MEDIEVAL SCULPTOR, French
(second half of 14th century)

Charles V, King of France

before 1370
Stone, height 195 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The statue was carved for the church of the Celestins, Paris.

Charles V of France (r. 1364-80) has been linked to the rise of portraiture in the modern sense of the term. Charles was a learned king who had many classical works translated into vernacular for the first time. Perhaps it was from these works, based on the political writings of Aristotle, that he constructed a new visual role for the ruler. Part of the ideology of Valois kingship was an enormous investment in royal images, in statuary, paintings, and manuscripts. Charles was presented in multiple images, recognizable by his bulbous nose and broad face and no longer an ideal type. In late Gothic art the ruler's body was visible to the gaze as it had never been before. Charles had life-size effigies of himself and his wife placed on one of the doorways of the Louvre palace. The homely demeanour of the king, a genial face with a slight double-chin and a massive nose, is remarkable. The sculptor has also paid careful attention to clothing. Charles is wearing a surcotte, which biographers tell us he preferred to the tight courtly fashions of the age, partly because of his fragile health. Like patron saints of a church, Charles and his wife act here as the patron saints of a non-sacred space.