Henri IV of France (1553 – 1610)

Frans Pourbus the Younger
(1569 – 1622)

Henri IV of France (1553 – 1610)

Painted circa 1610

Oil on panel: 15 × 9 ¾ in. (37.9 × 24.9 cm.)

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Provenance

Formerly in the collection of the Ducs de Berry;

Collection Vicomtesse Vigier, Madeleine Double de Saint-Lambert (1869 – 1970);

Her estate sale, Paris, Rheims, Bondu & Laurin, Palais Galliera, 2 – 3 June 1970;

Henry Davezac;

His sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 15 March 1974;

Private collection, France;

with The Weiss Gallery, London, 2006;

Private collection, London;

with The Weiss Gallery, London, until 2015.

Literature

B. Ducos, Frans Pourbus the Younger, Dijon, 2011, p.223, fig.97.

The Weiss Gallery, A Fashionable Likeness, Early Portraiture 1550 – 1710, 2006, no.11.

The Weiss Gallery, From Merchants to Monarchs: Frans Pourbus the Younger, 2015, no.10.

This autograph replica derives from an almost identical signed portrait now in the Louvre, which is dated 1610.[1] With this portrayal, Pourbus created an iconic image of the king, subsequently engraved and copied well into the 19th century.[2] The portrait in the Louvre was once part of Louis XIV’s collection, having originally come from the so-called Grande Mademoiselle, Anne d’Orleans (1627 – 1693), and there clearly would have been a demand for Pourbus to paint several replicas for the immediate family. The present portrait is known to have descended through the Ducs de Berry, a title frequently created for junior members of the French royal family. Although there was a gap in the creations of the Ducs de Berry between the eighth creation (1576) and the ninth (1686), which meant there was no Duc de Berry holding title around 1610, it is plausible to assume that the present portrait may have made its way directly by descent in the house of Bourbon to the 9th Duc de Berry, Charles, Duc de Berry (1686 – 1714), third son of Louis, le Grand Dauphin, and grandson of Louis XIV of France.

 

Given the date of the Louvre portrait to 1610, the year of the king’s untimely death, and the fact that the sitter is dressed all in black, it is likely that this is a posthumous portrait. Painted not long after his arrival in Paris, Pourbus’s portrait of Henri IV combines the grandeur of stately portraiture, with the intimacy of a cabinet painting. He clearly drew his inspiration from, and adapted a formula introduced by, François Clouet (c.1510 – 1572), whose studio a few decades earlier had experimented with full-length royal portraits on a small scale – notably the depictions of Henri II and Charles IX (both in the Louvre).[3] However, in his depiction of Henri IV, Pourbus has placed the king in a wider space, creating a more complex and sumptuous surround for the monarch.

 

He plotted this composition with extreme care – particularly in terms of the relationship between the figure, the table and the curtain, which is structured by a series of diagonals. The table is set at an angle to form a tight orthogonal line receding into the picture space, suggesting a convincing sense of space, which extends yet further, thanks to the arch visible in the right background, beyond the pilaster. The king is decorously framed by a lavish interior with a fine tiled floor, a veined marble pilaster, and a heavy gold embroidered velvet curtain. Pourbus would go on to use this iconographic formula specifically for the representation of the French royal family,[4] see for example cat. no. 11, the magnificent life-size portrait of Louis XIII, which was painted a year later (Cleveland Museum of Art).

 

Born in 1553, Henri of Navarre was raised as a Protestant. In 1570 as the result of the temporary reconciliation between the Huguenots and the Catholic crown, Henri was betrothed to Marguerite de Valois, a sister of King Charles IX. However, not long after their marriage, the massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day took place. Henri only managed to save his life by abjuring Protestantism, yet still remained a virtual prisoner at court until 1576, when he escaped to Navarre and returned to the Protestant faith. Henri became the legal heir to the French throne upon the death Hercule-François, duc d’Alençon. The Catholic league refused to recognise a Protestant as heir, but, after the death of Henri III, they were defeated and Henri IV became the first Bourbon king of France. In 1593, as a conciliatory gesture Henri again abjured Protestantism. This act won him widespread support and the nickname of  ‘le bon roi Henri’.

 

During his reign, Henri dedicated his efforts to the reconstruction of a kingdom that has been devastated by constant wars. This he did through the restoration of some financial stability and the growth of agriculture and commerce. With the Edict of Nantes in 1598, he established a measure of tolerance and freedom for the Huguenots. However, his rule was bought to an abrupt end when, in 1610, he was stabbed to death by the fanatic, François Ravailla.

 

 

 

[1] Inv. No 1708. The last two digits of the date are now damaged, but that it was 1610 is corroborated by the existence of an eighteenth century engraving.

 

[2]  Our version is demonstrably the finest of other known versions, and is very close is quality to that in the Louvre.  Two other versions are at Versailles (formerly in the  collection of Louis XIII’s younger brother, the Duke of Orléans) and at Chantilly. There were also versions recorded with S. Hartveld in Antwerp in 1927 and with Wildenstein, New York.

[3] Inventory nos. 3259 and 3253 respectively.

[4] See Elizabeth McGrath, The Court Portraits of Frans Pourbus the Younger, MA dissertation, Courtauld Institute of Art, 1986, pp.50-2.

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