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Workshop of Jean Perréal (c. 1455-c. 1530)

Louis XII, King of France (1462-1515) c. 1510-14

Oil on panel | 31.8 x 23.8 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 403431

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  • This is the most famous image of Louis XII (1462 – 1515) who succeeded Charles VIII, as king of France in 1498 and married Charles’ widow, the former Queen-Consort, Anne de Bretagne. After her death in 1514, Louis married Mary Tudor, the sister of the king of England Henry VIII, on 9 October of the same year. Jean Perréal was sent to England as part of the marriage negotiations, to help ensure Mary’s wedding apparel conformed to French taste and perhaps to paint her portrait. It seems most likely that he brought his portrait of Louis XII with him. It is recorded in inventories of Henry VIII’s possessions in the Palace of Whitehall, London, in 1542 and 1547.

    Jean Perréal was the most celebrated artist in France at the time. He was painter and valet de chambre to three kings of France, Charles VIII, Louis XII and Francis I. His is documented as staging ceremonial events, architect, poet, surveyor, and as a designer of sculpture. His skill as a portraistist was highly praised at the time. He described himself as an ‘imitator of nature’ and the few portraits securely attributed to him are characterized by a close attention to naturalistic detail. It is generally agreed that this portrait of Louis XII is a high quality studio copy of a lost prime version by Perréal of which several other copies exist of poorer quality. The king was fifty-two in 1514. This shows a younger man wearing a cap with a narrow shape which was slightly old fashioned by this date, his appearance resembling the portrait medal c.1500 (Paris, Bibilothèque Nationale).

    Louis XII pursued disastrous wars in Italy but was known as ‘Le Père du Peuple’ in France, keeping his kingdom free from civil war and introducing fiscal reforms. In the Perréal’s portrait Louis XII wears an enseign or hat badge and the chivalric order and collar of St Michel around his neck, both in gold to show his status. As described by Hackenbroch the hat badge derived from the popular pilgrim badge, the commemorative medal and military insignia. It shows the patron saint of the French monarchy, St Denis, with his companions St Rusticus and St Eleutherius. The Order of St Michel, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, ‘Saint Michel, le premier chévalier au service de Dieu’ was founded by Louis XI on 1 August 1469, in fulfilment of a promise of his father Charles VII to commemorate the victory of Jeanne d’Arc on St Michael’s day in 1420. The intention was for this Order to compete with the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece, founded by Philip the Good in 1430. The badge with St Michel is suspended from an elaborate gold collar made of cockleshells, the badge of the pilgrim. Louis XII, the only Valois-Orléans monarch, combines here St Denis, the older patron saint of France and the newer chivalric order thereby displaying his own authority to be king of the whole of France and all its territories.

    The painting appears in Pyne's illustrated 'Royal Residences' of 1819, hanging in The Old Drawing Room at Kensington Palace (RCIN 922153).

    First recorded at Whitehall in 1542 (no 738, ‘King Louis of France with a curtain’); recorded in the Privy Gallery n 1639 (no 46); probably one of the '31 pictures of Kings and princes' sold for £20 to de la Mare on 28 June 1650 from St James's Palace (no 218); recovered at the Restoration and back in the King's Privy Gallery at Whitehall in 1666 (no 113)

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel


    31.8 x 23.8 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

    40.5 x 31.0 x 3.6 cm (frame, external)

  • Category
    Object type(s)

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