Exhibition | A Kingdom of Images: French Prints in the Age of Louis XIV

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on June 12, 2015


Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre, Robert Nanteuil after Nicolas Mignard, 1661
(Los Angeles: The Getty, 2010.PR.60)

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Press release (27 May 2015) from The Getty:

A Kingdom of Images: French Prints in the Age of Louis XIV, 1660–1715 
Getty Research Institute, Getty Center, Los Angeles, 16 June — 6 September 2015
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, 2 November 2015 — 31 January 2016

Curated by Louis Marchesano, Christina Aube, Peter Fuhring, Vanessa Selbach, and Rémi Mathis

Louis XIV’s imperialist ambitions manifested themselves in every activity under his dominion, which included the production of etchings and engravings. Fully appreciating the beauty and utility of prints, he and his advisors transformed Paris into the single most important printmaking center in Europe, a position the city maintained until the 20th century. Fueled by official policies intended to elevate the arts and glorify the Sun King, printmakers and print publishers produced hundreds of thousands of works on paper to meet a demand for images that was as insatiable then as it is now.

On view at the Getty Research Institute (GRI) at the Getty Center June 16 through September 6, 2015, A Kingdom of Images: French Prints in the Age of Louis XIV, 1660–1715 was organized by the Getty Research Institute in special collaboration with the Bibliothèque nationale de France. This major exhibition surveys printmaking in the era of Louis XIV and commemorates the 300th anniversary of his death.

“In art history, too often certain media are neglected in favor of what is popular, such as painting and sculpture,” said Thomas W. Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute. “However, the truth is that at a time when France was positioned as the cultural capital of Europe, printmaking asserted itself as a fine art while printmakers successfully inserted themselves into the official art academy that had previously been the stronghold of painters and sculptors. Indeed, our understanding of the history of art and culture in France is a history told in French prints. A Kingdom of Images addresses a significant lacuna in scholarship and shows the rise of French printmaking to be richer and more complex than has been generally recognized.”

Mademoiselle d'Armagnac in a Dressing Gown, Antoine Trouvain, 1695. Lent by the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Estampes et de la Photographie. Photo credit: BnF

Mademoiselle d’Armagnac in a Dressing Gown, Antoine Trouvain, 1695 (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Estampes et de la Photographie)

A Kingdom of Images features nearly 100 works produced during the golden age of French printmaking—from grand royal portraits to satiric views of everyday life, and from small-scale ornamental designs to unusually large, multi-sheet panoramas of royal buildings. The exhibition was curated by Louis Marchesano, curator of prints and drawings at the GRI; Christina Aube, curatorial assistant at the GRI; prints specialist Peter Fuhring of the Fondation Custodia in Paris; and Vanessa Selbach and Rémi Mathis, curators of seventeenth-century prints at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

“No other medium served the Crown as well as prints,” said Marchesano. “Through prints, allies and enemies alike bore witness to the refinement of French technical skill, aesthetics, and taste. They not only learned about Louis XIV, they also saw that French fashion, design, and inventiveness had outmatched the rest of Europe. One of the reasons that this period has not been the subject of a large exhibition is that curators and scholars dismissed many of the prints as propaganda, the kind of over-the-top imagery in which the king appears, for example, as a mythological figure or a Roman emperor. While I do not disagree with the ‘propaganda’ label, I would urge viewers to consider the sophistication of both the message and the way that message is delivered. Also, I would argue that we need to think of propaganda in a wider sense. Remember, Louis XIV wanted to demonstrate to the world that France was the new cultural capital and in this respect it was under his reign that prints accomplished two goals. First, as works of art they attained unparalleled artistic sophistication and influence, which we can see for example in the portraits by Robert Nanteuil; and second, they carried a message that the rest of Europe came to envy: France was the center of fashion, design, and elegance.”

The works on display include fashion prints, portraits, religious and moralizing images, maps and views, and works depicting the fine and decorative arts, architecture, and lavish festivals. The first section of the exhibition, ‘Glory of the King’, contains one of the most exquisite portraits of Louis XIV ever created (Nanteuil’s engraving of 1676), along with huge illustrated calendars showing the king in various guises. In one he is a heroic warrior, and in another, an elegant dancer in exquisite garb.

