Effects of Absolutism on Art during the Reign of Louis XIV

Absolutism is a form of rule where a central sovereign individual holds unlimited, complete power that is not restricted by any part of government or state. In effect, the leader rules free of laws or opposition. Absolutism was mainly espoused by European rulers during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. At the time, kings and queens wanted to become absolute monarchs who held all power within their territories with the goal of presiding over every aspect of the society. Absolute monarchs believed that they had a divine right to rule and, thus, answered only to God, not their subjects. One of the most renowned absolute monarchs in history was
King Louis XIV (1643-1715) of France (Hamscher 5). During his reign, he encouraged the development of music, literature, and art, and particularly formulated French classism, or Style Louis XIV, a style of decorative arts and architecture that glorified his monarchical reign. Absolutism had a strong influence on art in the court of Louis XIV since the king intended all art forms to characterize his glory.

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            The arts in the court of Louis XIV were used to portray the King as a god-like figure who deserved supreme admiration from the state. All art forms, including architecture, interior decoration, furniture, painting, sculpture, tapestries, literature, music, and theatre displayed majesty, harmony, and regularity in conformity with the king’s desires. The king surrounded himself with the most talented intellectual and artistic figures and established institutes of arts and sciences in order to advance his agenda. He also appointed himself as a patron of the Académie Française, a body that controlled the French language (Cherbuliez 121). In order to accommodate his attendants, Louis built various lavish châteaux. Each château showcased his monumental style which featured monumental columns and flat roofs topped by balustrade. The king administered the use of the same style in other buildings to harmonize all structures created at his court.

Throughout his reign, Louis XIV showcased his passion as an accomplished performer and a generous sponsor of the arts. He used his court composers and ministers to venture into art and systematically exploited cultural events to focus attention to his court. Music and dance performances were used as a primary form of entertainment for visiting nobles and local aristocracy. Louis felt that he needed to impress Europe and the rest of the world with his majesty and the brilliance of French culture. The idea was a success as the performances evoked a sense of refinement to foreign diplomats and guests. In fact, those who attended the performances told stories of admiration and approval of the French culture and monarchy. Perhaps the most fascinating influences of Louis XIV on arts was his direct involvement as a dancer. Within two decades, the king performed in 40 ballets around 80 roles. He was seen as the most gracious performer in the dances, and deserving admiration and honor. In all occasions, Louis XIV was portrayed as a god-like figure, even in humble and eccentric roles.

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            Examples that best convey the idea of absolute monarchy are the Kingdom of Swaziland, Vatican City, and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Swaziland is an absolute monarchy with a king as the head of state and sovereign ruler. In 1973, the then reigning king declared a state of emergency, abolished the constitution and dissolved the house of assembly. He also introduced a new constitution and banned political parties. Although Swaziland is the only remaining absolute monarchy in Africa, there are other absolute monarchies in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and state of Qatar. Another example is the Vatican City where the Pope exercises absolute power over his subjects.

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Modern absolute monarchies provide a clear illustration of the sheer scale of power exercised by rulers. Not only can absolute monarchs define their forms of political control but also influence economic, socio-cultural, and technological aspects of their subjects. For example, the practice of absolute authority in Saudi Arabia allows the royal family to rule under a hereditary dictatorship that is governed along Islamic ideologies. This system of governance cannot be questioned or contested by any person in the monarchy as monarchical absolutism is backed by ‘the divine right of kings’. In absolute monarchies, power is usually passed through hereditary or marital means and rulers are not legally bound nor constrained by any law or constitution.

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