Thursday, August 25, 2011

Saint Louis of France – Saint, King and Patron of the Arts

Charles Niehaus, Apotheosis of Saint Louis
American, 1903
Saint Louis, MO
Photo: Saint Louis Daily Photo Blog

Saint Louis. To most Americans this name summons up the image of a city on the Mississippi River, known for its monument of the Gateway Arch. It most certainly does not summon up the image of a medieval French king, still less a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Louis IX (Capet) combined in one person two kinds of people that we normally think of as incompatible, king and saint.

He was born in 1214 and became king at the age of twelve. He was king from 1226-1270 when he died in Tunis, on his second attempt to retake North Africa and the Holy Land from the Muslim Turks.

Near Comtemporary Image of Saint Louis
from the Great Reliquary 
of the Sainte Chapelle
French, 1275-1325
Paris, Musée de Cluny, 
Musée national du Moyen Age
Near Comtemporary Image of Saint Louis, Head 
from the Great Reliquary of the Sainte Chapelle_
French, 1275-1325
Paris, Musée de Cluny, Musée national du Moyen Age

This statue, completed shortly after the death of St.Louis, is probably the closest we can come to an actual likeness of the saint/king.

During his lifetime he was known internationally as a lover of justice, a friend of the poor, very devoted to God and to the Church. His life is very well documented, both in the historical record and from the descriptions that were written down as part of the papal investigation into his life that was carried out after his death to determine his sanctity.  He was canonized in 1297. His feast day was set as August 25, the date of his death. 

Saint Louis Carrying the Crown of Thorns
French (Tours), 1245-1248
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters Collection
This stained glass, made during the lifetime of Saint Louis, shows Louis and his brothers.  Saint Louis carries
the reliquary of the Crown of Thorns. 2

One of the witnesses in the papal investigation was the noble, Jean, Lord of Joinville, a companion of St. Louis on the Seventh Crusade. The memoir was subsequently published in succeeding decades.

The Boucicaut Master, Departure of Saint Louis for the Crusade
Cutting from Tresors des histoires
French (Paris), c.1400
Paris, Musée du Louvre
MS RF1929-recto

 Joinville relates a charming story of an event during the Seventh Crusade that demonstrates how Louis was viewed during his own lifetime.

“Journeying day by day we came to the sands of Acre, where the king and the host encamped. At that place came to me a great troop of people from Great Armenia, who were going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, having paid a great tribute to the Saracens, by whom they were conducted. By an interpreter, who knew their language and ours, they besought me to show them the sainted king. I went to the king there where he sat in a pavilion, leaning against the pole of the pavilion; and he sat upon the sand, without a carpet, and without anything else under him. I said to him: "Sire, there is here outside a great troop of people from Great Armenia, going to Jerusalem; and they pray me, sire, to cause the sainted king to be shown to them; but I have no desire as yet to kiss your bones." He laughed aloud, and told me to go and fetch them; and so I did. And when they had seen the king they commended him to God, and the king commended them to God likewise.”1

There is, in this story, something touching and something that rings very true. Joinville’s joke and Louis’ laughter remind me of recently dead people who were widely considered to be saintly, even before their deaths, such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II. Like them, St. Louis was aware of his own faults and amused by the idea that others found him saintly.

However, the subject of this blog is not sanctity, per se, but art. And, in that realm, Louis was one of the greatest patrons of art in the 13th century. His record of building is extensive, but one building in particular stands out. This is the Sainte Chapelle in Paris.       
French, 1239-1248

Built between 1239 and 1248 and originally part of the royal palace complex on the Ile-de-la-Cite, the Sainte Chapelle was designed as a precious container for the extremely precious relics that Louis had purchased from the Latin Emperor of Constantinople and acquired from other sources. These included a fragment of the True Cross found by Saint Helena, the Crown of Thorns, a nail from the Crucifixion and other relics related to the Passion of Christ.

The chapel, which has often been compared to a reliquary, is famous for its precious stained glass windows, and is one of the finest and most influential buildings of the High Gothic style known as Rayonnant.

