Louis XI, King of France (1423 – 1483)

Jacob de Litemont
circa 1475

Louis XI, King of France (1423 – 1483)

Painted 1470

Oil on panel: 14 5/8 x 8 7/8 inches, 36.5 x 22.2 cm

Provenance

  • Said to have been presented by Louis XI (the sitter) to his maître d'hôtel, Rigauld d'Aureille (or Rigault d’Oureille), Seigneur and Baron de Villeneuve (1455-1517), Château de Villeneuvre-Lembron (Puy de-Dôme), Auvergne;
  • and by descent to his son,
  • Maximilien d'Aureille (d. 1572); and by descent to
  • N*** d'Aureille and sold along with the Château de Villeneuve-Lembron to Isaac Dufour (d. 1655), treasurer of France; and by descent to his son Lieutenant-General David Dufour (d. c. 1716); and by descent to
  • Jean Dufour (d. 1753); and by descent to
  • Jean-François Dufour de Villeneuve (d. 1781); and by descent to
  • Jean-Baptiste Claude Dufour de Villeneuve, who d. without issue in 1797;
  • and by descent to his sister
  • Catherine-Elisabeth Dufour de Villeneuve (d. 1814) who married
  • Michel Pellissier de Féligonde; and by descent to their son
  • Michel Pellissier de Féligonde, deputé du Puy-du-Dôme; and by descent to Jacques-Michel Pellissier de Féligonde, advisor to the Court at Riom (who wrote the an inscription on the reverse of the panel;
  • Passion collection;
  • with Wildenstein, from circa 1935 until at least 1963;
  • Private collection USA.

Literature

  • G. Ruprich-Robert, ‘Rigault d'Oureille, Sénéchal de Gascogne et de l'Agenais, et son château de Villeneuve-Lembron’, in L'Auvergne Littéraire, Artistique et Historique, 2ème cahier, 1935.
  • F. Mercier, Le Portrait de Louis XI de Villeneuve-Lembron, Paris, n.d., pp. 3-6.
  • Five Centuries of History Mirrored in Five Centuries of French Art, exhibition catalogue, New York, World's Fair (Pavillon de la France), 1939, cat. no. 36, reproduced plate VIII (as Jean Fouquet).
  • G. Wildenstein, ‘Cinq siècles d'art français’, in La Renaissance, XX II, May 1939, pp.14 and 18, reproduced (as Jean Fouquet).
  • A. Frankfurter, ‘The French Tradition: Festival Show’, in Art News, vol. XXXVII, 10 June 1939, p. 14.
  • M. Vaughan, ‘Eight Exhibitions: Wildenstein & Company’, in Parnassus, XI, no. 6, October 1939, p. 21, reproduced pp.16 & 20 (as Jean Fouquet).
  • R. Frost, ‘Fashion in Headdress’, in Art News, XLII, 15-31 May, 1943, p. 9, reproduced (as Jean Fouquet, and dated to 1472).
  • Town and Country, July 1947, reproduced (colour).
  • O.K Bach, ‘Art of the Middle Ages’, in Denver Art Museum Quarterly, Winter 1950, reproduced p. 10.
  • The Painter as Historian, exhibition catalogue, New York, Wildenstein, 15 November - 31 December 1962, cat. no. 22, reproduced p. 49.
  • ‘Amerika, Austellungen Ausserhalb New York City’, in Pantheon, XXI, no. 1, January - February 1963, p. 53 (as French School, 15th Century).
  • L.B. Smith, The Horizon Book of the Elizabethan World, New York 1967, reproduced in colour on p. 26 (as attributed to Fouquet).
  • P.M. Kendall, Warwick the Kingmaker, New York 1968, reproduced in the plate between pp. 206 and 207.
  • E. Le Roy Ladurie, L'État Royal de Louis XI à Henri IV, 1460-1610, Paris 1987, a detail reproduced in colour on the dust jacket.
  • C. Gauvard, ed., Il était une fois la France: vingt siècles d'histoire, Paris, Brussels, Montreal and Zurich 1987, pp. 114-115, a detail reproduced in colour on p.114.
  • C. Weightman, Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, 1446-1503, Gloucester and New York 1989, reproduced p.32.

Exhibitions

  • New York, World's Fair (Pavillon de la France), Five Centuries of History Mirrored in Five Centuries of French Art, 1939, no. 36 (as Jean Fouquet).
  • New York, Wildenstein, The Great Tradition of French Painting , June - October 1939, no. 4.
  • New York, Wildenstein, Fashion in Headdress, 27 April - 27 May 1943, no. 4.
  • New York, Wildenstein, French Art Benefit for American Aid to France, December 1946.
  • Denver, The Denver Art Museum, Art of the Middle Ages, 10 December 1950 - 11 February 1951.
  • São Paulo, Museo de Arte, O retrato na França, January 1952, no. 1.
  • Dallas, Museum of Fine Arts, Six Centuries of Headdress, 3 April - 1 May 1955, no. 1.
  • New York, Wildenstein, The Painter as Historian, 15 November - 31 December 1962, no. 22.

