Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Louis XV as a child (1710-1774), c.1720 

Studio of Pierre Gobert (1662-1744)

Portrait of Louis XV as a child (1710-1774), c.1720, Studio of Pierre Gobert
Oil on canvas
18th Century
31.5 x 25.39 ins., (80 x 64.5 cm.)
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This animated portrait of Louis XV beautifully captures both the regality of this young king and his childhood innocence.

Louis XV was widely known as Louis le bien aimé or Louis the Beloved and was born at the Palace of Versailles during the reign of his great-grandfather Louis XIV. Louis XV was not expected to become king, he was the third son of the Duke of Burgundy (who became the Grand Dauphin after his father’s death in April 1711) and was given the title of Duke of Anjou. In 1712 the Grand Dauphin’s wife, Marie Adélaïde, died of smallpox and only a week later the Grand Dauphin, heartbroken and ill, also died. It soon became apparent that their two sons, Louis, Duke of Brittany and the Duke of Anjou (Louis XV) had also become infected with smallpox and after several attempts to save the Duke of Brittany’s life, through extensive bloodletting, he died. The Duke of Anjou’s governess, Madame de Ventadour, prevented bloodletting to treat the young prince and ultimately saved his life. Louis survived smallpox and was the heir to the French throne at the age of two.

Whilst the king was an infant the country was governed by a Regency Council of fourteen members including Philippe, Duke of Orléans, nephew of Louis XIV, who was named president. It was Philippe of Orléans who encouraged French decorative arts and helped establish Louis XV’s extravagant style. The king left his governess at the age of seven and was subsequently cared for by a governor, Francois de Villeroy, who oversaw his education. Louis was curious and open-minded, an intelligent boy who quickly developed eclectic tastes.

In 1721 at the age of eleven, Louis was betrothed to his first cousin Maria Anna Victoria of Spain who was three years old, and the following year he was crowned king in Reims Cathedral. In the two years that followed, the Duke of Bourbon became increasingly concerned with Louis’s health and sought to find an older European princess who could bear children and would become the future queen of France. The king married twenty-one year old Marie Leszczyńska, daughter of Stanislaw I, deposed king of Poland, in 1725 when Louis was just fifteen. Four years later after her third pregnancy, the queen gave birth to an heir, another Louis.

Pierre Gobert was born in Fontainebleau, south of Paris in 1662, the birthplace of the Barbizon school three hundred years later in the nineteenth century. He was the son of a sculptor, Jean Gobert, and enrolled in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture on 31st December 1701 as a portraitist. Gobert, often adding mythological and allegorical themes to his paintings, became the favourite commissioned artist for ladies in the court of Louis XV and it is thought that his studio created this portrait.

Louis XV’s reign was defined by lavish spending, which brought France to the edge of bankruptcy, and wars with England, Austria, the Ottoman Empire and Prussia. Called the ‘First Gentleman of Europe’ he was charming, handsome and intelligent; three attributes present in the face of the young king in this portrait. Louis XV is depicted here in his coronation robes, a blue gown decorated with gold fleurs-de-lis, covered with an ermine cloak. The king was painted several times throughout his life in his coronation robes by artists such as Hyacinthe Rigaud, the famous baroque portraitist.
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