View of the vaults
Although the building was seriously damaged during the French Revolution, the jewel-like 13th-century stained glass windows are almost entirely intact, surprisingly thanks to that same Revolution. Apparently, following the Revolution, the relics were removed from the Chapel and their reliquaries sold off. (The relics were, however, preserved and, rehoused in new reliquaries, are now currently kept in Notre-Dame Cathedral where they can be venerated at special times.)   *See note at end of article.
Charles Viollet-le-Duc, Reliquary for the Crown of Thorns
French, 1862
Paris, Cathedral of Notre-Dame

The Chapel was used as an office and high cabinets were placed against the windows. After the revolutionary period ended the Chapel was restored under the direction of the famous (and sometimes infamous) antiquarian Viollet-le-Duc.

View of the Interior from above.

The Sainte Chapelle now stands alone.  The palace of which it once formed a part was destroyed in later centuries, sometimes by fire, sometimes by deliberate destruction.  It now stands in the midst of the Palais de Justice, whose buildings date primarily from the Second Empire period of the mid-19th century. 

The building is small and has two stories.

The under story, which opened to the ground level, was used as a parish church by the palace staff. It has mostly solid walls, with only small window openings.

Lower Story, Sainte-Chapelle

The upper story had an entrance for the king directly from the palace. Here there are virtually no walls but the glass itself. The stone elements appear to be minimal.
Upper Story, Sainte Chapelle, looking toward the altar
Upper Story, Sainte Chapelle, looking toward the entrance

The tall, narrow windows are composed of figured roundels, ovals, diamonds and other geometric shapes with stories from the Old and New Testament, especially stories related to kingship. The spaces between the roundels are filled with patterned decorations.

Not only was Louis a patron of architecture, he was a patron of manuscript painting.

The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York holds a famous manuscript, the Morgan Picture Bible, that is believed to have been painted for Louis.

The Creation
From the Morgan Picture Bible
French (Paris), 1240s
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 638, fol. 1

Other libraries also have manuscripts that are associated with Louis, such as the Psalter held at the Bibliothéque nationale de France.                                    

Creation of Adam and Eve
From the Psalter of Saint Louis and Blanche of Castille
French (Paris), ca. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 11v

After his death and canonization Saint Louis became one of the patron saints of France and aspects of his life were frequently shown in historical books and books of royal administration.

Anonymous, Saint Louis
from Register of laws of the hotel du roi
French (Paris), 1320
Paris, Archives nationales

Mahiet (Master of the Lives of Saint Louis), Louis IX and the poor
Vie de Saint Louis by Guillaume de Saint-Pathus
French (Paris), 1330-1340
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 5716, fol. 137

Mahiet (Master of the Lives of Saint Louis), Louis IX Teaching
from V
ie de Saint Louis by Gillaume de Saint-Pathus
French (Paris), 1330-1340
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 5716, fol. 44

Mahiet (Master of the Lives of Saint Louis), Louis IX reading the Bible
from V
ie de Saint Louis by Gillaume de Saint-Pathus
French (Paris), 1330-1340
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 5716, fol. 86

Mahiet (Master of the Lives of Saint Louis), Louis IX Giving Justice
from V
ie de Saint Louis by Gillaume de Saint-Pathus
French (Paris), 1330-1340
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 5716, fol. 246

Master of the Roman de Fauvel, Arrest of Louis IX
from Historia of William of Tyre
French (Paris), 1337
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 22495, fol. 294v

Homage of Henry III of England to Louis IX
from Grandes chroniques de France de Charles V
French (Paris), 1375-1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 2813, fol. 290
The King of England is paying homage to the King of France for his family property on the Continent, such as Calais and the area around Bordeaux.  These areas of France were under English control and the kings of England were, therefore, vassals of the kings of France for them.  

