Louis XIII dressed as Adonis. Marino, Rubens, and the representation of power in Seventeenth-Century France

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Louis XIII dressed as Adonis. Marino, Rubens, and the representation of power in Seventeenth-Century France
   The title of my presentation could sound a little wordy and a little overconfident too. By mentioning all these names at once, I hoped, of course, to arouse your curiosity  . What’s  the relationship between the Italian poet Giovan Battista Marino and the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens? In which way are they both connected to the king of France Louis XIII? And why the king should be dressed as the mythological character of Adonis? It seemed to me that these questions were a good starting point for my talk; but I later realized that, in order to give you an answer, a brief introduction was necessary.  The object of my research is present in this conference’s title:  I work indeed on the representation of power in the seventeenth-century France. Still, the idea of representation in early modern Europe is complicated in itself, so it would take too long to illustrate it in a satisfactory way. I’d rather give you a description, even if a bit rough, concerning a more specific concept, that is the representation as an outcome of Baroque politics and propaganda. This kind of representation directly involves the genre of panegyric, both in poetry and in figurative art, and thereby it plays a substantial role in my research.  To start, we can define the representation of power as the result of a cultural activity, which could be performed by different Medias, such as poetry or painting, but also public feasts, religious ceremonies or court rituals. These activities allow the interaction between power, which commissions the representation, and public, for whom the representation is conceived. Of course we are dealing with a very generic model, but I hope it could be useful to narrow down this research topic. As I said, the power I am talking about is that of the French crown; the public is made up of both the foreign courts, which are concerned by the representation through their diplomatic services, and the French society. The aristocracy and the lower classes are both involved, according to an intuitive outline: public Medias, as large scale feasts or ceremonies, are mainly addressed to the lower classes ’  imagination; poetry and painting are mainly directed to influence the opinions of the nobility. In both cases, however, the monarchy plays an active and dynamic role. I’d like to stress the accent on this fact: why did I use the word propaganda? The representation of power in the seventeenth century follows a clear one-way direction, which goes from the king to his subjects.  We could even define it a guided process, because the main purpose of the cultural patronage, organized and concretely supported by the French crown, is to include, to integrate   the public into the prevailing social system, that is the system of values of the monarchic society. The power does not only seek to silence his opponents, but also, and especially, to fascinate them, to seduce them, to involve them through the display of its own authority.    This integration process has been sharply described by José Antonio Maravall in his book La cultura del Barroco. Análisis de una estructura histórica  : a work that, even if it was published some decades ago, remains essential for understanding the Baroque age . Here’s what Maravall writes about Baroque poetry (quote).  The kind of propaganda Maravall explains and debates in his book is typical of the seventeenth century, to the extent that it can be associated to the strategies adopted by the Christian churches of that time. My research project tries to contextualize Rubens ’   and Marino’s  works into this major campaign of integration. What was the role played by the two artists in this operation? Was it meant to preserve the status quo  and the given order? Were they well assimilated into the dominant culture? And if they were, as we are supposed to believe, which were the rhetorical devices they adopted to endorse the French power?  At this point, I have to pause on a second methodological problem, even if it may appear trivial. I t’s clearly impossible  to find a poem or a work of art in which only political matters are involved. It is a fact that the royal authority, to express itself, has recourse to some artistic products which are created by someone else, and which are obviously affected by many cultural factors. A research on the representation of power shouldn’t be  based exclusively on a sociological approach , and that’s why   I made capital of Louis Marin ’s works .  