Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV: Artifacts for a Future Past

Wellington, Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV cover

Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV: Artifacts for a Future Past provides a new interpretation of objects and images commissioned by Louis XIV (1638-1715) to document his reign for posterity. The Sun King’s image-makers based their prediction of how future historians would interpret the material remains of their culture on contemporary antiquarian methods, creating new works of art as artifacts for a future time. The need for such items to function as historical evidence led to many pictorial developments, and medals played a central role in this. Coin-like in form but not currency, the medal was the consummate antiquarian object, made in imitation of ancient coins used to study the past. Yet medals are often elided from the narrative of the arts of ancient règime France, their neglect wholly disproportionate to the cultural status that they once held. This revisionary study uncovers a numismatic sensibility throughout the iconography of Louis XIV, and in the defining monuments of his age. It looks beyond the standard political reading of the works of art made to document Louis XIV’s history, to argue that they are the results of a creative process wedded to antiquarianism, an intellectual culture that provided a model for the production of history in the grand siècle.

Introduction available here: Antiquarianism-and-the-Visual-Histories-of-Louis-XIV-Intro


Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV is carefully researched and well-written. Robert Wellington explores the significance of medals created during the reign of Louis XIV, which are often dismissed as mere vehicles of royal propaganda. Instead, he asserts medals played an active, pervasive, and complex role not only in the crafting of the regal image of the king, but also in the projection of his legacy into the future. Wellington’s thorough examination of the elite practice and practitioners of antiquarianism, the institutional body of the Petite Académie that was responsible for the design and inscriptions of medals, the collecting and display of the medals in the Cabinet des Médailles at Versailles, and the various engraved reproductions of numismatic collections, makes this study an important contribution to the scholarship of the artistic, cultural, institutional and intellectual history of the France of Louis XIV.’ Julie Anne Plax, University of Arizona, USA.

‘Placing medals, antiquaries and posterity at the centre of his story, Robert Wellington approaches the public image of Louis XIV from a new angle.’ Peter Burke, Emmanuel College Cambridge.

‘Archival sources and rare publications from the time are mined in this important scholarly account, which mounts a strong argument for the cultural importance of the medals and the centrality of a ‘numismatic sensibility’ throughout Louis’ iconography.’The Medal, no 67, Autumn 2015.

‘[T]he serious and systematic way in which Wellington uses the visual and material evidence, and the sureness of his interpretation, combined with his mastery of the intellectual currents that drove and shaped the commemoration of Louisreign, make this a fascinating and enlightening treatment of an extraordinary undertaking.’Mark Jones, “Addressed to Posterity: The Visual Histories of Louis XIV,” The Court Historian 21, 1 (2016), 52-3: m-jones-review-addressed-to-posterity-the-visual-histories-of-louis-xiv

‘What is particularly significant in Antiquarianism and the Visual Histories of Louis XIV is that the majority of the book is about numismatics as science and source, little addressed by recent historians other than as an annex or an occasional illustration of this or that work. Thus, the fine work of Robert Wellington, richly illustrated with well-chosen photographs of ancient and modern coins and medals, does not just describe them but rather uses them beautifully to reflect on their achievements, their uses and their impacts. The author, an art historian, is also interested in prints adorning the books produced on royal artefacts; engravings, in fact, appear somehow as wholly artefacts themselves, particularly the etching adorning the book of Louis XIV medals which shows Fame [Rénommée] brandishing a portrait of the King in a medallion. […] But one of the most original features of Wellington’s work, more than the affirmation of the medal as a tomb of princes, is to consider the impacts of it during the reign of Louis XIV. […] In terms of inviting his readers into other temporal horizons, Robert Wellington goes about it masterfully, he transports us through these pages to an antiquity seen and experienced by the contemporaries of the Sun King.’

[Ce qui est particulièrement appréciable dans Antiquarianism and Visual Histories, c’est que l’ouvrage fait la part belle à la numismatique, science et source finalement assez peu convoquées par les modernistes sinon, comme annexe, pour illustrer ponctuellement tels ou tels travaux. Ainsi, le bel ouvrage de Robert Wellington, richement illustré à l’aide de clichés bien choisis, de monnaies et de médailles antiques et modernes, ne se contente pas de les décrire mais bel et bien de mener une réflexion sur leurs réalisations, leurs utilisations, et leurs impacts. L’auteur, en historien de l’art, s’est également intéressé aux gravures ornant les ouvrages produits sur les artefacts royaux ; gravures qui, de fait, apparaissent aussi d’une certaine manière comme des artefacts à part entière, en particulier la gravure ornant le Livre des médailles de Louis XIV où l’on voit la Renommée brandir un portrait du roi dans un médaillon. Mais l’une des grandes originalités de l’ouvrage de Wellington, plus que l’affirmation de la médaille comme tombeau des princes, est bien de s’interroger sur les impacts de celle-ci durant le règne de Louis XIV […] Pour ce qui est d’inviter ses lecteurs à d’autres horizons temporels, Robert Wellington s’y est pris d’une main de maître, lui qui nous a transporté au fil des pages dans une Antiquité vue et vécue par les contemporains du Roi-Soleil.] Fabrice Charton, H-France Review 16 (October 2016):

‘Perhaps the only criticism to be levelled against this engaging scholarly masterpiece might be a quibble with the title and the prominence of the term ‘antiquarianism’ for the simple if unfair reason it is bound to turn off some readers who would otherwise profit from a topic that bears upon all the visual arts, the institutions supporting them, and the history of collecting and display in early modern France.’ Louis Marchesano, The Burlington Magazine 1363 (October, 2016), 833. marchesano-review-burlington

‘Robert Wellington shows in his work his perfect knowledge of the history and literature of the Grand Siècle. […] [This book is] a new milestone in the comprehension of the Republic of Letters, the history of the medal, and artistic politics of Louis XIV.’ [‘Robert Wellington montre dans son ouvrage sa parfaite connaissance du Grand Siècle, de son histoire et de sa littérature. [Ce livre est] un nouveau jalon dans la compréhension de la République des lettres, de l’histoire de la médaille et de la politique artistique de Louis XIV.’] Ludovic Jouvet, “Bibliographie critique,” Revue de l’Art 193/2016-3 (October 2016), 74. review-jouvet-revue-de-lart

‘[T]his thoroughly researched, beautifully illustrated book should serve as an invaluable resource for many years to come.’ Ellen McClure, Renaissance Quarterly vol. LXIX, 4 (Winter, 2016) mcclure-review-renaissance-quarterly