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Henri Gissey (c. 1621-73)

Louis XIV in the guise of Apollo ?

Graphite, watercolour, bodycolour and gold paint on vellum | 30.4 x 22.5 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 913071

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  • The ballet was the principal passion of the young Louis XIV (1638-1715). He danced the leading roles in divertissements until the age of 30, and one of his first acts on assuming personal rule in 1661 was to establish a royal academy of dance, which evolved into the Opéra. The details of the costume shown here correspond closely with those in a drawing accompanying a libretto of Les Noces de Pélée et de Thétis (Paris, Institut de France), depicting the costume worn by the 15-year-old King in a ballet performed as a series of entrées to that opera at its première in 1654. Though Louis did not officially adopt the sun as his emblem until 1661, comparisons between monarchy and the sun were so commonplace at the time that dressing the King as Apollo, the sun god, would have been unremarkable. None the less the richness of this costume is stunning, with gold brocade, ostrich feathers, and silks studded with precious stones.

    Henri de Gissey was dessinateur ordinaire du Cabinet du Roi at this time, and in charge of designing the costumes for the royal ballets. The style of the present drawing is consistent with that of a number of costume designs attributed to Gissey in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, and elsewhere, but although he may have designed the costume he was not necessarily the creator of the drawing. As a finished drawing on vellum, it must be a record of the costume rather than a functional design. Watercolours and gouaches intended as finished works for a patron were often executed on vellum, giving a greater saturation of colouring and an overtly luxurious effect. It was also common workshop practice in every branch of the arts to make copy drawings which served as models and inspirations for future projects; a sheet agreeing with this design in its details but distinct in style was on the art market in 1989 with an early ascription to Jean Berain (1640-1711), Gissey's pupil and successor. Thus while it seems certain that this drawing is an accurate and contemporary record of a design by Gissey, it may well have been drawn by an associate rather than by the dessinateur ordinaire himself.

    Inscribed APOLLON. LE ROY.

    Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002
    Provenance

    Royal Collection by early twentieth century

  • Medium and techniques

    Graphite, watercolour, bodycolour and gold paint on vellum

    Measurements

    30.4 x 22.5 cm (sheet of paper)