According to Marin, the verb “to represent”  has two different meanings. The first is “ to take or fill the place of  ”. Representation, in this first occurrence, is the realm of make-believe, the “to do as if” , because it produces an effect of presence; in the royal portrait, for example, the king is actually present despite his physical absence. So, the first acceptation of the word affects the transitive moment of the process or, as Marin writes, its transparency  . The second meaning is “ to make present, to bring to view  ” and also   “ to expose before our eyes, to show  ” . A representation, of course, represents something, but it also presents itself as representing it; in other terms, it’s endowed with a reflexive dimension, that Marin calls its opacity  . Therefore, representation has a double power: it makes something present to us, and it constitutes its own legitimate subject. If we apply this definition to the analysis of the king’s portrait, as Marin does in one’s of his most famous book (  Le portrait du roi  , 1981), we draw this conclusion (quote).  The result of the representation in terms of transparency   is an effect of a belief: one who sees the equestrian portrait of the king believes that the sovereign has a limitless force. At the same time, thanks to the opacity   of the process, the king is truly present only   in the representation. Marin points out that the power does not exist before   the representation, but it always takes shape in   and  through the representation. The Baroque power arises together with the Baroque encomium,  which doesn’t just celebrate the king’s new authority, but c reates this authority in itself. In other  words, in seventeenth-century France the features and the properties of the royal crown undergo a radical change; therefore, the king requires a new praise and a new portrait. Yet, the stylistic and iconographic issues involved in this passage contribute to form and model the new image of the sovereign. For this reason, there’s a strict relationship, which could be described through a chiastic formula, between the representation of power and the power of the representation. I just spoke of a new kind of power. I referred to the rising absolutism: in the seventeenth century the king becomes an absolute monarch, who has an unrestricted control over his state, and whose authority is supported by the divine-right theory of kingship. This new conception of power, which we mostly associate with Louis XIV, is firstly defined in a less studied period of the French history, that is the first two decades of the seventeenth century, when the shaky political situation at the court forces both the queen mother Maria de’ Medici  and the young king Louis XIII to reaffirm their authority with a large propaganda program. B oth Marino’s narrative poem  Adone    and Rubens’ cycle of paintings for Maria de’ Medici are composed in these crucial years.  That’s why    I’d like to show   you a brief recapitulation of the French court history. As you can see, I highlighted in orange the political events, and in green the cultural ones, in order to make clear the way they are linked one to the others. Maria de’ Medici leaves Florence  in 1600, when she marries Henry IV of France. The king was crowned in 1594; in 1596 he signed the Edict of Nantes, which temporarily ended the long and bloody wars of religion. But after 15 years of reign and 10 of marriage, in 1610 Henry is murdered by a Catholic fanatic, François Ravaillac. The Dauphin, that is to say Louis XIII, is just eight years old, and according to the lex salica   the queen mother is excluded from the succession line since she is a woman. So Maria acts as regent for her son for four years, from 1610 to 1614. In this period, she rules the kingdom as an absolute monarch: she surrounds herself with powerful favorites, as the Italian Concino Concini and the young Cardinal Richelieu, and she starts a new foreign policy, abandoning the traditional anti-Habsburg French orientation that also her husband Henry supported. In the autumn of 1614 Louis turns thirteen years old and he is crowned king of France. However, the queen mother actually keeps her influence over the government and monopolizes the power for three more years, from 1614 to 1617. So, when Marino arrives in Paris in July 1615, he doesn’t address  his panegyric Il Tempio  to the legitimate king, but to Maria de’ Medici  and to the wife of her favorite Concino Concini.   In 1615 Marino is already a very well-known poet; he has published several successful works, such as La lira   and Le dicerie sacre  , and he is even considered the reference point for Baroque poetry, not only in Italy, but also all around Europe, where his style has already been widely imitated. Yet, his love verses and his irreverent behavior towards holy things have raised the attention of the Roman Inquisition. To escape the accusation of heresy, Marino has fled Italy; he has even planned to move to England, at the protestant court of James I, as far as possible from the Roman Catholic power. However, he rather accepts the queen ’s  offer to stay in Paris. In order to make him her poet laureate, Maria de’ Medici  grants Marino a six-figure salary; in a letter of this period, the poet acknowledges that he stayed in Paris because, thanks to Maria, he is now “ricco come un asino”.   