Departure of Louis IX for the Crusade
from Historia of William of Tyre
Palestinian (Crusader), 1275-1300
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 2628, fol. 328v

Louis IX as a Prisoner
from Speculum historiale of Vincent of Beauvais
French (Paris), 1396
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 314, fol. 424
Death of Saint Louis
from Le Livre des faits de Monseigneur Saint Louis
French, 15th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France

Jean Fouquet, Death of Saint Louis
from Grandes Chroniques de France
French, c. 1455-1460
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 6465, fol. 284v

He was also featured as a saint among other saints in decorative projects, as for example, at Assisi and elsewhere.
Simone Martini, Saint Louis of France and Saint Louis of Toulouse
Italian, 1317
Assisi, Basilica of St. Francis, Chapel of St. Martin

Cristobal de Villalpando, The Blessed Sacrament Adored by Saints Gregory the Great and Louis of France
Mexican, c. 1690-1699
Mexico City, Private Collection

Giambattista Tiepolo, Saints Augustine, Louis of France and John
Italian, 1740-1760
Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts
And he was especially honored by his own descendants, the Royal Families of France and Spain. He appeared in paintings that present him as saint, as king and as family patron.

Gerard Horenbout, Saint Louis presenting Louis XII in Prayer
Cutting from a manuscript
Flemish, c.1490
Paris, Musée du Louvre
RF 1699-Bis-recto
Jean de Tillet, Armes de Louis IX
from Recueil des rois de France
French (Paris), 1555-1566
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 2848_fol. 99v

Antoine Caron. Kings of France
Extract from L'Histoire Francoyse de nostre temps
French (Paris), 1560-1580
Paris, Musédu Louvre
The album was part of a gift from Nicolas Houel, a Parisian apothecary, to Catherine de Medici who was ruling as Regent during this period for her son, Charles IX
El Greco, Saint Louis
Spanish, 1592-1595
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Luis Tristan, Saint Louis Distributing Alms
Spanish, c.1600
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Claudio Coello, The Virgin and Child Adored by Saint Louis, King of France
Spanish, c. 1665
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Charles LeBrun, Louis XIV presented by Saint Louis to the Risen Christ
French, 1674
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Louis Boullogne the Younger, Saint Louis Placing the Crown of Thorns in the Sainte Chapelle
French, c. 1700
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Charles de La Fosse, Apotheosis of Saint Louis
French, c.1702-1705
Paris, Musée de l'Armée, Les Invalides

Jean Jouvenet, Saint Louis Interceding for the Wounded after the Battle of Mansourah in Egypt in 1250
French, 1709
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Charles-Antoine Coypel, St. Louis Receiving the Crown of Thorns (with the features of Louis XV)
French, 1745
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Jean-Francois de Troy, Saint Louis Placing the Crown on the Head of the Sleeping Henri IV
French, 1728-1733
Pau, Musée national du chateau de Pau

This continued right up to the very eve of the French Revolution.

Charles Van Loo, Coronation of Saint Louis
French, 1770-1780
Paris, Chapel of the École militaire
Gabriel-Francois Doyen, Saint. Louis Receiving His Last Communion
French, c.1770
Paris, Chapel of the École militaire

Joseph Marie Vien the Elder, Saint Louis and his wife, Marguerite de Provence, Visiting Saint Thibaud of Marly
French, 1774
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

During the period of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire (1789-1815) such images were, for obvious reasons, no longer produced. 

However, with the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy in 1815 St. Louis rapidly made his reappearance in French painting.

Charles Meynier, Last Communion of Saint Louis at Tunis in 1270
French, 1817
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Francois Marius Granet, Louis IX Delivering Prisoners from Captivity at Damietta
French, 1819
Fontainebleau, Chateau
A spike in the number of paintings of the life of Saint Louis appears to have taken place around the 550th anniversary of his death, in 1820.
Anonymous, Death of Saint Louis
French, ca. 1820-1830
Brest, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Georges Rouget, Death of Saint Louis before Tunis
French, 1820-1830
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Georges Rouget, St. Louis Announcing His Decision as Arbiter Between Henry III of England and His Barons
French, 1820
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Georges Rouget, Saint Louis Receiving the Envoys of Rachid-el-Din at St. Jean d'Acre
French, 1820-1825
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Georges Rouget, Saint Louis Dispensing Justice Under the Oak at Vincennes
French, 1824
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Charles Thevenin, Saint Louis Depositing the Crown of Thorns in the Sainte Chapelle of Paris in 1248
French, 1825
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

However, this time there was a difference in the subject matter. Instead of iconographic scenes depicting Louis as a Christian saint, the images were drawn from historic episodes from his life. This was in keeping with both the new secularism of the French state and with the historicizing mood typical of the Romantic period.

