Why the French King Henri IV felt obliged to marry Marie de’ Medici, of all people, is something I have never quite understood, even though I once had a phase in which I read several books about Henri IV, including Heinrich Mann’s two-volume novel about his life.
They had six children in eight years, including the future king Louis XIII, but the marriage was an extremely stormy and unhappy one. Nonetheless, on the 13th of May 1610 Henri officially conferred the Regency of France on his wife before going off to fight a war in Germany. The next day he was assassinated — could this have been just a coincidence? — and Marie assumed power as Queen of France on behalf of her eight-and-a-half-year-old son.
Over a decade later, after she had been banished and then reprieved by her son Louis XIII, Marie de’ Medici commissioned the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) to paint a series of monumental allegorical pictures giving her version of her life and hard times.
Twenty-four of these paintings are on display in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre, in room 18 on the second floor.
Ruebens was a diplomat as well as an artist, and in these paintings he managed to depict some very controversial scenes without seriously offending any of the people involved (at least no one who was still alive at that point).
Also he managed to include dozens of his favorite kind of models, namely chubby nude women, by declaring them to be the Fates or Goddesses or Nereids or other allegorical figures.
Here is Marie’s explanation of why Henri married her — it was love! In this painting Cupid is giving Henri a portrait of Marie. Immediately he “lets himself be disarmed by love” according to the title of the painting.
This was the fateful day when Henri conferred the Regency on Marie, with their son the future Louis XIII gazing up at her (not at him!) in admiration.
My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2018.
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