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Four Captives

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

France, 17th and 18th centuries

Montalbetti Valérie

These magnificent life-size bronze Captives once stood in the four corners of the pedestal of the equestrian statue of King Henry IV, erected on the Pont-Neuf, Paris. With elongated muscular silhouettes and hands bound firmly behind their backs with rope, seated rather precariously on trophies, they epitomize late Mannerist art.

Political symbolism

Each with a different physique, these Captives embody the four enslaved corners of the world, symbolizing the sovereign's domination over the globe. The Captive leaning on the shell of a tortoise represents Africa, i.e., the South. The elderly Captive with a long, thick beard, resembling the barbarians in antique art, perhaps stands for the countries of the North. From the smooth-cheeked youth to the bearded old man, they also evoke the ages of man. The motif of the Captive recalls Roman triumphs (ceremonies held in honor of victorious generals) and was widely used in Roman art, and it was revived in Tuscany during the Renaissance to pay tribute to the Italian princes (e.g., the monument to Ferdinand of Tuscany, Livorno, by Pietro Tacca).

The first royal equestrian monument in France

In about 1604, Marie de Médicis, queen of France, decided to put up an equestrian statue in honor of her husband, Henry IV. She awarded the commission to Giambologna, the artist who had executed the monuments to the grand dukes of Tuscany, Cosimo and Ferdinand I (relatives of the queen). On Giambologna's death, in 1608, the work was completed by his pupil Pietro Tacca, and the statue arrived in Paris in 1613. The queen then commissioned the pedestal from Pierre Francqueville. The sculptor, another of Giambologna's brilliant pupils in Florence (and, like him, originally from Flanders), was living in Paris at the time, having been invited to France by Henry IV about 1606. He made three bas-reliefs for the base and modeled the Captives before his death in 1615. His pupil and son-in-law, Francesco Bordoni, cast and chased the bronze sculptures, which were completed in 1618.

Elegant Mannerism

The Captives are arranged in pairs: their gazes meet and their attitudes respond to each other in a complex play of lines. Their slenderness, their sinuous silhouettes resulting from their twisting bodily movements, their unstable seated position, affected attitudes, and the idealization of their features that highlights the refinement of the chasing, are all characteristics of elegant late Mannerism, which Francqueville and Bordoni brought back from Tuscany and introduced to France. When the monument was destroyed during the Revolution, in 1792, only the Captives were spared because of "their light, slender design, [which] paid tribute to France's first antiquities."


Bresc-Bautier Geneviève, "Henri IV au Pont-Neuf, Art ou politique? Arcs, statues et colonnes de Paris", DAVP, 1999, pp. 36-41.
Beyer Victor and Bresc-Bautier Geneviève, La Sculpture française du XVIIe siècle au musée du Louvre, Bergame, Grafica Gutenberg, 1977, Paris, 1977, n. p.
Chefs-d'oeuvre du musée du Louvre. Bronzes de la Renaissance à Rodin, exh. cat. Tokyo, New York, Metropolitan of Art Museum, 1988, pp. 228-229.
Emblèmes de la libertés, exh. cat. Berne, musée d'Histoire et musée
des beaux-arts, 1991, pp. 212-213.
Francqueville Robert de (Comte), Pierre de Francqueville. Sculpteur des Médicis et du roi Henri IV, 1548-1615, Paris, A. and J. Picard & Cie, 1968, pp. 78-85.

Technical description

  • Pierre de FRANCHEVILLE, known as Pietro FRANCAVILLA (Cambrai, 1548 - Paris, 1615)

    Four Captives

  • Bronze

    H. 1.60 m; W. 0.64 m; D. 0.56 m

  • Provenance: Musée des Monuments Français, 1817
    Young captive: M.R. 1668
    Middle-aged captive: M.R. 1669
    African captive: M.R. 1670
    Elderly captive: M.R. 1671 , 1817

    M.R. 1668, M.R. 1669, M.R. 1670, M.R. 1671

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Room 216

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