Louis XIII Comes of Age hangs at the Louvre. It is one of 21 paintings called the Medici Cycle, which dramatize the life of Marie d’Medici, wife of Henri IV, and mother of Louis XVIII. All of the paintings, along with three portraits, hang in a single enormous room, the Rubens Room. This painting is 13 feet tall and 10 feet wide, every single inch bursting with energy, and many of them bursting with flesh, just like the other 20.

Marie d’Medici, 1575-1642, was the daughter of Francesco I de’Medici, a descendant of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The family had fallen in intellect from that height, and Marie didn’t raise it. Henri IV got an annulment of his first marriage, which was childless, and he needed an heir. The marriage to Marie, typically for that era, was based on political utility. Henri was mostly interested in war, politics and his mistresses; in fact, Marie’s introduction was delayed several days while he visited his mistresses, one of whom was Gabrielle d’Estree, on the right on this NSFW painting. Their relationship was stormy, but she did produce a son before Henri met his end in 1610 at the hands of a Catholic fanatic. Marie was appointed regent, a position she held four years, when Louis XIII attained his majority at thirteen. This painting depicts the Marie’s turnover of the government to her son.

The painting is allegorical, like most of the paintings in the Medici Cycle. Louis has his hand on the tiller of the ship of state, while his mother, dressed soberly in this painting, fondly looks on, one hand to her breast in a sort of bow, the other gesturing at the tiller as if offering it to her son. The darkness of their costumes separates them from the light colors and flesh of the other passengers. The other figures represent various virtues and graces; the woman with the orb in her hand is La Belle France herself. Wikipedia gives an excellent description of the entire cycle including the allegories.

In the ocean, we see a dolphin and a red fish swimming in a placid sea. A wind god blows a trumpet in the sky. The oars are worked by topless women, in fact everyone on the boat is a woman except the new king. The boat itself is a work of art, curlicues and other decorations topped by a dragon’s head. The rowers’ expressions range from exertion by the first rower on the left, to a hilarious "I didn’t want to go rowing today, look it’s going to rain" on the right. The ship appears headed from clouds to the light, which probably pleased the King.

The Medici Cycle was a major piece of work for Rubens, many paintings to be done in a short time. He was already a big name, with a big workshop, and the commission from Marie no doubt kept a lot of people working, including his students, who probably painted a good bit of the background of these paintings.

It required a great deal of thought to figure out how to glorify a woman with little grace or intellect and no heroic deeds, and at the same time not aggravate the young king, her son, who didn’t get along with her. This painting represents one of the delicate moments of their relationship. Although the regency was formally terminated, Marie continued to govern until her missteps prompted Louis to take over and exile her. They reconciled six years later, but eventually Louis VIII exiled her permanently.

The grandiosity of the painting is typical Rubens, especially the loving attention to the flesh: his women gave rise to the term Rubenesque. These paintings are wildly over the top for me, so much so that I found myself chuckling and walking along looking for an even greater extravagance. The primary audience, Marie herself, doubtless loved it. Even great artists have to deal with their clients, and this painting shows the skills of Rubens as painter, as diplomat and as a classical scholar, not to mention as a businessman.

Louis XIII Comes of Age hangs at the Louvre. It is one of 21 paintings called the Medici Cycle, which dramatize the life of Marie d’Medici, wife of Henri IV, and mother of Louis XVIII. All of the paintings, along with three portraits, hang in a single enormous room, the Rubens Room. This painting is 13 feet tall and 10 feet wide, every single inch bursting with energy, and many of them bursting with flesh, just like the other 20.

Marie d’Medici, 1575-1642, was the daughter of Francesco I de’Medici, a descendant of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The family had fallen in intellect from that height, and Marie didn’t raise it. Henri IV got an annulment of his first marriage, which was childless, and he needed an heir. The marriage to Marie, typically for that era, was based on political utility. Henri was mostly interested in war, politics and his mistresses; in fact, Marie’s introduction was delayed several days while he visited his mistresses, one of whom was Gabrielle d’Estree, on the right on this NSFW painting. Their relationship was stormy, but she did produce a son before Henri met his end in 1610 at the hands of a Catholic fanatic. Marie was appointed regent, a position she held four years, when Louis XIII attained his majority at thirteen. This painting depicts the Marie’s turnover of the government to her son.

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masaccio

masaccio

I read a lot of books.

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