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French School
Madame de Ventadour with Portraits of
Louis XIV and his Heirs
circa 1715-1720
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This group portrait shows four adults and a child in a palace-like interior with ornate furniture and portrait busts on pedestals. The figures seem like actors in a play and they exhibit various poses and gestures designed to tell us something about them.

Look at the very centre of the painting, often reserved for the most important people in the group, where the seated man and the young child point to each other. The gesture seems to want to communicate a specific meaning, the older man perhaps passing something on to the child.

Look also at how the heads of the child, the seated man and the sculpted bust on the right are all in a diagonal line.

Can you think what the relationship between these three figures might be?
silhouettes image

1. Madame de Ventadour - governess to the French royal children
2. The Duc d’Anjou - later King Louis XV
3. Louis, the Grand Dauphin - heir to the throne
4. King Louis XIV - King of France
5. bust: Louis XIII - deceased King of France
6. Louis, Duc de Bourgogne - second in line to the throne
7. bust: Henri IV - deceased founder of Bourbon dynasty

The seated man is King Louis XIV of France and the child is his great grandson who became King Louis XV. The little boy became Louis XIV’s sole heir following the deaths of his grandfather and then of his father and mother and brother in a measles epidemic. The boy was crowned King of France when he was five years old.
Can the class imagine what it must have been like to become King at such a young age?
What kinds of things do parents and grandparents pass onto their children and grandchildren?
When the class first looked at the painting, did they think that the child was a boy or a girl? Why?
The woman in black is not a member of the royal family, yet she is very prominent in this painting. She was the royal governess and when the measles epidemic ravaged court, Madame de Ventadour hid the boy from the royal doctors and saved his life. As he was the only remaining heir to the throne, Madame de Ventadour was credited with saving the royal line of France.
In those days the doctors used to bleed people to make them better. What do we do to prevent the measles these days?
The interior is meant to suggest the Château of Versailles, the palace of the King of France, with its opulent interior decoration and lavish garden seen outside. King Louis XIV, and Louis XV after him, was known as the Sun King and identifed himself with the Sun God Apollo who can been seen riding his chariot on the wall behind the figures.
French School  Madame de Ventadour with Portraits of  Louis XIV and his Heirs   circa 1715-1720
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 128 x 161 cm
Wallace Collection (P122)
Setting and Symbolism
Types of Painting
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