Eye Candy for Today: Charles Le Brun’s The King Governs by Himself

The King Governs by Himself, Charles Le Brun
The King Governs by Himself, Charles Le Brun

Zoomable version on Google Art Project; high-resolution (57mb) downloadable version on Wikimedia Commons; view from the other direction on The Athenaeum; original is in the Palace of Versailles.

This is the centerpiece of a remarkable series of large scale works by 17th century French painter Charles Le Brun for the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors in Louis XiV’s Palace of Versailles. These weren’t done as frescoes, but as paintings on canvas that were attached to the ceiling by the process of marouflage, in which the surface of the wall or ceiling is prepared with white lead and oil and the canvas pressed into it.

The panels were meant to be looked at from either side as they straddled the vault of the hall horizontally.

There are so many metaphors and allusions to gods and myths and muses and history and all sorts of glorious glory of the glorious king in this image — not to mention games and music and feasting and lions(!) and just odd goings on in the various parts of its two sides — that I don’t even know where to begin.

Somehow, I can’t help but think of a New Yorker cartoon I once saw, in which a court painter has presented his composition glorifying a king to his royal highness, who says: “Give me more angels, and make them happier to see me.”