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Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV. Artifacts for a Future Past

Robert Wellington

Robert Wellington, Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV. Artifacts for a Future Past, Ashgate, 2015, ISBN : 978-1-4724-6033-2, 58,50 £.

Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV : Artifacts for a Future Past provides a new interpretation of objects and images commissioned by Louis XIV (1638-1715) to document his reign for posterity. The Sun King’s image-makers based their prediction of how future historians would interpret the material remains of their culture on contemporary antiquarian methods, creating new works of art as artifacts for a future time. The need for such items to function as historical evidence led to many pictorial developments, and medals played a central role in this. Coin-like in form but not currency, the medal was the consummate antiquarian object, made in imitation of ancient coins used to study the past. Yet medals are often elided from the narrative of the arts of ancien régime France, their neglect wholly disproportionate to the cultural status that they once held. This revisionary study uncovers a numismatic sensibility throughout the iconography of Louis XIV, and in the defining monuments of his age. It looks beyond the standard political reading of the works of art made to document Louis XIV’s history, to argue that they are the results of a creative process wedded to antiquarianism, an intellectual culture that provided a model for the production of history in the grand siècle.

Contents : Introduction : medals and the material turn in the king’s history ; Antiquarianism at court ; The Petite Académie and the histoire métallique of Louis XIV ; The Cabinet des Médailles at Versailles ; Images inscribed and described by the Petite Académie ; The antiquarian origins of Louis XIV’s medals books ; Portraiture, physiognomy, and the numismatic sensibility ; Numismatic resonances : Le Brun’s cycle for the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles ; Epilogue ; Bibliography ; Index.

About the Author : Robert Wellington is a lecturer at the Centre for Art History and Art Theory, Australian National University.