The ‘Fashion’ section contains marvelous works of the greatest rarity, including a pair of figures whose engraved clothing has been replaced with real fabric from the late 1600s. These are commonly referred to as ‘dressed prints’. Images of design and style are not strictly limited to this section, but can be seen throughout the entire exhibition.

The section devoted to architecture highlights Louis XIV’s greatest building programs: the Louvre, the church of the Invalides, and the palace and gardens of Versailles. The megalomaniacal impetus behind the construction of these buildings also informed the unusual monumentality of the prints that represented them; these works were produced by the best printmakers of the day: Etienne Baudet, Antoine Coquart, Pierre Lepautre, and Jean Marot.

For Louis XIV, festivals were one way in which to keep the aristocracy entertained and in line. Festivals had to impress and overwhelm audiences and those organized by the Crown were so costly that they sometimes threatened the budget of the government. The illustrated books designed to record those events, several of which are on display in the ‘Festivals and Events’ section, were made with the highest production values. A notable example is The Pleasures of the Enchanted Island, a publication featuring the etchings of Jean Lepautre, whose work allowed the world to witness the perpetual entertainments of a mythological realm ruled by a benevolent king.

A Kingdom of Images is one four exhibitions across the Getty that mark the 300th anniversary of the death of Louis XIV.
• Coinciding with A Kingdom of Images, the exhibition Louis XIV at the Getty at the J. Paul Getty Museum June 9, 2015 to July 31, 2016 is a special installation in the Museum’s South Pavilion that will focus attention on a variety of extraordinary pieces in the Getty’s collection made during Louis’s lifetime when France became the leading producer of the luxury arts in Europe.
Louis Style: French Frames, 1610–1792 on view at the Getty Museum September 15, 2015 – January 3, 2016 will draw on the Museum’s large collection of French frames, Louis Style presents a survey of the exquisite carved and gilded frames produced during the reigns of four French kings.
Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV, exclusively on view at the Getty Museum December 15, 2015 through May 1, 2016, will be the first major museum exhibition of tapestries in the Western United States in four decades. The exhibition will feature 15 larger-than-life tapestries ranging in date from about 1540 to 1715 and created in weaving workshops across northern Europe. In an exclusive loan from the French nation, most of the tapestries are from the collection of the Mobilier National, which preserves the former royal collection.

Louis XIV Online
Starting May 30, curators and other experts will be blogging regularly about the exhibition and related themes on The Getty Iris under the series title Louis XIV at the Getty. Audiences can join the conversation about the Sun King and his artistic legacy on @thegetty Twitter with the weekly series #SunKingSunday.

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From The Getty Store:

Peter Fuhring, Louis Marchesano, Rémi Mathis, and Vanessa Selbach, eds., A Kingdom of Images: French Prints in the Age of Louis XIV, 1660–1715 (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2015), 344 pages, 
ISBN: 978-1606064504, $80.

9781606064504_grandeOnce considered the golden age of French printmaking, Louis XIV’s reign saw Paris become a powerhouse of print production. During this time, the king aimed to make fine and decorative arts into signs of French taste and skill and, by extension, into markers of his imperialist glory. Prints were ideal for achieving these goals; reproducible and transportable, they fueled the sophisticated propaganda machine circulating images of Louis as both a man of war and a man of culture.

This richly illustrated catalogue features more than one hundred prints from the Getty Research Institute and the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, whose print collection Louis XIV established in 1667. An esteemed international group of contributors investigates the ways that cultural policies affected printmaking; explains what constitutes a print; describes how one became a printmaker; studies how prints were collected; and considers their reception in the ensuing centuries.

A Kingdom of Images is published to coincide with an exhibition on view at the Getty Research Institute from June 18 through September 6, 2015, and at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris from November 2, 2015, through January 31, 2016 (Images du Grand Siècle, l’estampe française au temps de Louis XIV, 1660–1715).

Peter Fuhring works at the Fondation Custodia, Paris, where he is in charge of Frits Lugt’s Marques de collections de dessins & d’estampes. Louis Marchesano is curator of prints and drawings at the Getty Research Institute. Rèmi Mathis and Vanessa Selbach are curators of seventeenth-century prints in the dèpartement des Estampes et de la Photographie at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, where Vanessa Selbach is also head of the Rèserve and old master prints service.


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