These Shoes Were Made for Posing (Pinboard #1)

Louis XIV (1638–1715), by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701)This portrait painting of Louis XIV of France was painted by Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1701.  The portrait shows Louis XIV standing in all his finery, positioned in such a way that his red heeled shoes are visible from both the front and the side.  The pose is one that we might consider very feminine by todays standards, but was intended to do two things, 1, it showed off Louis XIV’s legs, which history has led me to believe he was very proud of, and 2, show off his clean red heeled shoes.  Red heeled shoes have recently been in the news to the point that this painting was in Forbes magazine online with the following caption:

This 1701 portrait of Louis XIV shows the Sun King dressed in lavish robes — and red-heeled shoes. Red was a very important color for the monarchy: Sumptuary laws, as well as the high cost of red dyes, meant that you had to be rich and powerful to wear it, and red heels were worn by the monarchy since the early 1600s. But they were especially dear to Louis XIV: He passed an edict claiming only nobility could wear them. According to historian Philip Mansel, the painted heels showed that nobles did not dirty their shoes. They also demonstrated that their wearers were “always ready to crush the enemies of the state at their feet.” Yikes. [1]

This painting, and this extra bit of information from Forbes, helps us frame one of the trends we saw as we were looking at the paintings in the French academy, namely, the inclusion of a bit of toe if not the entire shoe in the French paintings full body portrait and market scene paintings.   Knowing this painting, and the signification of the red shoes helps re-examine what is being shown in paintings such as Aubry’s “Les adieux à la nourrice”.

Another component of this painting that is relevant to the course is what is the portrait saying or showing about the sitter?  Louis XIV was well known at the time.  However, when I look at this painting in dialogue with the portraits of women and women painters we’ve seen, I do not see the same signifiers of family and home life represented.  While his family is well known, and the fleur-de-lis and his shoes serve to mark him as royalty, there are no indications of his marital status or any hints of him having children or great grandchildren.  I would almost say there is no signification pointing towards anything other than his ruling.  The painting says he exists and is, because he is, which is sort of the point of royalty.  At the very least, the painting makes it clear that he is not modest.  This portrait exists to do the exact opposite of that.  Rather than shun opulence, it is a celebration of it from the bottom of his red heeled shoes to his luxurious black wig.


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