Louis XIV as Apollo

Pen, wash and gouache, 167 x 260 mm
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

In the first half of the 17th century court ballet became an indispensable noble pastime. Contemporary chroniclers admired the artistic diversity of the Ballet of Night (1653), elaborated by Giacomo Torelli based on verses by Isaac de Benserade, which called for over one hundred costumes. These were created by Henri Gissey "designer ordinary of the King's Revels and Ballets." In this simultaneously learned and childish pantomime, various Temperaments emerge during the night, then Dawn arrives, and finally Day appears in the last act, when Reveries have invaded everything. The rising Sun was portrayed by none other than the young Louis XIV, blond and dressed as the god Apollo in golden feathers and sunbeams.

Henri Gissey and the great Jean Berain were attached to the Royal Cabinet of Louis XIV. Gissey is most famous for his celebrated Carrousel (1662), a horse spectacular never since surpassed in its magnificence — 500 noblemen in plumed regalia escorted by a greater number of elaborately dressed attendants.

There are several designs for costumes for Louis XIV as Apollo, a role he repeated in numerous court ballets. They are reminders of the extent to which the "Sun King" would identify himself as Apollo through consistent iconography at Versailles and in the sculptural program of its gardens and fountains.

The picture shows the Apollo costume worn by Louis XIV in the Ballet of the Night (1653).