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  • Death of Henry IV and the Proclamation of the Regency

    Artist:
    Rubens, Peter Paul (Pietro Pauolo). 1577-1640
    Technique:
    oil
    Dimensions:
    48x65,6 cm

Rubens, Peter Paul (Pietro Pauolo). 1577-1640

Death of Henry IV and the Proclamation of the Regency

Flanders, 1622

With the idea of decorating the eastern and western galleries of the Luxembourg Palace with pictures, French Queen Maria de Medici (1575-1642), mother of Louis XIII, commissioned two series of works from Rubens. The gallery in the eastern wing would celebrate the "battles" and "triumphs" of Henry IV - the spouse of Maria de Medici. This order was not carried out. The gallery in the western wing would present "events of the glorious life and heroic deeds" of the Queen herself. This series, consisting of 24 paintings, now hangs in the Louvre. Rubens?s preparatory works for the "Medici Gallery" were almost exclusively oil sketches, and five of these are in the Hermitage. This fourteenth composition in the series brings together two events from the history of France which in fact occurred one after the other. On 14 May 1610, the day following the coronation of Maria de Medici, Henry IV was murdered on a Parisian street by the fanatical Catholic Francois Ravaillac. This tragic event was a turning point in the destiny of the Queen: in a solemn ceremony she was declared Regent during the minority of Louis XIII. Rubens has divided the space of the painting into two halves: on one half we see the apotheosis of the dying king; and on the other, the oath of loyalty to the new ruler taken by her subjects and by France itself. Moreover, each half of the composition is framed by an arch which is appropriate to the spirit of what is depicted below it: one is heavenly, with the signs of the Zodiac (Leo, Virgo, Libra), and the other is earthly (a classical triumphal arch). A manuscript in the Baluze Collection (Bibliotheque Nationale de France) tells us it was decided that "King Henry the Great was more worthy to be among the gods than among mortals, and they send Jupiter and Mercury to take him up to heaven and show him his place there." When he created the composition of the scene, Rubens followed the scheme of exaltation (apotheosis) of Roman emperors. The King is borne to the skies supported by Saturn, who is gripping a scythe in one hand, and Jupiter, who is accompanied by an eagle with lightning bolts in its claws. Below are two winged Victories "crying that the kingdom and the whole world is losing the greatest King and military commander that ever was" (text of a manuscript in the Baluze Collection, Bibliotheque Nationale de France). One of them (holding a palm branch) has stretched herself out on the earth and is wringing her hands in grief, while the other tears at her hair holding aloft a military trophy honouring the King. This figure is considered to be either the goddess of war Bellona or Glory. Alongside them, on the earth next to the very edge of the composition, a snake is writhing, pierced by an arrow, spewing forth a threatening flame in the direction of Henry IV, who is leaving this earthly world. This image (the general symbol of vanquished evil) replaced in the final version of the painting the detail which is found in the same part of a sketch owned by the Alte Pinakothek, Munich: the personification of Discord - a demonic figure moving stealthily and holding a torch and a dagger in its hands. The substitution was made out of concern that such a figure with a dagger might be interpreted as a hint at the participation of Maria de Medici herself in the murder of the King, as was rumoured at the time. Henry is greeted in heaven by Hercules and Mercury, while Venus and Cupid, Cybele and Juno cast their gaze in the direction of the widowed Queen. She sits on a high throne with a canopy; her head is lowered and she wears the black apparel of mourning. The twisted columns which support the canopy are a direct allusion to the throne of Solomon, which in the context of the scene may be understood as symbolizing the wisdom of the Queen. At the sides of the throne stand Minerva, who holds a shield with the head of Medusa, and Prudence. The genuflectory France holds out the orb to Maria de Medici, while the flying figure of Divine Providence offers her the helm. But the Queen modestly clasps her hands to her breast and does not dare take the symbols of royal authority herself. This is done for her by Prudence. Below, at the foot of the throne, representatives of the gentry kneel before her and pay their respects to the new ruler. The original sketch of the composition belonging to the Hermitage differs significantly from both the final version and from the sketch in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Title:

Death of Henry IV and the Proclamation of the Regency

Place:

Date:

Material:

Technique:

oil

Dimensions:

48x65,6 cm

Acquisition date:

Entered the Hermitage in 1772; acquired from the collection of L.A. Crozat, Baron de Thiers in Paris

Inventory Number:

ГЭ-514

Category:

Collection:

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