Frans Pourbus the Younger
1569 – 1622
Louis XIII of France
Painted circa 1611
Oil on Canvas: 63 3/16 x 37 5/8 inches, 158 x 94 cm
- Brought back from Rome by W.J. Brigstocke of Carmarthen;
- thence to (?) Josiah Wedgwood III (1795 – 1880) of Leith Hill Place, Surrey;
- thence by descent to his daughter Margaret Wedgwood (1843 – 1937), wife of Rev. Arthur Charles Vaughan-Williams (1834 – 1875);
- thence by descent to the Vaughan-Williams family of Tanhurst House, Leith Hill, Surrey;
- Sotheby’s, Paris, 27 June 2002, lot 1 (as ‘atelier de Frans Pourbus’)
- The Weiss Gallery, sold 2003 to
- The Cleveland Museum of Art, U.S.A. (Mr & Mrs William H. Marlatt Fund).
- Weiss Gallery catalogue, The Courtly Image, Early Portraiture 1550 – 1680, 2002, no. 13.
- Blaise Ducos, Frans Pourbus le Jeune 1569 – 1622, Le Portrait d’apparat a l’aube du Grande Siècle, Dijon, 2011, no. P.A.50, pp. 234 – 236, & illus. cover detail.
This extraordinary life-size state portrait is the only known signed full-length of the young child-king Louis XIII by Pourbus. His pose carefully mimics that seen in the smaller portrait by the artist of his father, Henri IV, and the result is an even more sumptuous and grandiose icon of royalty. A powerful dynastic allusion is at play here: the pose, the location with its palatial decor (tiled floor, vast green drapery) and the accessories (the sword in particular) all clearly reference the setting of the portrait of Henri IV, a composition whose importance for royal iconography at the start of the 17th century cannot be overstated. Dated 1611, around two years after Pourbus arrived in Paris, the painting does not at first glance appear to refer directly to the bereavement suffered by the young Bourbon prince, yet in itself the painting can be regarded quite literally as a life-size transposition of the Henri IV.
There is only one other recorded version of this portrait, and that may be found in the Palatine gallery of the Pitti Palace in Florence.1 Ducos incorrectly states that the Cleveland portrait is a signed version of the composition in the Pitti Palace,2 however the portrait in Florence is actually a later autograph replica, depicting Louis a year or so older and with a number of differences in design, such as the background curtains, the marble pilaster, the positioning of the young king’s hand on his sword and the pattern of his costume.
Significantly, in both portraits, the young king is dressed in sumptuous vermillion court dress, with golden embroidery. Pierre Boitel’s Histoire des guerres et choses mémorables arrivées sous le règne très-glorieux de Louis le Juste describes it specifically as mourning dress:
‘At ten o’clock the King left the Louvre, wearing mourning dress of a violet scarlet, and a taffeta hat of the same colour, mounted on a small white palfrey, similarly clad in scarlet, and preceded by his Swiss guards’ (Boitel, 1624)3
In 1611, the date of the Cleveland portrait, Louis’ mother the Regentess Marie de’ Medici commissioned from Pourbus two matching pairs of full-length portraits of Louis and his sister Elisabeth. These were sent to Madrid as part of the marriage negotiations that would link the two ruling families of France and Spain. The proposed treaty involved an exchange of Queens, with Louis XIII marrying the Spanish Infanta Anne of Austria and his sister, Elisabeth of France marrying the Infante, the future Philip IV.4 As was custom, since the respective partners rarely ever met prior to their arranged marriage, portraits were specifically commissioned to promote the virtues of the prospective spouse.
Fortuitously a substantial amount of contemporary documentation has survived relating to this commission and to the despatch to Spain of two virtually identical pairs of full-length portraits. Firstly, in a letter written in early 1611 from Marie de Medici to the governess of the royal children, Madame Monglat is informed that Pourbus would be coming to Saint-Germain in order to paint them.5 Secondly, on Friday 11 February, Jean Herouard, the personal physician to Louis XIII, annotates in his diary that Pourbus has been to draw the King in full-length.6 Finally, the dispatch and arrival of the finished portraits are discussed in some detail in an exchange of Tuscan ambassadorial letters dating from the end of May to the end of June 1611 between Matteo Botti, Tuscan ambassador in the French court in 1610 and his colleague Count Orso d’Elci, Tuscan ambassador to Spain at that time.7
Ducos suggests that the Cleveland portrait is indeed the portrait mentioned by, and to have passed through the hands of, the Count Orso d’Elci, not least because of the date on the painting (1611), and the fact that it was described in the correspondence as a portrait of the young king in ‘vestiti bruno’, crucially meaning mourning dress, rather than the colour brown.8
1 See P. Rosenberg, Pittura francese nelle collezioni pubbliche fiorentine, Pitti Palace, Florence, 1977, p.147, no.93. This version (Pitti Palace Inv. 1890 n. 2405) is slightly larger measuring 65 x 39 in.
2 Op. cit., p. 236.
3 As elaborated by Ducos, ibid.
4 Already married by proxy, the actual exchange took place, amid great pomp, on Franco-Spanish border 9th November 1615.
5 Marie de Medici to Monglat, (Battifol, ‘Marie de Medicis et les Arts’ Gazette de Beaux-Arts, 1906, vol. XXXV, pp.227-28)
6 Journal de Jean Herouard (ed. Soulie & Barthelemy, Paris, 1868, vol. II, pp. 53-4) where he states that: ‘a trois heures, Frederic Pourbus flamand peintre excellent le tire de sa hauteur pendant qu’il se joue a des petites besognes.’
7 For a further discussion of which, see the preface to this section.
8 Ducos, ibid., p. 235.
Click on image to zoom