The death of Louis XIV

The death of Louis XIV

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Title: The Chamber of the Death of Louis XIV King of France who died in Versailles on September 1, 1715.

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : after 1715

Date shown: between September 2 and 10, 1715

Dimensions: Height 28.9 cm - Width 38.2 cm

Technique and other indications: print

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Picture reference: 95-010422 / INV.GRAV 209

The Chamber of the Death of Louis XIV King of France who died in Versailles on September 1, 1715.

© RMN - Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: September 2015

University of Evry-Val d'Essonne

Historical context

The long agony of the Sun King

In the heart of the summer of 1715, Louis XIV was approaching his 77th birthday. On August 14, he felt a great state of fatigue and the Marquis de Dangeau (1638-1720) spoke of his exhaustion: “It appeared to me while undressing a dead man. It seemed, seeing her naked body, that it had melted its flesh. "

Georges Mareschal (1658-1736), the King's first surgeon since 1703, and Guy-Crescent Fagon (1638-1718), the King's first doctor from 1693, struggled to establish a diagnosis, considering that it was about sciatica or bad erysipelas (skin infection) due to redness in the legs. On August 24, the Duke of Saint-Simon (1675-1755) observed that "his leg was visited, where black marks appeared": gangrene was diagnosed. The king is lost! He remains bedridden, dying. Louis XIV died on the 1er September 1715 at 8:15 a.m.

This engraving, without name of author or engraver and without indication of publication, belongs to the series of objects (medals, paintings, prints…) commemorating the death of the king. Indeed, Louis XIV died in the room installed since 1701 in the center of the first floor of the palace, facing the rising sun, while the engraving represents the salon of Mercury. It is a crowned coffin that is on display, not the "physical" body of the king. This approach breaks with the tradition which consists in exhibiting a wax effigy of the sovereign, incarnating the “mystical” body, the one who never dies.

Image Analysis

Farewell to the Most Christian King

The burial chamber is installed in the salon of Mercury, also called bedroom of the bed because it served as a chamber of parade and audience. It is located in the heart of the King's Grand Apartment, a row of seven lounges whose names refer to the planets of the solar system. From September 3, members of the royal family, the great of the kingdom and diplomats can pay their respects. The engraving illustrates this homage and the decor of the Mercure salon, even if certain elements are neglected, such as the arches painted by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne (1631-1681).

The decor is sumptuous, with a duchess bed adorned with black velvet and white satin facings, covered with ermines and fleur-de-lis. Two altars are placed on either side of the bed, "one for saying the five great requiem masses in music and the other for the hundred masses of the oratory, vespers and divine office", with the coat of arms of France and important liturgical furniture: canopy, candelabra, candles, crucifix, holy water font… The divine service and the funeral vigil are provided by the King's chaplains and leafy monks present to the right of the bed.

The people represented belong to the Civil House of the King, which brings together several departments headed by senior officers. Seven gentlemen of the House are seated, clad in hooded robes like the four servants by the window. Pages, young nobles attached to the service of the King, remain standing, not far from the Swiss guards equipped with a halberd. They are stationed in Apollo's living room, transformed into an anteroom. The high dignitaries, in mourning attire, march past the bed to sprinkle the coffin. They are greeted by a chaplain and a herald of arms, who present the pane of holy water and the bottle brush.

Interpretation

The Ceremonial of Death

The day after the king's death, on September 2, 1715, the succession opened to the Parliament of Paris. Duke Philippe d´Orléans (1674-1723), nephew of Louis XIV, was declared regent of France during the minority of the young Louis XV, great-grandson of the late king. The first councils are held in Versailles from September 3.

The king's body is autopsied. This is done in the Oeil de Boeuf anteroom, which adjoins the King's bedroom. The minutes confirm that "the exterior of the left side was found gangrenous from the tip of the foot to the top of the head." Doctors and surgeons then perform the evisceration prior to embalming. The remains are placed in a lead coffin, which in turn is slipped into an oak coffin.

On September 4, the bowels of the sovereign are deposited in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Two days later, Cardinal de Rohan transports his heart to the Grande Galerie of the Jesuit Church, rue Saint-Antoine in Paris. On September 9, the young Louis XV left Versailles for Vincennes. In the evening, the funeral convoy accompanies the coffin of his great-grandfather to the basilica of Saint-Denis.

  • Louis XIV
  • Versailles

Bibliography

ASSAF Francis B., The Death of the King: a thanatography of Louis XIV, Tübingen, Gunter Narr, coll. “Biblio 17” (no 112), 1999.BLUCHE François, Louis XIV, Paris, Fayard, coll. "Pluriel" (no 8510), 1986.CHALINE Olivier, The Year of the Four Dolphins, Paris, Flammarion, coll. "Over the course of history", 2009.CHROŚCICKI Juliusz A., HENGERER Mark, SABATIER Gérard (dir.), Princely Funerals in Europe (16th-18th century), Rennes, University Press of Rennes / Versailles, Research Center of the Palace of Versailles, coll. "Aulica", 2012-2015, 3 vol.CORNETTE Joël, The Death of Louis XIV: apogee and twilight of royalty (September 1, 1715), Paris, Gallimard, coll. “The Days that Made France”, 2015. KANTOROWICZ Ernst Hartwig, The King's Two Bodies: An Essay on Political Theology in the Middle Ages, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Library of stories", 1989. PEREZ Stanis (dir.), Louis XIV's health diary, Grenoble, Jérôme Millon, coll. “Memories of the Body”, 2004.PEREZ Stanis, The Health of Louis XIV: a biohistory of the Sun King, Seyssel, Champ Vallon, coll. “Époques”, 2007.PETITFILS Jean-Christian, “The great sunset: September 1, 1715”, in GUENIFFEY Patrice (dir.), The Last Days of the Kings: from Charlemagne to Napoleon III, Paris, Perrin / Le Figaro histoire, 2014 PETITFILS Jean-Christian (dir.), The Century of Louis XIV, Paris, Perrin / Le Figaro histoire, 2015.RICHARD Vivien, "The death of the prince", in MORELON Dominique, Chronicles of the ephemeral: the festive book in the Jacques Doucet collection, cat. exp. (Paris, 2010), Paris, National Institute of Art History, 2010.

To cite this article

Stéphane BLOND, "The death of Louis XIV"


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