Louis XI and the arts

If there is an area in which Louis XI is not associated in general, it is indeed that of the arts. His image is far from that of an Italian patron prince, or even of the bibliophile Charles V (king from 1364-1380). Yet, contrary to what Jean Favier was able to assert in his biography of the sovereign, it would seem that Louis XI was interested in the arts, but in the logic of his way of governing: not out of taste, out of political interest.

Louis XI and art as a political instrument

The king of France has the image of someone sober, simple, and who refuses pomp and luxury. He thus appears in most of the representations that we have of him. The same goes for his courtyard and his various residences. In this, he differs from his Italian contemporaries (Borso d'Este, Laurent the Magnificent or Federico da Montefeltro), but also from the Dukes of Burgundy, his great rivals until the death of Charles the Bold (1477) who , are great lovers of art and pomp, as well as generous patrons.

However, Louis XI's court was not deserted, since there were more than two hundred people, according to sources, at the Hôtel du Roi. If the monarch is always very attentive to expenses, his means are important (France is then the richest monarchy in the West) and he does not hesitate to use it for rich ceremonies when he receives foreign guests, ambassadors or rulers. This is the case, for example, with the reception of the Earl of Warwick in 1468 or the Queen of England three years later. For his own case, he unhesitatingly uses the arts as a tool to play with his image, as when he entered Paris in 1461, where the walls are adorned with gold sheets and a banquet organized with gold tableware. and money.

Louis XI uses the arts in the same way against his enemies. We see it with the war of the coat of arms against the Duke of Burgundy: in 1477, after the death of Charles the Bold, the king ordered that the images and the arms of the duke be erased and replaced by his own. The infamous paintings are also used, in the Italian manner, against the Prince of Orange, represented hanged by his feet on a canvas exhibited in Dijon in 1477. Louis XI encourages pamphlets against the English and the Burgundians, as well as the dissemination of positive discourse about him through jesters in public places.

As the Italians did at that time, and as it would become general later in modern times, the king is aware of the importance of a pervasive image of himself in the kingdom. Louis XI is thus one of the kings of France the most represented: statues, stained glass windows, paintings, or medals (like that of Francesco Laurana) allow this diffusion, with an accent put on the territories recently acquired (like the 'Anjou, after the death of King René).

Louis XI and the artists

Louis XI's way of approaching the arts obviously has consequences for his patronage and the choice of artists.

First, he is in the continuity of his predecessors: like his father Charles VII, he calls Jean Fouquet to court. Also following the example of King René of Anjou, he surrounded himself with renowned artists of the time such as the musician Jean Ockeghem and the painters Colin d'Amiens and Coppin Delf. If he attracts national artists like Jean Fouquet, Bourdichon or Jean Galant, Louis XI does not hesitate to appeal to foreigners with Francesco Laurana and Georges Hermonyme. However, it is distinguished above all by the recruitment of artists and even local artisans, including to carry out major works (such as Notre-Dame de la Salvation, in Compiègne, in 1468). Finally, his interest in the arts goes beyond painting, architecture or goldsmithing since he opens up to humanist literature, that of François Filelfe, Robert Gaguin or Francesco Gaddi.

Like his government, Louis XI organized the recruitment of his artists very rigorously. He tests them, puts them in competition, and grants them different statuses: Jean Galant is thus the king's goldsmith, Jean Fouquet painter to the king, and Jean Ockeghem master of the king's song chapel. All these artists are rewarded with hard cash, but above all with titles and honorary offices. Louis XI, on the other hand, did not have a special relationship or friendship with them, although he trusted Ockeghem enough, for example, to send him on a diplomatic mission to Spain.

Monarch wanting to control everything at the political level, Louis XI does the same for the arts. He delegates to intermediaries to supervise the sites, such as Jean Bourré who supervises the royal sites of Amboise and Langeais.

The taste of Louis XI

The King of France has the image of a devotee, and this is borne out in his artistic taste. His priority goes to religion and donations to churches, which even his advisor Philippe de Commynes considers too disproportionate. Goldsmithing is above all religious, like the reliquary arm of Charlemagne offered to Aix-la-Chapelle in 1481. Louis XI wanted to show his piety through the arts and patronage, to give glory to God, as well as to Mary and to various saints (Saint Martin in Tours, or Saint Michael whose name he gives to his order of chivalry, created in 1469). This faith is reflected in his early desire to have an original funeral monument built, which he commissioned first from Fouquet and Michel Colombe in 1471 and then, disappointed, from Colin d'Amiens ten years later. He has specific requirements, such as being depicted kneeling, not lying like previous rulers. A funeral monument installed at Notre-Dame de Cléry, in the Loiret, Louis XI refusing to be buried in Saint-Denis.

For the secular arts, the king, like his contemporaries, favored architecture which, again, reflected his personality. Its palaces are a far cry from the luster of Italian palaces, like the Château de Plessis, bought in 1463 and regularly improved throughout the reign. Louis XI insisted more on comfort than on luxury and magnificence. For painting, there are few traces left but we know that Louis XI was very fond of the illuminations (those of Jean Colombe for example) which adorned the many works in his library. He is also considered a literate and learned king, particularly interested in political works. Finally, sculpture, tapestry, music are arts appreciated by the monarch, but to a lesser degree it seems, since we have few traces left.

Louis XI did not ignore the arts, on the contrary. Perfectly aware of their importance, he made political use of them. The arts he promoted were logically in his image: simple and marked by religion. As Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet says, the king therefore practiced "a moderate and interested patronage, with political aims".


- CASSAGNES-BROUQUET, S., Louis XI or well-tempered patronage, Rennes, 2007.

- LAPEYRE, A., Louis XI, patron of religious goldsmiths, Meudon, 1986.

- FAVIER, J., Louis XI, Paris, 2001.

Article inspired by a preparation course at Capes in Paris I.

Video: Preparing for death not conquering death: Story of Louis XI1423-1483 , King of France. (September 2021).