Title: Allegory of the Treaty of Nijmegen
Date shown: August 10, 1678
Dimensions: Height 175 cm - Width 121 cm
Technique and other indications: Interview of Louis XIV and Charles II of Spain, sealing their alliance under the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website
Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Daniel Arnaude
Picture reference: 83-000509 / MV3438
Allegory of the Treaty of Nijmegen
© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Daniel Arnaude
Publication date: June 2017
Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director
The anonymous and allegorical painting of the Peace of Nijmegen is representative of the way in which the king and his entourage wanted to consider and celebrate this event, reducing it to an Iberian-French dynastic antagonism, although the main adversary of Louis XIV remained during all the United Provinces war. The King of Spain Charles II (1661-1700), of sickly complexion and without descendants, was indeed the first cousin of the King of France (1638-1715) and above all the brother of Queen Marie-Thérèse, whom Louis XIV wanted preserve inheritance rights to the crown of Spain. Even if we do not know the exact date of realization of this large canvas, as well as its sponsor, we can conjecture that for the anonymous painter it was a question of being part of the double celebration of peace and the Louis-Quatorz monarchy. , despite its Flemish artistic quality.
The peace of Nijmegen is actually in three peace treaties signed between France and each of the European powers at war against the Bourbon monarchy, namely Holland (August 10, 1678), Spain (September 17, 1678) and the Empire (February 5, 1679). Peace is obtained under the conditions desired by Louis XIV, at the end of a war which has lasted since 1672 and which allows the King of France to cede certain conquered places against the conservation of Franche-Comté and a series of towns which the northern and eastern border of the kingdom more easily defended.
The Dutch War pitted France and its allies (England, Sweden and some German towns and principalities) against a European coalition made up of Spain, the United Provinces, the Holy Roman Empire and Brandenburg. The Peace of Nijmegen therefore appears to many contemporaries as good news, even if it bears witness to a French Pyrrhic victory, so much did the Bourbon monarchy have to deploy resources for a relatively weak comparative advantage.
Two unequal kings
Two monarchs in unequal positions face each other and occupy the scenic space. On the right, therefore in a better symbolic position, Louis XIV towers a good head over young Charles II (he is seventeen years old), who appears to be puny and not daring to look up at his cousin's face. Louis XIV, with a brighter complexion, is encamped in a more active attitude than that of the King of Spain: it is he who grasps the latter's hand and imposes his rhythm on it.
Everything therefore signifies the domination of France over Spain, even if the adornments of Habsburg sovereignty are pictorially preserved. The structure of the painting seems symmetrical: the two monarchs both appear as kings of war in armor and flanked by a sword ranged in the scabbard, as eminent lords of their country symbolized by the fleurs-de-lis on the azure field of the coat filled with ermine, which by the imperial eagle and the Castilian castles on a red field, as leaders of their nobility that the orders of the Holy Spirit and the Golden Fleece have helped to enhance. However, this effect of symmetry is misleading and the difference in size between the two kings, just like the intrusion of the hand and the foot of Louis XIV in the half of the table occupied by Charles II, come to signify the superiority of France on Spain. Peace - dove suspended and exhaling a divine breath, Holy Spirit made sensitive in the tear of the cloud cover - sanctifies the scene of reconciliation, desired by Louis XIV and accepted by Charles II, without Spanish expression of a will of its own. The unreality of the event is underlined by the theatrical setting, curtains stretched in the colors of the two sovereigns and leaving, by an explicit juxtaposition effect, an opening from which both the sun and the dove shine.
The spectator of this double full-length royal portrait is therefore witness to a scene which did not take place - the two kings did not physically meet -, but which signifies an event considered to be the hour of glory of the reign of Louis XIV, an hour of glory blessed by the divine anointing because consecrated by the Holy Spirit, an hour of glory reduced here to the antagonism between the two powers who shared a hegemonic position on continental Europe until in 1678, namely France and Spain.
The glorious war king in peace
In a play in verse from 1678 [To the King, on the peace of 1678, s.l.n.d.], Pierre Corneille describes the mechanisms leading to the peace of Nijmegen and states the royal grandeur heralding the found prosperity for the kingdom and for Europe. From the beginning of his poem, he insists on the sovereign magnanimity and omnipotence of Louis XIV, thus sketching out a kind of explanation of the painter's intention of the allegory of the peace of Nijmegen:
"It was not enough, great King, that the victory
To follow you everywhere is his highest glory:
To close these great events, it was necessary
May peace be ready for your commandments.
Barely do you speak than his obedience
Convince the whole universe of your omnipotence,
And subjects him so well to whatever you please,
May at the height of the storm a calm rebirth. "
Corneille, like the anonymous painter of this canvas, therefore participates in the concert of praise which accompanies the peace of Nijmegen, considered a great French victory, and to which Boileau and Racine, historiographers of the king who accompanied Louis XIV in the last campaign of the Dutch war. The medals struck during the royal victories, the Te Deum sung all over France and the images of the victorious war king who had become voluntarily a giver of peace, the regnicoles were invited to an “unprecedented enterprise of glorification” (J. Cornette). The Peace of Nijmegen causes the modification of the program of the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles: the abandonment of the iconographic cycle that Charles Le Brun was to devote to Apollo and Hercules in favor of a pictorial apology for the royal victories since 1661, and especially from the War of Devolution to that of Holland, actually dates from the autumn of 1678 or the beginning of the year 1679. The history of Louis XIV - "Louis the Great" since the campaigns of Holland - is now sufficient to itself, without resorting to mythological parallels, to signify the immeasurable glory of the King of France. This is how the last painting on the gallery ceiling, before entering the Peace Room, precisely represents the peace of Nijmegen.
However, behind the cliché of the glorious king and master of himself and of the universe, it is a kingdom at the end of financial strength and riddled with popular discontent that looms, just as the length of the war (1672 to 1678) testifies. of the difficulty that France had in defeating its “little” neighbor to the north supported by a European coalition - all of which is concealed by royal encomiastics.
In this context, the allegory of the peace of Nijmegen painted here appears as original by its confrontation between the two sovereigns, by the choice of an allegory in the form of a meeting between two real people - which is inspired by the memory of the meeting between Louis XIV and Philippe IV in 1659. On the other hand, it remains representative of the king's capacity to embody the whole of France, from the reduction of the kingdom to its king.
- Louis XIV
- absolute monarchy
- Crow (Pierre)
- United Provinces
- Maria Theresa of Austria
- Holland War
- Holy Empire
- Philip IV of Spain
- Boileau (Nicolas)
- Racine (Jean)
- the Brown (Charles)
Lucien BELY, International Relations in Europe, 17th-18th centuries, PUF, 1998.
Joël CORNETTE, The King of War. Essay on Sovereignty in Grand Siècle France, Payot and Rivages, 1993.
Joël CORNETTE, Chronicle of the reign of Louis XIV. From the end of the Fronde to the dawn of the Enlightenment, SEDES, 1997.
Nicolas MILOVANOVIC and Alexandre MARAL (dir.), Louis XIV. The man and the king, catalog of the exhibition presented at the Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon in 2009-2010, Skira Flammarion and Château de Versailles, 2009.
To cite this article
Jean HUBAC, "The Treaty of Nijmegen"