by the Court of the King of France, in residence at Versailles, while the palace is under construction. The artist commits an anachronism in the treatment of the scene which he places in the staircase which leads to the Large Apartment of the Queen, whereas this one is not completed until 1680. In 1878, the painter Jean- Léon Gérôme reproduces the same scene, but takes the Ambassadors' staircase as a frame. The latter hosts receptions and leads to the King's Grand Apartment where the kingdom's major events are held. This staircase was destroyed in the middle of the 18th century.e century, but since the Queen's Staircase has seen few changes since the reign of Louis XIV, the artist probably prefers it as a model, especially when going there to create his composition.
The Grand Condé, a character whose military glory was born with the victory of Rocroi in 1643, presented himself with respect before the sovereign. Exhausted by gout, he leans on his cane and slowly makes his way to the landing where the royal family is standing, with the king, queen and the 13-year-old dolphin. The artist stands at the heart of the event, in a corner of the stairwell, in order to offer a wider view, despite a smaller work. The play of light and the different shots focus the spectator's gaze towards the center of the canvas, while the characters have eyes and admiration only for the warlord, like the king who holds out his arm left to greet him. Within the variegated decoration of the marbles, the courtiers are adorned with luxurious and colorful clothes which make the Court of Louis XIV a model of dress for all the nobility. The writer Jules Verne was seduced by this staging: “The color of this canvas has a singular harshness that we must not complain too much about, because it causes a marvelous shine and shows all the opulence of Mr. Charles Doërr. The military commander presents himself in armor, as if arriving from the battlefield, as the reception takes place in November, two months after the clash of arms.
An emperor worthy of the war king
Despite a composition imbued with empathy, it is the warlike policies of Louis XIV that Charles Doërr puts forward, in particular the stature of the victorious king. Like the crossing of the Rhine, Seneffe became a subject of propaganda in the weeks following the battle, a logic that continued in the middle of the 19th century.e century when the artist seeks an emblematic subject of the Grand Siècle. The sovereign receives the first prince of the blood, whose loyalty was tested when he took the head of the Princes' Fronde against the troops of his royal cousin. In his historicizing work, the artist evokes the forgiveness of the King of France, able to properly honor a military leader with a highly symbolic ceremony.
On the ground, the military situation is much more contrasted than the artistic message conveyed. If the French soldiers, clearly outnumbered, repel the assaults of the allies, the human losses are such that the idea of victory is dismissed. Lonely on the international scene in 1674, France managed to avert the invasion of the kingdom thanks to the strategic action of one man. Nevertheless, the prince is placed slightly below in relation to the sovereign, in order to demonstrate that only the king, head of the armies, collects the laurels of victory. The armored chief is followed by his comrades in arms who carry the flags taken from the enemy.
Almost two centuries after the battle, the acquisition of the work by Napoleon III revealed the links between power and artists, under the leadership of Emilien de Nieuwerkerke, director of the Museums of France and intendant of fine arts of the House of the Emperor. This support reflects the aesthetic and historical choices of the Emperor, with a canvas that places the politics of the moment in line with that of the great rulers of the Ancien Régime. Credited with a large victory in the legislative elections of 1857, a year after the end of the Crimean War and the defeat of Russia, the subject chosen by Charles Doërr flatters the Emperor's taste for paintings of military history. By proxy, they also make him a warlord worthy of his prestigious predecessors. Since 2010, the canvas has joined the north wing of the Ministers of the Palace of Versailles.
- history painting
- Napoleon III
- Louis XIV
- Holland War
- United Provinces
- Grand Condé
- Maria Theresa of Austria
- monarchical court
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To cite this article
Stéphane BLOND, "Louis XIV receives the Grand Condé in the grand staircase of Versailles after his victory at Seneffe in 1674"