The Sovereign Artist: Charles Le Brun and the Image of Louis XIV

About the Author

Wolf Burchard is an art and architectural historian. He is the National Trust’s furniture research curator and was formerly curatorial assistant at the Royal Collection Trust. Christopher Le Brun is president of the Royal Academy of Arts.

The Sovereign Artist: Charles Le Brun and the Image of Louis XIV

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Wolf Burchard with a foreword by Christopher Le Brun

The first monograph to examine the wide artistic production of Louis XIV’s most prolific and powerful artist, Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), illustrating not only his paintings but the magnificence of the interiors and decorative works of art produced according to his designs. Revealing Le Brun’s extraordinary versatility and exploring his work at the Academy, the Gobelins and Savonnerie manufactories, and the royal building sites of the Louvre and Versailles, it is also the first book to explore in depth his artistic relationship to the Sun King.


In his joint capacities of Premier peintre du roi, director of the Gobelins manufactory and rector of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, Le Brun exercised a previously unprecedented influence on the production of the visual arts—so much so that some scholars have repeatedly described him as "dictator" of the arts in France. The Sovereign Artist explores how Le Brun operated in his diverse fields of activities, linking and juxtaposing his portraiture, history painting, and pictorial theory with his designs for architecture, tapestries, carpets, and furniture. It argues that Le Brun sought to create a repeatable and easily recognizable visual language associated with Louis XIV, in order to translate the king’s political claims for absolute power into a visual form. How he did this is discussed through a series of individual case studies ranging from Le Brun’s lost equestrian portrait of Louis XIV, and his involvement in the Querelle du coloris at the Académie, to his scheme for 93 Savonnerie carpets for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre, his Histoire du roy tapestry series, and his decoration of the now destroyed Escalier des Ambassadeurs at Versailles.

  • Hardcover
  • 11 x 9.45 inches
  • 288 pages, 200 color illustrations
  • Published: 2016

Editorial Reviews

"Beautifully presented book . . . Insighful analyses . . . Burchard's most fascinating insight is his analogy between Le Brun's designs and frontispieces for Early Modern Books . . . This insightful analogy forms a thread that not only connects the chapters of the book, but provides a coherent characterization of the artist's approach to representing Louis XIV across all media." —Art Newspaper

"It's about time for a reassessment of Le Brun's prolific and dizzyingly varied output, and Wolf Burchard's book is just that. . . . The Sovereign Artist frames Le Brun as a relentlessly versatile force of nature." —Art Quarterly

"This is the best book on this 'universal man', as some contemporaries called him, in English. Wolf Burchard brings to this labour of love the knowledge that comes from a lifelong fascination with Versailles and the reign of Louis XIV . . . The Sovereign Artist is a fascinating, readable account of a supreme moment of French and court art . . . This wonderful book proves, yet again, the vital importance of courts and monarchs for the arts." —Literary Review

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