Guillaume Guillon Lethière, Heroic Steadfastness of Saint Louis at Damietta May 1250
French, 1827
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Charles Marie Bouton, Saint Louis before the tomb of his Mother, Queen Blanche
French, 1830-1840
Fontainebleau, Chateau

Georges Rouget, Landing of Saint Louis at Damietta in Egypt, 4 June 1249
French, c.1830-1840
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Many of these images appear to have been commissioned for the redecoration of the royal palaces at Versailles and at Fontainebleau and patronage appears to have continued under Louis-Philippe, from a branch of the royal stock, who came to the throne as a constitutional monarch after the upheavals of 1830-1831.

While the names of most of the painters who contributed the majority of these pictures are unknown to all but specialists today, two of the greatest names in 19th century French painting also contributed their interpretations of St. Louis and his life.

Eugene Delacroix, Battle of Taillebourg, 21 July 1242
French, 1837
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Saint Louis
 Window for chapel of Saint Ferdinand
French, 1842
Paris, Musédu Louvre

Images of St. Louis as saint, king and patron of France continued to be produced all through the remainder of the nineteenth century.

Anonymous, Landing of Saint Louis in the Holy Land
French, c.1840
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Emile Signol, Saint Louis in 1226
French, 1844
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Jean Antoine Theodore de Gudin, Death of Saint Louis before Tunis, 25 August 1270
French, 1844
Versailles, Chateaux de Versailles ed de Trianon

Jean-Marie Oscar Gue, Saint Louis Receiving Robert, Patriarch of Jerusalem at Damietta
French, 1847
Versailles_Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Alexandre Cabanel, Glorification of Saint Louis
French, 1855
Monpellier, Musée Fabre

Pierre Charles Marquis, Saint Louis Accompanied by his Mother, Blanche of Castille
French, 1857
Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Sebastien-Melchoir Cornu, Saint Louis
Decoration for a Chapel  in the Elyséee Palace
French, c, 1860
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Jean-Baptiste August Leloir, Death of Saint Louis at Tunis 25 August 1270
French, c. 1870
Paris, Petit Palais. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris

In 1874 the painter Alexandre Cabanel received the commission to paint part of the decorative cycle of the history of France in the Pantheon, the former church of Saint Genevieve, converted during the Revolution to a monument to French notables.  His subject was the life of Saint Louis, representing the Capetian dynasty.

Alexandre Cabanel, Life of Saint Louis
French, 1874-1878
Paris, Pantheon

Alexandre Cabanel, Education of Saint Louis by His Mother
from Life of Saint Louis
French, 1874-1878
Paris, Pantheon
Alexandre Cabanel, Saint Louis as a Prisoner in Palestine
French, 1874-1878
Paris, Pantheon

In 1880 Charles Lameire contributed the design of a mosaic featuring Saint Louis and his predecessor, Charlemagne (who is sometimes given the dignity of sainthood), to the construction of the new basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere in Lyon, which began in 1872 and was completed in 1896.

Charles Lameire, Sketch for Mosaic of Charlemagne and Saint Louis
for the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere (Lyon)
French, c.1880-1890
Paris. Musée d'Orsay

Luc Olivier Merson, Saint Louis between the Church and Saint Thomas Aquinas
Study for church of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Paris
French, c. 1888
Paris, Musée d'Orsay
Images continued to be made into the twentieth century, as well.
Alphonse Osbert, Sketch for the Glory of the Reign of Saint Louis
French, c. 1913
Paris, Musée d'Orsay

© M. Duffy, 2011, updated with additional images 2016 and 2017

* During the strange COVID-19 epidemic of 2020, the Crown of Thorns was venerated in a portion of Notre-Dame de Paris that was spared in the tragic fire of April 15, 2019.  The veneration was made available to the entire world via the internet.  

1. Memoirs of the Crusades by Villehardouin and de Joinville, edited by Sir Frank T. Marzials, New York, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1958, p. 277.
2.  Notes from Metropolitan Museum collection database at ix&fp=1&dd1=0&dd2=0&vw=1&collID=0&OID=70011727&vT=1&hi=0&ov=0