Remarkably, this newly attributed painting is a significant development for French art history as recent scientific analysis[1] and stylistic interpretation has lead to the conclusion that this painting is the only known extant portrait in existence by Jacob de Litemont, an artist at the court of Jean, Duc de Berry and later ‘peintre du roi’ to King Charles VII from 1451, then to Louis XI until 1474.[2] During this time he produced paintings, wall murals and banners for the royal court as well as designs for stained glass and tapestries. Little is known of Jacob de Litemont, whose name suggest a south Netherlandish origin, but he was probably the same person as the “king’s painter” Jacob, mentioned in an inventory of the King’s financier, Jacques Coeur.[3] He died presumably in 1475, since it is at this time that Jean Fouquet (c.1420–1481), formally apprenticed in the Bourges workshops of Jacob de Litemont, succeeded him as ‘peintre du roi’.

Our portrait has traditionally been attributed to Jean Fouquet, however, since no document recording the commissioning of a portrait of Louis XI by Fouquet survives, and academic opinion no longer supports this attribution, it seems more credible that, given the dating of this painting, the artist must have been Jacob de Litemont, the peintre du roi in the service of Louis XI, who had access and the resources necessary – almost certainly model books and portrait drawings – to produce a living likeness of Louis XI. Indeed, recent academic research has begun to distinguish art from this region of the Val de Loire as unique to this area of France[4] and as more evidence emerges from on-going research, a deeper understanding of the artists working in the vicinity of Tours during the fifteenth century is emerging.[5] Although to date there are no documented preserved paintings by Litemont, three documented works have survived: the ceiling of the chapel in the house of Jacques Coeur, Bourges; the stained glass window of the Annunciation in Bourges Cathedral; and most recently the Charles VII’s Canopy, Musée du Louvre, Paris, a 15th century tapestry attributed to Jacob de Litemont. Therefore, our painting is an important addition to the small but growing oeuvre of this ‘peintre du roi’.[6]

In exceptional state of preservation, this strikingly bold profile portrait of the great Valois king, Louis XI, is one of only three known likenesses created during his lifetime – indeed it is the only known ad vivum portrait to survive in oil.[7] Given that Louis is shown wearing the chivalric Order of Saint Michel, which he founded in August 1469, the portrait must date from that time or soon after, when the king was aged forty-six or forty-seven.[8] Scholars argue that although other portraits of the king must have existed, they are now lost: much early French art suffered in the iconoclastic movements that followed.[9] Due to the scarcity of surviving portraits of the king, our painting has come to define the image of Louis XI and although numerous other copies and versions are known, none of them are contemporary. Technical analysis of the panel proves incontrovertibly that it was painted during the king's lifetime,[10] and we can therefore assume it is very likely the prime version from which all other known copies derive.

Louis is presented in profile facing right, his features in stark relief against a dark background. Plainly but regally dressed in a rich red velvet, he is depicted not as the successful military leader who at the beginning of his reign fought to unite the kingdoms of France, but as a prince worn with years.[11] Wrinkles have marked his features and hardened his expression. The lower part of his face is heavy, and his eyes are baggy. The prominent aquiline nose, his slightly pinched mouth and the peculiar formation of the join between the bridge of the nose and his eyebrows are all characteristic of Louis XI’s features. Devoid of flattery, the simplicity and deliberate harshness of this portrait are true to the traditions of French painters at that time, ‘whose habit was to depict their sovereigns not with pomp and a display of attributes but with a disarming and intimate sincerity’.[12]

Considered one of the first modern kings of France, Louis XI reigned for twenty-two years, forging a strong and united country, and taking France out of the medieval feudal system.[13] Through war, political expediency and at times sheer guile and cunning, he managed to persuade the English to relinquish their claim to French territory. He also fought internal battles, transforming the governance of France into an organised, centralised monarchy. His reign was characterised by wars and unrelenting political struggle, but the ensuing period of stability that followed these reforms made it possible for trade to prosper and consequently an artistic Renaissance in France to flourish, even though Louis personally had little enthusiasm to commission art. This artistic blossoming was evident not only in the work of Jean Fouquet (1420 – 1481), the preeminent French painter of the 15th century, but also in the work of Michel Colombe (c.1430 – c.1513) the leading sculptor of his time.

It seems unusual that the chosen format of the portrait is in profile, a convention much favoured in Italy during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but which further north had become outmoded by the 1420s.[14] The artistic trend in fifteenth century France was towards greater realism and three-quarter-length portraits – notably the portrait of Louis’ father, Charles VII, circa 1450 by Jean Fouquet (Musée du Louvre). As such the profile format at first appears a conflicting and almost retrograde step. However, the most likely rationale was a decision to continue the older French tradition of depicting the royal image in profile, for example that of Louis’ famous ancestor Jean le Bon (1319 – 1364), (Musée du Louvre), in the wish to conform to an ideal of courtly decorum and princely appearance.[15]

