Title: The Family of Darius at the feet of Alexander says "the tent of Darius".
Author : LE BRUN Charles (1619 - 1690)
Dimensions: Height 298 - Width 453
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas The queens of Persia at the feet of Alexander the Great, shortly after the victory at Issus (333). Accompanied by his faithful Héphestion, he visits the queen (with his son Ochus in his arms). Around 1660
Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot
Picture reference: 04-510998 / MV6165
The Family of Darius at the feet of Alexander says "the tent of Darius".
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot
Publication date: February 2013
Professor at Paris VIII University
This picture was probably painted at the end of the year 1660. Charles Le Brun lived in Fontainebleau, near the king, and Louis XIV "came to see him at unexpected times when he held the brush in his hand" , as clarified by Claude Nivelon, born around 1630, disciple and first biographer of Charles Le Brun.
The painting represents the mother of Darius throwing herself at the feet of the king of Macedon, the victor over her son at the battle of Issus (- 333), in order to implore clemency for his captive family.
The scene is inspired by a sequence of Lives of illustrious men by Plutarch, a passage from Quinte Curce, but also contemporary plays centered on the Macedonian hero: Claude Boyer in 1648 (Porus or the Generosity of Alexander), Morel in 1658 (Timoclee or the Generosity of Alexander, tragicomedy), already insisted on the greatness of soul of the conqueror of Darius.
This large painting offers, through the image, a poetic art based on the same quest as literature: the scene of Darius' tent indeed maintains a close correspondence with the literary rules stated at the same time in the fashionable Parisian salons. .
It was about illustrating the exercises of precious circles. The latter had given themselves as object the analysis of the multiple figures of affectivity at the same time as the decorum suitable for the civilized elites of the court and the city, in imitation of the map of Tendre drawn up by Madeleine de Scudéry (the ten volumes of his Clelia appeared between 1654 and 1660) or the observations of the doctor Marin Cureau of the Chamber on "temperaments", "cold or wet" complexions (his Art of knowing men was published in 1659). In the late 1660s, many of Charles Le Brun's lectures at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture dealt with the art of expressing passions through painting.
To understand this painting, it is also necessary to bring it closer to the theater, because Charles Le Brun particularly worked on the attitude and the body of Alexander / Louis XIV: he represents him "in the moment when he approaches these Ladies, which does not was not the use of the Greeks ”(Félibien). Above all, the episode gives the state a heroic representation, akin to the subjects intrigued by Corneille or Racine. Thus, the gesture of Alexander forgiving a mistake (revenge, that is, submission to the passions, would be unworthy of one who embodies sovereignty) is designed to illustrate a whole range of feelings: compassion, clemency, friendship, civility. We are not far from here "the equation of passions on a stage" (Michel Prigent). As André Félibien, historiographer to the king wrote, "by overcoming himself, he overcame, not barbarian peoples, but the victor of all nations". Likewise, the attitudes of the women, which allow a new rapprochement with the heroines of Cornelius, express both the imploration and the admiration for the hero who crystallizes in himself the omnipotence of the state.
Commented with abundance by Félibien, this work has the value of a manifesto for what some, from the XIXe century, called "Classicism". For two centuries, painters, designers and engravers followed one another to study it.
This painting is not only in correspondence with a literary work, because the political events of the year 1661 modified its reading: in fact, the day after Cardinal Mazarin's death on March 9, the monarch announced his decision to rule alone. Louis XIV explained this in his Briefs, writing (or having someone write): "It was not in my best interest to take subjects of a higher quality. Above all, I had to establish my own reputation, and make known to the public, by the very rank I took, that my intention was not to share my authority with them. ”In this context of effective seizure of power and redistribution of“ ranks ”, the painter's work took on a particular meaning: was he not the emblematic figure of the allegiance that everyone, in particular the former rebels, owed henceforth grant a young king brilliantly asserting his full and entire sovereignty?
Piece to be added to the thick file of the "two bodies of the king", this painting participates in the process of "civilization of manners" which would soon transform the unhappy gentleman who became a courtier into a being in perpetual quest for self-control, an imitator of a sovereign who affected "the seriousness of a king of the theater" to use Primi Visconti's expression: a few years later, in the early 1670s, describing court manners - "the most beautiful comedy in the world" - , this Italian observer of Versailles noted that in public, the king was "full of gravity and very different from what he is in his particular. Finding myself in his room with other courtiers, I have noticed several times that, if the door happens by chance to be opened, or if he goes out, he immediately composes an attitude and assumes another facial expression, as s 'he was to appear on a theater; in short, he knows how to be king in everything [...] Since he reigned, he has never been seen angry, and he has never sworn once ”. This discipline applied to oneself was part of a balance of power that now made the monarch the sole regulator of tensions and "passions". In his Briefs, Louis XIV presents himself on numerous occasions as a sovereign of reason, a neostoic king, master of his gestures, his feelings, his actions: "Provided that the rest of my actions made known that, in order not to reason to no one, I did not govern myself less by reason. "
Charles Le Brun who, with Le Nôtre and Mansart, belonged to the artists called by Nicolas Fouquet to Vaux, became the sovereign's favorite painter after the creation of this painting.
- Louis XIV
- absolute monarchy
Joël CORNETTE, Chronicle of the reign of Louis XIV, Paris, Sedes, 1997.
Claude NIVELON, Life of Charles Le Brun and detailed description of his works, critical edition and introduction by Lorenzo Pericolo, Geneva, Droz, 2004.
André FÉLIBIEN, The Queens of the Persians at the feet of Alexander, painting of the cabinet du Roy, Paris, at Pierre Le Petit, 1663.
Michel PRIGENT, The Hero and the State in the Tragedy by Pierre Corneille, Paris, P.U.F., 1986.
To cite this article
Joël CORNETTE, "Alexandre in the tent of Darius"