In a rich house of a gentleman from Perpignan, the old Roussillois painter Guerra painted the wall of a terrace. Behind him, a child followed with all his eyes the work of the artist. He was absent for a moment, the child grabbed the pencils and the next wall began to draw with ardor. The Count of Ros, the owner of the hotel, came in the meanwhile, became very angry and called his people to punish the culprit. But Guerra, back, examined the tests of the child and remained amazed: “Leave it,” he said to the count, “this drawing is very good and I will follow it.”
The child whose vocation manifested itself so spontaneously was called Hyacinthe Rigaud. After a few years of study, he came to Paris, took up the Prix de Rome with a great struggle, conquered the all-powerful Le Brun, and became, from one day to the next, the favorite painter of princes and kings.
We will not give here the list of all those of whom he made the portrait; it would be necessary to quote all that the Court and the city possessed of illustrious in the XVIIe century: the painters, the sculptors, the writers, the high clergy, the statesmen, the dukes and peers, all paraded in his workshop. Then, his reputation growing, he was called to paint the grandson of the king, who would become King of Spain under the name of Philip V. Louis XIV was so pleased with this portrait that he wanted to be painted by Rigaud.
Rigaud, with his sumptuous and noble manner, was well suited to paint the Great King. Painter and model had an equal love of pomp and decoration. It is therefore in the pomp of the royal attributes that the majestic monarch is represented. He stands before his throne surmounted by a canopy of red velvet held by gold strainers; a magnificent carpet of the same color covers the steps of the throne. At the time when this portrait is executed, the king is already old, he is sixty-three years old; but, in spite of the attacks of age, his face has lost none of its nobility and its regular beauty. Camped very straight under the heavy wig, the head retains its air of domination and the eye that acuity of which the monarch knew so well how to correct the brilliance, when he wanted it, by an expression of gracious affability. But at this moment he is in all the majesty of his sovereign function. On his shoulders is attached the sumptuous royal coat, blue strewn with fleurs-de-lis of gold and lined with ermine, which envelops him and falls in large folds to the throne placed behind. A crop of fine lace spreads under the king’s chin and reveals the cross of the Holy Spirit, supported by a large gold necklace. The outstretched right hand holds the scepter, which rests on a cushion of velvet blue fleur-de-lis on which also rests the royal crown, the most glorious in the world. The left hand, resting on the hip, lifts the ceremonial coat, and exposes the golden sheath sword studded with gems and legs thin and nervous, trapped in a white satin jersey. The feet are shod with white silk shoes, placed on the broad red heels worn at that time by the courtiers.
From this portrait emerges an impression of sovereign majesty and, if the effigy of the monarch was not known, one would guess no less that one is in the presence of the Great King. Everything is magnificently translated in this portrait: the famous distinction of the character, the intelligence of this king who brought to business such an astonishing application that he kept to his last days.
Louis XIV had ordered this portrait to Rigaud to send it to his grandson, who had become king of Spain; but he was so delighted that he kept it at Versailles and placed it in the throne room; the painter executed a copy which was sent to Madrid.
Rigaud can be considered one of the greatest portrait painters of all time. If he likes to surround his models of sumptuous accessories and if he likes to paint these accessories, it is never at the expense of the model itself. No one was more than he, anxious for truth. He usually executed the heads separately on small canvases and when he was satisfied with their expression and character, he adjusted them on the board instead of them.
Because of this concern for truth, he loved to paint women, who were always inclined to complain that the painter was disfiguring them. One of them, very painted and posing in her studio, reproached him one day that he did not use enough beautiful colors. madame, “replied Rigaud, in a good humor,” it is the same merchant who sells them to us!”
His ease was proverbial. Saint-Simon tells how he remembered the portrait of the Abbe de Rance after an interview he had with the famous reformer of La Trappe. And this portrait, according to the contemporaries, was admirable of resemblance. It is dated by the painter, 1701.
Rigaud was ennobled by Louis XIV. Louis XV continued his favor, made him Chevalier de Saint-Michel, and told him the news in an autograph letter “for having had the honor of painting the Royal House until the fourth generation.”
Height: 2.76 – Width: 1.06 – Life-size figure.