The Fabrication of Louis XIV

Peter Burke

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March 23, 1994
256 pages, 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
90 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300059434
Paper

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Cloth

Louis XIV was a man like any other, but the money and attention lavished on his public image by the French government transformed him into a godlike figure. In this engrossing book, an internationally respected historian gives an account of contemporary representations of Louis XIV and shows how the making of the royal image illuminates the relationship between art and power.
 
Images of Louis XIV included hundreds of oil paintings and engravings, three-hundred-odd medals struck to commemorate the major events of the reign, sculptures, and bronzes, as well as plays, ballets (in which the king himself sometimes appeared on stage), operas, odes, sermons, official newspapers and histories, fireworks, fountains, and tapestries. Drawing on an analysis of these representations as well as on surviving documentary sources, Peter Burke shows the conscious attempt to "invent" the image of the king and reveals how the supervision of the royal image was entrusted to a commitee, the so-called small academy.
 
This book is not only a fascinating chronological study of the mechanics of the image-making of a king over the course of a seventy-year reign but is also an investigation into the genre of cultural construction. Burke discusses the element of propaganda implicit in image-making, the manipulation of seventeenth-century media of communication (oral, visual, and textual) and their codes (literary and artistic), and the intended audience and its response. He concludes by comparing and contrasting Louis's public image with that of other rulers ranging from Augustus to contemporary American presidents.

"The value of this study to nonspecialists is its clinical treatment of the process of glorification."—The Spectator

"In this book, Burke chronicles the multimedia construction of Louis XIV's royal image. He offers a massively erudite collection of facts disposed into an admirably clear narrative."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"A comprehensive, general account of the components of Louis XIV's public image, its development, its intended audience, and its impact. . . . A fascinating interpretation of the 'selling of Louis XIV' that should appeal to a wide audience."—Choice

"[An] excellent survey. . . .[Burke] employs an elegant Tacitean style, carrying the reader effortlessly though a great deal of information. . . .An attractive piece of historical craftsmanship, further enhanced by nearly ninety well-chosen plates. . . . A distinguished, lively, and beautifully written book."—Robin Briggs, Times Literary Supplement

"Yet, for all its penetrating insight, there is still a tantalizing brevity about his work."—Keith Thomas, Guardian

"[A] lucid study of art and power in the ancien régime." —Mariana Warner, Independent on Sunday

"Fascinating Study. . . . Burke does full justice to the believers and the skeptics in his study—a valuable contribution to the history of public relations."—Anthony Curtis, Weekend [Financial Times]

"This study of the iconography of kingship emphasizes the element of artifice in the creation of the image of Louis and throws great light on the nature of political culture in this period. . . . A very fine study that deserves to be widely read."—Archives

"A rich and beautifully illustrated account of the creation of one of the most powerful images in history. . . . Enjoyable and informative reading addressed primarily to non-specialists of the period. . . . Highly recommended to anyone interested in seventeenth-century France and more generally in the processes and power of myth-making and history."—Faith E. Beasley, Canadian Journal of History

"There is much that is enjoyable and stimulating about this book. . . . An accessible series of essays—welcome for their intellectual insights and comprehensive overview."—Mark Jones, Country Life

"Peter Burke offers a stimulating account of the 'invention' of Louis XIV, but his book is much more than that. It gives food for thought on the necessity for recreating myth and symbol in the politics of each generation."—Bruce Boucher, The Independent

"A thorough and meticulous work of research, revealing aspects and attitudes of the late seventeenth-, early eighteenth-century France which one is unlikely to find elsewhere."—Moira Shearer, Literary Review

"A fine book. . . . Burke's insights into the distinctive nature of Louis XIV's propaganda make this a major contribution to the study of political patronage of the arts, the rhetoric of power, and the changing image of kingship."—Frederic J. Baumgartner, Historian

"As expected from a historian with Peter Burke's abilities and knowledge of directions in historiography, this book scatters throughout its chapters fresh observations, tantalizing questions, and reasonable conjectures."—Lawrence M. Bryant, American Historical Review