BERNINI, Gian Lorenzo
(b. 1598, Napoli, d. 1680, Roma)

Equestrian Statue of King Louis XIV

Terracotta, height 76 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

Bernini had originally designed the site (a mountain peak) for the Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV, the Sun King, on a fiery steed, as can be seen from the preliminary sketch. The base supporting it today lacks the vertical thrust that would enhance the image of this absolute monarch. However, Bernini chose to make the features of Louis XIV resemble those of Alexander the Great. The original terracotta model is by Bernini himself, though the sculpture was executed by his pupils, since he was by then over seventy-three years old.

When the equestrian statue of Louis XIV arrived in Paris, its triumphant Baroque quality was not appreciated. Disappointed, the king relegated it to the bottom of the Versailles gardens where, soon afterwards, Girardon transformed the figure into Marcus Curtius. Fortunately, the terracotta model has been preserved. The galloping horse repeats the type used in his statue of Constantine the Great; Louis XIV is identified, however, with Hercules, reaching the summit of the path of Virtue and, from the top of a steep cliff, attaining glory.

However, the work did not meet with a favourable reception in Paris and Girardon transformed the group into a statue of Marcus Curtius, which was formerly transferred to Versailles and is now in the Louvre.