Coded Passions: Public Displays of Emotion at the Court of Louis XIV
This paper will analyze engravings from a book that records a celebration at Versailles in 1664 to expose a disjunction between the hidden passions of its participants and the public portrayal of emotions in court festivities. The first of Louis XIV’s fêtes to be held at Versailles took the form of a romantic saga staged over
a week collectively titled The Pleasures of the Enchanted Isle. Ludovico Aristo’s sixteenth-century epic poem Orlando Furioso (the tale of a knight and his destructive passion for a pagan princess) provided the premise for a tournament and two ballets. The entertainments also included a feast and plays written and performed by Molière and his troupe. Officially, the event was held to honor the two queens of France, Louis XIV’s bride, Marie-Thérèse, and his mother, Anne of Austria. But the true focus of the king’s affections was his mistress Louise de la Vallière, and it was surely no coincidence that her brother, the marquis de la Vallière, was the champion of the tournament.
Despite the romantic theme of these festivities the portrayal of human passions is strangely eschewed from the official representations of the event. This paper will analyze Israel Silvestre’s engravings of The Pleasures of the Enchanted Isle to explore the sublimation of embodied passions to acceptable codes of behavior at the Court of the Sun King. Drawing upon official accounts of public events such as this, alongside personal memoires written by courtiers, I aim to reveal a disparity between private spontaneous displays of emotion and passions encoded in the public performance of the aristocratic body at Louis XIV’s Versailles.
Robert Wellington is a lecturer at the Centre for Art history and Art Theory at the Australian National University. He is a specialist in the visual and intellectual culture of Louis XIV’s Court, and has a particular interest in numismatics and print culture. His book Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV: Artifacts For a
Future Past will be published by Ashgate in October 2015.