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Death of Saint Louis in front of Tunis
© Palace of Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin
Publication date: December 2019
A dynastic saint who died in a crusade celebrated under the Restoration
Presented at the Salon of 1817, the work of Georges Rouget, pupil of J.L. This is not surprising because Louis IX or Saint-Louis has been celebrated since the 17th century.e century as the patron saint of the Bourbons, Henri IV in front of his legitimate rights on the throne of France to the fact of being descended by Robert de Clermont his 6th son. In 1814, one of the first acts of Louis XVIII, anxious to renew dynastic history after the Revolution, was to restore the military order of Saint-Louis created by Louis XIV in 1693 and abolished by the Convention a hundred years later.
This painting has had some success. Several times copied, it was selected in 1837 to join the Museum of the History of France in Versailles, for which Rouget also painted original works, for the Hall of the Crusades in particular.
The death of Louis IX, subject of this painting, occurs on August 25, 1270 during the VIIIth crusade, the second for him, in which he participated against the advice of his relatives. His opponent, the Mamluk Sultan Baïbars, is in Egypt but it is towards Tunisia, after a regrouping in Sicily, that the royal fleet sailed with an obscure goal for historians. In front of Tunis, the king wants to wait for the reinforcement of his brother Charles of Anjou, new king of Sicily to go on the attack. He fixes his camp near the ruins of Carthage, where the heat of August aggravates an ill-identified epidemic - dysentria, typhus scurvy indifferently called plague in the Middle Ages - which prevails after one of his sons.
The father, the son and the uncle
Three figures are highlighted in an audience mixing French barons, representatives of the Emperor of Constantinople and prelates.
Louis IX seized just after his death lies on a single bed without being the bed of ashes mentioned by tradition. Emaciated - no doubt because of illness but also because of the privations he imposed on himself out of religious piety - his hands crossed on a large crucifix, barefoot, he is dressed in a simple shirt. Only the fleur-de-lys crumpled blanket on her legs refers to her royal function.
Kneeling beside him, Philippe, his son who had become King of France at the very moment of his father's death. On the bedside between them, a crown, as if royalty had left one without having yet fully invested the other. Charles d'Anjou has just entered, still carrying his weapon and wearing his cape decorated with a cross. Leaning towards the deceased in a movement of concern, he looks haggardly, not towards him but towards the spectator. Philippe III seems to be represented in a position of weakness compared to his uncle, but enjoys the major asset of his legitimacy symbolized by his fleur-de-lis dress and the proximity of the crown.
A historic scene echoing the romantic codes in vogue under the Restoration
Rouget represents this historical episode faithfully to Chateaubriand's account. This representation therefore shows an intimate and family pain, a great Christian religiosity (marked by the destitution of the deceased king) as well as a taste for the historical genre visible in the very meticulous treatment (with some anachronisms) of the costumes of the main characters and of assistance.
These are in fact romantic codes which are beginning to meet with great success in literature and which the painter transposes here. This painting, among many others, also has the interest of helping to restore the image of medieval royalty through the figure of a king considered exemplary, in order to help legitimize the restoration of the Bourbons by suggesting a form of secular historical, dynastic and religious continuity beyond the Revolution and the Empire. It is therefore a work which fits extremely well with the aesthetic and political issues of its time, which explains both its immediate success at the Salon of 1817 and in the years that followed and its relative neglect once the Restoration has passed.
- Louis XVIII
- Henry IV
- Louis XIV
- Museum of the History of France
- Chateaubriand (François-René de)
- Philip III
- Charles of Anjou
- Saint Louis (Louis IX, said)
Jacques LE GOFF, Saint Louis, Gallimard, Paris, 1996
Sophie DELMAS, Saint Louis, Ellipses, Paris, 2017
Explanation of works of painting, sculpture, architecture and engraving, living artists, exhibited at the Royal Museum of Arts, April 24, 1817, Paris, Printing of Madame Hérissant Le Doux, 1817, n ° 673
François-René de CHATEAUBRIANT, Route from Paris to Jerusalem, in Complete Works, P.H. Krabbe, Paris 1852 (consulted on Gallica BNF)
To cite this article
Laetitia REBIFFÉ-CARBONNE, "Death of Saint Louis in front of Tunis"