Portrait of Louis XIV of France (1638-1715). (Public Domain/United States public domain tag)

By Molly Vella | The BL

Louis XIV, a renowned lover of literature and the arts, played the role of an art patron in 17th and 18th century of France. He believed that the greatness of a nation could be measured by its achievements in the arts, the proficiency of a nation was seen to reflect its glory and values.

600 years ago, the Renaissance declined from its zenith to ashes. Not until the 17th century did European civilization reemerge fully flourishing once more. King Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, took French culture and arts to its pinnacle and from there, revived European civilization as we know it.

Portrait of Louis XIV of France, in 1661. (Public Domain)

The Founding of the Royal Dance Academy

In 1661, when King Louis XIV was 23 years old, he founded the first ballet school in Paris to train performers for ceremonies. He invited a number of top artists such as Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Baptiste Moliere to be in charge of the music and ballet performances.

During this period, ballets were composed for male performers to showcase the strength and agility of the human body. At that time, there were 5 basic leg postures, 12 arm postures, and some other dance moves, all of which were named in French.

Painting of ballet dancers by Edgar Degas, 1872. (Wikipedia Commons)

How Ballet inspired rituals

Rituals taught by French masters of dance at that time were built on simple ideals and themes. Notions such as… an educated person was one who, regardless of their circumstances, always remained calm. This basic concept was at the time the most basic concept in ballet.

Regardless of the situation, ladies and gentlemen were expected to always maintain proper posture and gesture. Pierre Rameau said that “Through a lady’s posture and appearance, we can assess her elegance and grace. For example, if a person always keeps her back and neck straight, has no pretentious acts or rude and grumpy behavior, she could be considered cultured.”

(Public Domain)

Under King Louis XIV, among French families and the aristocracy, bowing was popular. According to Rameau, this was a sign of a good upbringing and respect for the counterpart. When going to someone else’s house, people would bow down before the host to ask after their health. Before leaving, the guests would give the host a simple gift. Though bowing was simple, it enabled them to evaluate one’s family and living conditions.

After the 17th century, performing arts had initiated an unprecedented influence on culture. The rituals of King Louis XIV’s court became more and more gracious, highly respected and followed by many other European royalties. Ballet masters passed on not only dances and techniques, but also rituals, social interactions, and standard rules. Artists used the civilization of arts to enlighten the entirety of Europe.

King Louis XIV employed the art of dancing to set the standard of social rituals, making France the center of artistic civilization in Europe at that time, influencing European social behavior for the following 200 years.

Holding dances to train the mind and improve health

Under the reign of King Louis XIV, the royal court organized balls every week, even during wartime. Many balls demonstrated the dignity and capability of the French royal family.

Ball at Versailles. (Wikipedia Commons)

In 1708, according to records, there were once 10 balls held in just 6 weeks. Therefore, attendees were required not only to maintain their stamina and grace but also to possess talent. Every year, attendees had to prepare 12 unique dances that lasted for 2-3 minutes each. This requirement posed a challenge of physical and mental stamina. Therefore, under King Louis XIV, even non-masters could also perform complicated and advanced dance steps.

The popularity of art and culture

Under King Louis XIV’s reign, ballet reached an advanced level, which can even be considered the most skillful dance technique for the amateur. Ballet became a vital part of French civilization and the iconic expression of the era.

King Louis XIV in the god Apollo’s costume. (Public Domain)

With Cardinal Mazarin’s support and encouragement, King Louis himself participated in ballet performances with other aristocrats at the palace until his middle age. He was associated with the role of the Greek God Apollo (the God of, amongst other things, art). Since then, he was also called le Roi Soleil, or the Sun King.

According to records, King Louis XIV eliminated previously placed restrictions, allowing common people to learn the dancing rituals of the aristocrats. As a result, ballet performances had a great impact on the people. Performing ballet teaches us how to control ourselves so that we can perform the best within the dance and within our lives. Head-on dance competitions were fierce and intense, but it was required that artists maintain humble and calm facial expressions. It was essential however that all elements of each dance, including costumes, expressions, and dance steps must bring joy to the audience.

Thanks to the exquisite and graceful dance, France regained the trust and respect of other European countries. With its sophisticated dances and cultural etiquette, France once again regained its credibility and the admiration of other European countries.

Rituals, etiquettes, dances, and trendiness made France the center of European civilization and it dominated European culture for nearly two centuries. As a result, France has become the center of fine artworks, fashion, food and dance, bringing huge profits to France’s economy.

Initiating the era of Baroque music

As the King was so fond of ballet, composers at the French court always tried to compose songs suitable for dancing to. Louis XIV’s dance music was composed by the most famous composers of the day, such as English musician Henry Purcell and the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach, ushering in the era of Baroque music.

Michel de la Barre (with a flute, on the right), a famous French composer. (Wikipedia Commons)

The establishment of the emblematic Louvre

Apart from his interest in dance and music, Louis XIV was said to be a very generous art patron, one of the few to be found in history. He invited many famous artists to work and settle down in Paris, offering them various attractive benefits, so that they could be free to compose and create.

In 1663, King Louis XIV founded the Academy of Painting and Sculpture (L’Academie de Peinture et de Sculpture). Aristocrats from all over the country followed after the king, joining the trend to build schools to train and support artists to create, making France the center of artistic development at that time. This also passed on the responsibility of protecting the traditional arts of the French.

Hall of Mirrors of Versailles Palace: 73 meters long, with 17 mirror-clad arches made of 21 mirrors. (Wikipedia Commons)

Besides building art schools to nurture budding talents, Louis XIV also wanted to affirm the superiority of France in the fields of the luxury industries and arts. He bought or commissioned approximately 1,800 paintings, most of which were used to decorate the Palace of Versailles.

The French royal family since the time of King François I (1494 – 1547) had begun to cultivate a hobby of collecting artworks for conservation. So, in 1699, King Louis XIV opened an exhibition at the Grand Gallery room for common people. This generous endeavor laid the basis for the future of the world-famous Louvre Museum.

Funding for the robust development of French science and literature

Under the reign of King Louis XIV, literature and science achieved remarkable breakthroughs. He founded the French Academy of Sciences and the French Academy, along with the Royal Theater, and recruited many outstanding scholars such as the great playwright and poet Pierre Corneille (1606 – 1684), the famous theater composer Jean Racine (1639-1699), and scientist and mathematician René Descartes (1596–1650).

The establishment of the French Academy has contributed to the development of the French language.

Since France was considered the most powerful European empire at that time, in terms of economy and culture, the French language became the European nobility’s common tongue, as English is today. Even until the 18th century, Russian nobility used the French language more often than Russian.

Painting from 1667 depicting Louis as patron of the fine arts. (Public Domain)

Turning European culture and art into a trend

Louis XIV wanted to develop Paris into the second Rome. In order to achieve this goal, he carried out a plan to rebuild Paris.

Louvre palace was pulled down and rebuilt. Old walls were also torn down. Public buildings such as churches, bridges, and parks were erected and emerged everywhere in the city. He built many majestic buildings and squares to adorn the city and bring it to its current glory.

In terms of facilities, people expanded the roads, grew trees, installed street lighting, modernized the water supply system, opened channels, connected to the sewerage system, and established hospitals to provide free health care for the war wounded.

Under the reign of Louis XIV, Paris flourished with a population of 700,000. Due to King Louis XIV’s patronage of culture and arts, one-fifth of European genius gathered in Paris. The city became a model for other European cities to mirror and remains the same to this day.

(Source: DKN.tv)