Well versed in humanist ideals, Louis would have fully appreciated the usefulness of princely images in promoting his legitimacy and status as king, and parallels with antique coin portraits and contemporary portrait medals can also be made. Italian numanistic traditions dictated the favoured profile format, and in 1461 on his accession to the throne, Louis did indeed commission a medal with his portrait from Francesco Laurana (d. c. 1502). Laurana worked at both the court in Naples and the court of Louis’ uncle, René d’Anjou in Aix-en-Provence. Nuttall explains that the continuing fashion for profile portraits in fifteenth century Italy may be ‘connected with the humanistic fashion for antique coins, which contained profile portraits, or with the profile’s longstanding association with regal imagery’.[16]

Although our portrait is undoubtedly influenced by the art at the courts of Italy, it is painted on a single plank of French oak, indicative that the artist was working in France. The painting can be confidently attributed to Jacob de Litemont, working in the Val-de-Loire area and ‘peintre du roi’ to Louis XI. At this time the King often visited the region, escorted by his wealthy lords who were likewise artistic patrons.[17] Although Louis never remained long in one place, his favorite residences were Amboise and his chateau at Plessis-lès-Tours, so when he finally took up his residence at Tours in 1469, this helped to concentrate artistic activity in the region.[18]

 

[1] A detailed analytical report dated 27th December 2012 is available – our thanks to our conservator Katherine Ara and Art, Access and Research Group for this report. Ref: AAR0354.

[2] We wish to thank Pierre-Gilles Girault, Directeur adjoint du château et des musées, Château royal de Blois, who on stylistic grounds and examination of the analytical and dendrochronological reports, has confirmed this information and the attribution to Jacob de Litemont (written correspondence dated 08/10/13).

[3] Bernard Callede (1975) Ėtude des peintures murals dans la chappelle de l’Hôtel Jacques Coeur à Bourges (France). Studies in Conservation, Vol20; 4, pp 195-200

[4] We are also grateful to both Professor Erik Inglis, Oberlin College, Ohio, and Nicholas Herman, New York University, who also reviewed this material, both suggesting that the artist was based in the area of Tours, circa 1469

[5] Flemish-influenced, and with its own distinct ‘diffusion de l’italianisme’ (seen mainly in the illuminated manuscripts), the artists from the School of Tours used the principles of renaissance perspective yet set in distinctly French landscapes with Val-de-Loire architecture clearly present. See Chancel-Bardelot et al., L’école de Tours ou l’ école du Val de Loire en question, 2012, pp. 37-49 (op. cit.).

[6] We wish to thank Pierre-Gilles Girault (op. cit.) for confirming this information

[7] The other two surviving images are: the title miniature of the Statutes of the Order of St Michael by Jean Fouquet, commissioned in 1469 when the Order was founded, depicting the king presiding over the knights (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fr. 19819, fol.I); and secondly, a medal depicting Louis XI by Francesco de Lauzana (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris).

[8] The Order of St. Michel dedicated to the Archangel Michael consisted of a gold badge with the saint standing on a rock (Mont Saint-Michel) in combat with the serpent. This was suspended from an elaborate gold collar made of cockleshells – the badge of a pilgrim, especially those to Santiago de Compostela – and linked with double knots.

[9] Inglis, E. Jean Fouquet and the Invention of France. Art and Nation after the Hundred Years War, p.105

[10] Dendrochronological analysis of the panel, carried out by Dr. Peter Klein of Hamburg University, suggests an earliest plausible usage date of 1455, though more likely is a usage date a decade or so later.

[11] Commynes states in his memoires that Louis ‘was the humblest in his conversation and Habit’. For head covering he wore heavy hats of beaver or wool, and he wore short garments in a period when long garments were more fashionable. See: Commynes, P. The Memoirs of Philippe de Comines, Vol. I, Book I, Chapt. X, p.81 London: John Phillips.

[12] Dupont, J. A Portrait of Louis II Attributed to Jean Perréal. The Burlington Magazine, 1947, vol. 89, p.236.

[13] From the depths of defeat, when the moral and material life of France was at its lowest ebb at the end of the Hundred Years War with England (1337 – 1453), France rose again to become a great nation, strong and prosperous. Its renaissance owed much to the progressiveness, organisational skills, statesmanship and pragmatic realism of Louis XI.

[14] Campbell, L. (1990) Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait-Painting in the 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries.

[15] K. Christiansen and S. Weppelmann, (eds.), The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini, Exhibition catalogue: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2011, pp. 214-217.

[16] P. Nuttall, From Flanders to Florence: The Impact of Netherlandish Painting, 1400 – 1500, 2004.

[17] Béatrice de Chancel-Bardelot, Pascale Charron, Pierre-Gilles Girault and Jean-Marie Guillouët, Tours 1500. Capitales des arts, 2012, Somogy Editions d’art : Exhibition Catalogue, Musée des Beaux Arts Tours.

[18] Girault, P. Organisation professionnelle et réseaux d’artistes à Tours vers 1500: l’exemple du métier des peintres, pp. 121 -123. In Chancel-Bardelot et al., 2012 (op cit).

Click on image to zoom

Related works

Search for all works by Jacob de Litemont

Contact us about this work

Contact us for further information about this work

Share this work