Power of the spectacle, spectacle of power

Power of the spectacle, spectacle of power

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The Grand Carrousel donated by Louis XIV in the courtyard of the Tuileries in Paris.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / All rights reserved

Publication date: May 2013

Professor at Paris VIII University

Historical context

The first great feast of personal reign

It is a year since the death of Mazarin, that the king "governs by himself" and he wishes to affirm in the eyes of the greatest number the beginning of his "personal" reign. Especially since the future of the dynasty was assured by the birth of a dolphin on the 1er November 1661. On June 5, 1662, he organized a carousel in the courtyard of the Tuileries. It is therefore a question of both celebrating this happy event and proclaiming the glory of the sovereign by offering a public spectacle capable of striking the imagination, because the peoples, explains Louis XIV in his Briefs, “Like the spectacle, where basically we always aim to please them […]. By this we hold their minds and hearts, sometimes more strongly perhaps, than by rewards and blessings ”.

Carlo Vigarani, whose father was the architect of Mazarin, was appointed to stage the carousel, an equestrian display of an unprecedented scale. It is the Jardin de Mademoiselle, a vast space located between the Louvre and the Tuileries, which was chosen: terraces and wooden stands were erected to delimit a large and magnificent square square, capable of accommodating fifteen thousand seated people. in four rows. A double barrier allows the passage of the quadrilles of riders.

On the Tuileries side (at the back), a sumptuous three-storey tribune was erected for the queens (Anne of Austria, Marie-Thérèse), the princes of the court and the ambassadors. It is there, under a purple velvet canopy enriched with golden fleur-de-lis, that Queen Marie-Thérèse awaits the winners of the races to present them with prizes of great value, in particular a box with the portrait of the king, adorned with of diamonds.

Image Analysis

The knights' quadrille

The painting, which highlights the spectacular deployment of this parade, presents in a single scene several of the episodes that marked these two days of celebrations, June 5 and 6, 1662, in particular the most impressive (in the foreground): a equestrian ballet which puts in action five quadrilles of ten knights. Romans, Persians, Turks, Indians, "Savages of America", respectively commanded by the king (in a sumptuous costume ofimperator Roman), Sir, the Prince of Condé, the Duke of Enghien, the Duke of Guise.

The first day was devoted to "head races" against a Turk's head and a Medusa's head; the second day was that of the ring races, which consisted of threading with a lance at full gallop a ring hung by a string from a gallows, a milder version of the tournaments prohibited since the tragic death of Henry II in 1559.
All the commentators have noted the warlike character of this spectacle intended to exalt the nobility: Charles Perrault calls them "images of war", and Father Ménestrier writes that "carousel races are military".


The birth of the Sun King

While the aristocracy, deprived of its military prerogatives, is reduced to serving as a backdrop for the sovereign, the absolute power of the king is here spectacularly asserted, notably through the display of mottos and emblems. Louis Douvrier created, on this occasion, the motto of Louis XIV, which immediately became famous: Nec Pluribus impar, often translated as "A no other like". And this is the king himself in his Briefs who explained this official birth of the "Sun King":

"It was there [during the 1662 merry-go-round] that I began to take [the currency] that I have always kept ever since, and that you see in so many places. I believed that, without stopping at anything peculiar and lesser, it must represent in some way the duties of a prince, and eternally excite me to fulfill them.

We choose for body the sun, which, in the rules of this art, is the noblest of all, and which, by the unique quality, by the radiance which surrounds it, by the light which it communicates to other stars which compose it like a kind of court, by the equal and fair sharing that it makes of this same light to all the various climates of the world, by the good that it does in all places, constantly producing on all sides life, joy and action, by its relentless movement, where it nevertheless always seems calm, by this constant and invariable course, from which it never deviates and never turns away, is undoubtedly the most lively and the most beautiful image of a great monarch. "

  • Louis XIV
  • Anne of Austria
  • Maria Theresa of Austria
  • absolute monarchy
  • Mazarin (cardinal of)
  • Great Century


· Louis XIV, Briefs, Paris, Tallandier, 2012.

Joël CORNETTE, Absolutism and Enlightenment: 1652-1783, Paris, Hachette, 2005.

To cite this article

Joël CORNETTE, “Power of the spectacle, spectacle of power”

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