The features of Saint Louis

The features of Saint Louis

By Pierre Yves Le Pogam

Journal of Art Historiography, No.17 (2017)

King Louis IX Carrying the Crown of Thorns – image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Introduction: The recent ninth centenary of the birth of Saint Louis, in 2014, offered the opportunity for a renewed study of the man and his reign. This would be important for French history, not merely for celebration or a nationalistic agenda, but in order to shed new light on a figure who has been studied in depth, but is worthy of new attention. Extensive study into the figure of Louis IX lends to many-sided, even contradictory conclusions on his role. In the past, one has paid an almost maniacal attention to the physical appearance of the king, examining some images for a reflection, or indeed a portrait, of Saint Louis.

On the contrary and more recently, one has denied any validity to this trend of studies. In line with the essay devoted to this question in the catalogue of the recent exhibition on Saint Louis in Paris, we would like here to go further in the analysis, regarding in particular the meaning of the details in the dress and bodily features of the saint king.

There are numerous inventories of the representations of Saint Louis made up by old and more recent studies that are very important and respectable. However, we feel compelled to establish our own corpus, firstly because our aim is different, as the study is more precise than a mere compilation of images and consequently needs to be restricted in a compact chronological framework (for the geography, we limit roughly our scope to the limits of medieval France). Secondly, we must take into account – or rather not take into account – the numerous false identifications made sometimes by the historiography.

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