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Work Tapestry of The Life of Louis XIV: The Audience with Cardinal Chigi

Department of Decorative Arts: 17th century

The Audience with Cardinal Chigi

© 1995 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
17th century

Author(s):
Marie-Hélène de Ribou

From the inception of the Manufacture des Gobelins, Charles Le Brun, its first director, had the idea of designing a tapestry with a historical subject to promote the glory of Louis XIV. It was to recount the glorious events that occurred in the early years of his reign both at court and on the battlefield. The panel shown here belongs to The Life of Louis XIV, which is now considered precious documentation of grand interiors and artworks that no longer exist.

An audience at the court of Louis XIV

In the king's bedchamber in Fontainebleau, Louis XIV sits in his armchair listening to Cardinal Chigi read the letter of apology sent by his uncle, Pope Alexander VII. Both the king and the cardinal are in the private part of the room, separated by the balustrade, while the attendants remain in the public area.
To render the scene legible, Le Brun reduced the number of figures. Several have been identified, such as "Monsieur," the king's brother, standing in front of the balustrade on the right, and the Duke d'Harcourt, the "Grand Écuyer," who as a foreign prince was entitled to appear here wearing his hat. Ecclesiastics in the cardinal's retinue and courtiers make up the rest of the figures.
The border of the tapestry is lavish, both in the materials employed and in its ornamentation, inspired by the grotesques of Raphael. A cartouche in the lower border describes the scene.

The king's honor triumphs

At the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV, his minister Colbert made it a policy to promote the glory of the king through the arts. As First Painter to the King, Le Brun was entrusted with orchestrating this campaign. Appointed director of the newly founded Manufacture des Gobelins, he had the idea with Colbert of employing a theme hitherto rarely developed in tapestry: contemporary history. The series of tapestries The Life of Louis XIV was originally composed of fourteen panels relating the reign's most glorious episodes: military conquests, on the one hand, and non-military and diplomatic events, on the other.
This panel recounts the conclusion of a diplomatic incident of 1661, in which a page of the Duke de Créqui, the French ambassador to Rome, was assassinated by one of the Pope's Corsican guards.
In compliance with the Treaty of Pisa, the Pope's nephew, Cardinal Flavio Chigi, had to come and publically present the apologies of the Holy See to the king. The audience took place on July 29,1664 in the presence of the princes and the grand officers of the crown.

An important document of French court interiors

The Life of Louis XIV is a major work, not only because of the number and dimensions of its panels, but also because of its outstanding workmanship and historical significance. Widely celebrated throughout Europe, it inspired the Manufacture de Beauvais to produce the tapestry of The Conquest of Louis XIV, and later the tapestry of The Victories of Charles XI for the King of Sweden.
A key document for art history, the tapestry in particular presents interiors no longer extant, such as the king's bedchamber in Fontainebleau depicted on this panel. Except for the paintings, almost all of the room's furnishings have been identified. Quite faithfully reproduced here are major pieces from the Crown Collection: the large cabinet, the bed "à la française," the alcove wallcovering, the balustrade, the large pedestal table, and the two very large silver sconces.

Technical description

  • Workshop of Jean LEFEBVRE

    The Audience with Cardinal Chigi

    1667-72

    Paris

  • High-warp tapestry, gold thread

    H. 4.90 m; W. 7.05 m

  • On long-term loan from the Mobilier National

    Seventh tapestry of the first weaving from the "History of the King"

    GMTT 95-1

  • Decorative Arts

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Additional information about the work

Seventh panel of the first gold-thread tapestry of The Life of Louis XIV. Number 68 on the list of gold-thread tapestries recorded in the Inventory of the Royal Furniture Repository.