The reason why Marino is awarded such a rich pension concerns the importance of the poetic representation. At the time, Maria actually usurps the throne of France, while her favorite Concino Concini is bitterly hated by the French aristocracy as an adventurer and a foreigner.  They both need to legitimate an illegitimate power, and they both try to do so through their cultural patronage. Marino’s  Adone  , through its opacity  , could have ratified Concini ’s  new status   as one of the France most powerful men, despite his srcins and his controversial political career; therefore, Concini invests a lot of money in Marino’s  poem, which at the beginning should have been dedicated to him. However, on the 24th of April 1617, just a little time before  Adone   is completed, Louis finally decides to seize his own throne. The king stages a coup d’état   or, as it was defined at the time, “a coup de majesté”.  Concini is killed by gunshots and a mob dismembers his corpse; Cardinal Richelieu, also an adviser to Maria de ’  Medici, is banished from Paris; the queen mother herself is exiled to the château of Blois. Yet, in a very surprisingly way, Marino is not punished for having celebrated in his lines the king’s enemies. On the contrary, a few months later he becomes Louis’ poet laureate, and his pension, which was already substantial, is doubled. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time now to focus on Marino’s biography. Even though, the only possible explanation of the facts concerns the power the poetic word has gained at the beginning of the seventeenth century. As Maravall points out, this power has radically increased compared to the importance it had during the Renaissance. So, the king resolves to exile temporarily Cardinal Richelieu, who in the future is going to become his most influent adviser, but he cannot afford to lose an excellent poet like Marino. His poem  Adone   will be completely rewritten, and in the spring of 1623, when it is published, it is dedicated to the king of France.  Nevertheless, Maria de ’  Medici political career doesn’t end in  1617. After two years sort-to-speak “ in prison ”  at the château of Blois, on the night of the 22nd of February 1619 she manages to escape from her apartments through a rope ladder. In the following months, with the help of the gentlemen of her entourage, she causes an uprising against Louis. It is the beginning of the two so-called “guerres de la mère et du fils” . After a year and a half of fights, the royal troops put down the revolt; however, Louis realizes that he  won’t  prevent any further conspiracy if Maria lives far from the court and from his direct control.  That’s  why, through the mediation of Richelieu, the king forgives his mother, who comes back to Paris and even resumes her place in the royal council.  To celebrate her return to power, in the autumn of 1621 Maria decides to commission an impressive series of paintings dedicated to her life. So, in February 1622 Peter Paul Rubens signs the contract for the decoration of the west gallery in the Luxembourg palace in Paris. According to this contract, the Flemish painter should complete twenty-four large paintings in just two years.  This strict deadline is very meaningful, because it allows understanding the mechanisms of Baroque propaganda. The paintings needed to be completed before the 13th of June 1625, when the cycle is shown for the first time on the occasion of the wedding of Henrietta, the queen’s daughter and Louis’ sister,  with the king of England, Charles I. The nobles and the diplomats taking part to the celebrations are faced with a veritable coup de thêatre  , which is very much in the spirit of the Baroque age. To prove she has regained her power, the queen mother welcomes the  wedding guests in her imposing new residence, the Luxembourg palace. The place has a strong symbolic value, because Maria ordered its construction at the beginning of her regency, in 1615. So, at first the guests admire the new, impressive architecture of Luxembourg palace; then, they are asked to  visit the Ruben’s gallery  , where they find a series of twenty-four triumphant canvases, painted by one of the greatest artist of the time, which celebrate, in the most lavish way, the life and the political career of Maria de’ Medici. That’ s what I meant when I mentioned the rising absolutism! Now I’d like to show you  how the representation of power concretely works in Marino’s  Adone    and in Ruben’s cycle  of paintings. To do this, I will focus on a specific case study: the mythological portrait.  The mythological portrait is mostly associated with the age of Louis XIV, but in facts it spread greatly in Europe since the beginning of the sixteenth century. Actually, to fully understand the history of this Leitmotiv it would be necessary to select and to rank its many occurrences; and
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