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October 21, 2009

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Versailles exhibitshines on Sun King

THE Sun King shines again at Versailles.

Hundreds of long-dispersed portraits, sculptures and tapestries celebrating Louis XIV have returned to Versailles, a former hunting lodge that the autocratic French monarch transformed as a reflection of his glory into a palace of unrivaled opulence.

The exhibit ìLouis XIV: The Man and The King? gives visitors the 17th century ruler in all his varied incarnations. A massive oil painting shows the cherub-faced child who ascended to the throne at age five. Imposing marble busts extoll the steely eyed ìLouis the Great,? whose iron-fisted leadership helped forge the modern French state. A wax relief captures the elderly monarch ó all droopy jowls ó facing his own mortality.

The show, which opened yesterday, also highlights Louis XIVís artistic tastes. A great champion of music, architecture and gardening, the Sun King also dabbled in theater, tapestries, gemstones and illuminated manuscripts.

The showís more than 300 pieces reflect those varied interests. Widely dispersed during and after the 1789 French Revolution, some of them have not been back in the country since.

ìLouis XIV was a world unto himself,? said the exhibitís curator, Nicolas Milovanovic. ìHeís at once an inspiration for the most important artists of the 17th century ... and a passionate lover of art who had very strong relationships with artists.?

Born in 1638 to Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, Louis Dieudonne, or Louis the God-given, ascended to the throne following his fatherís death in 1643 ó though he didnít direct the government himself until 1661. His reign was one of relative peace and prosperity, and saw France eclipse Spain as Europeís dominant power.

Louis XIV also presided over the flourishing of Gallic culture. He drew on the best architects and landscapers of the day to transform Versailles ó his fatherís hunting lodge west of Paris ó into the sumptuous and imposing epicenter of European power, moving the court there in 1682. He also commissioned the continentís top artists and artisans to decorate the palace.


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