For many, Louis XVI does not often conjure up much in the way of martial prowess or skill. However, like his famed Bourbon predecessors Henri IV and Louis XIV, he used military allegory and iconography to strengthen the image of kingship embodied by Versailles. As an absolute monarch from 1774 to 1789 and even during his rule as a constitutional sovereign from 1789 to 1792, representations and allegories of the king with military themes were used to reinforce manifestations of the royal power and control. In the wake of France’s victory in the American War of Independence, the image of royal authority under Louis XVI was strengthened not only through martial prowess on the battlefield and high seas, but also within the context of absolutist Bourbon imagery, royal commissions and architecture....Share
Unveiled in 1777, the white marble portrait of the king by Lucas combines military allegory with that of French prosperity and wealth. The king, dressed as a Roman emperor complete with a cuirass or classical breastplate, sword, and laurel crown, rests his right hand on a horn of abundance. Defaced during the Revolution, it is conjectured that the left hand originally brandished a scepter. In this example from the early part of the king’s reign, the use of such martial iconography is readily apparent and follows the tradition of Bourbon absolutist imagery while incorporating the commemoration of his perceived enlightened acts as king.