Art History Hotties: Louis XIV

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Hyacinthe Rigaud, Louis XIV, 1701
By ISABEL THOMAS

Look at those calves, accented by leggings that would defy any dress code. The luxurious, richly-colored fabric around the monarch does not hurt the work’s ambiance, either. The king stands so that no one misses his shoes, enticingly red and at the peaks of fashion. He wears them to conceal his modest height of 5’4”, but with full knowledge that heels accentuate those calf muscles.

Louis XIV, an avid dancer, showed off his legs when Hyacinthe Rigaud painted him. Other kings hid their untoned calves in robes, but Louis XIV knew his assets. After all, that untamable mane alone would not get you too far in eighteenth-century France. The monarch also showed off his oversized sword and cane in the portrait to assert his authority. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Pose fabulously, and carry a big stick,” or something like that.

Just a painting of such magnificence elicited respect and awe. In Art through the Ages, Gardner writes, “When the king was not present, Rigaud’s portrait, which hung over the throne, served in his place, and courtiers knew never to turn their backs on the painting.” In his absence, King Louis XIV used Rigaud’s work to flaunt his grace and remind his subjects why they so admired their king: for his exquisite calves.

Rigaud makes it obvious that King Louis XIV, certified hottie of eighteenth-century France, deserves the opulence that surrounds him, but, for his policy? No. For his lineage? Probably not. For his extravagance? Absolutely.

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