In the 70 years of his reign, from his ascension to the throne at the age of 4 until his death, Louis XIV was dazzling. His world of the late 17th and early 18th century was one of conquest, expansion and, most of all, beauty. What else would one expect from the man who built the palace at Versailles?
He’s also the man for whom the territory called Louisiana was named. New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, who dreamed of beginning a new Paris on the banks of the Mississippi. But in 1803, inside the Cabildo (the former seat of the French and Spanish governments that still stands today across from Jackson Square), Louisiana was formally transferred from France to the United States.
Throughout the run of the World’s Fair, the French will once again occupy the Ca-bildo as the Louisiana State Museum, which occupies the building, hosts the exhibit The Sun King: Louis XIV and the New World. More than 200 works, including paintings, renderings, sculptures furniture, architectural elements and historical documents from Louis’ reign, will be on display April 29 through November 18. Most of the pieces have never been seen in the United States. The collection was culled from 28 museums, institutions and private collections and includes works from the Louvre, the palace at Versailles and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
The exhibit, the major off-site attraction in conjunction with the Fair, will explore the political, historical, religious and artistic aspects of the Sun King’s magnificent reign and his lasting influence upon Louisiana. The exhibit is divided into three themes: Louis the Man will document his formative years, education, political and military training and the combination of events that brought him to power; Louis as a Patron of the Arts and Sciences looks at the creation of the Royal Academies, the government’s role in promoting art and the king’s own aesthetic values; and Louis and the Colonies focuses on the exploration and ruling of colonial territories, particularly Louisiana.
Notable among the exhibit’s many treasures are a bronze doré Apollo mask and two oil-on-canvas paintings: The Cardinal Richelieu by Philippe de Champaigne and Rigaud’s Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre.