ShareAt the center of painting, we have the third generation of the Bourbons, represented by the seated Sun King himself, clearly the focal point of the scene. He is 72 years old, obviously still hale and hearty.
The portly man in a blue suit standing behind him and leaning on the chair, is his only legitimate son, the Grand Dauphin, the 4th generation. Louis XIV had many illegitimate sons, but those were not eligible to succeed to the throne.
To the right, the young man in red is the Duc de Bourgogne, elder son of the Grand Dauphin, and grandson of Louis XIV (5th generation.)
And the handsome toddler guided en lisière by his governess, the Duchess de Ventadour, is his son, the little Duc de Bretagne, great-grandson of the Sun King (6th generation.) Don’t be fooled by the dress: little boys wore them in the 18th century. See how proudly Louis XIV points at this child, the future of the Bourbon dynasty.
I often hear docents at the Wallace Collection tell visitors that this boy is the future Louis XV, successor to Louis XIV. Not so. Louis XV was a newborn in 1710. He was the mere younger brother of the toddler in the white dress, and had no place on this dynastic picture. The truth is more tragic: all the heirs pictured on this painting, all of them, would die before Louis XIV.First the King’s son, the Grand Dauphin, died the year after this was painted, in 1711, from smallpox. Then in February 1712, it was the time of the young man in red here, the Duc de Bourgogne, right after his wife, whom he loved passionately and whose bedside he had refused to leave. Even the child in this picture, their son, died the following month, in March 1712. All three from a fever, aggravated by the Court physicians’ merciless bloodletting.
Three generations of heirs to the throne of France lost in less than a year! And the baby who would survive against all odds, and succeed Louis XIV five years later is not even represented here…
In my eyes, it makes this painting unwittingly tragic....