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Portrait of the Duke of Villars
© City of Marseille, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean Bernard
Publication date: June 2020
University of Evry-Val d'Essonne
The Duke of Villars, Marshal of France
This painting is regarded as a copy, ten years later, of a first portrait made in 1704. On October 14, 1702, five months after the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession, he is the craftsman of the victory of Friedlingen over the imperials. Six days later, it becomes the 39e Marshal of France created by Louis XIV.
Crowned with glory, the marshal orders a portrait from renowned painter Hyacinthe Rigaud. It is on display at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, an estate acquired by Villars in 1705, erected the same year as a duchy-peerage by Louis XIV. Other copies of this portrait are intended for the family circle or for monarchical institutions.
Received at the Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1700, Rigaud is renowned for his talents as a portrait painter. For lack of descendants, this painting was recovered by the public authorities at the end of the 18th century.e century, before entering the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Marseille.
Merit by Arms
The Duke-Marshal is at the height of fame when this copy is completed. He has just won the Battle of Denain (July 24, 1712) over the coalition troops commanded by Prince Eugene of Savoy. Thanks to this new feat of arms, he protects access to the capital and becomes a living hero in the armies of the King of France. The artist uses the military register to represent his client who adopts a haughty posture. As in the original painting, the Duke is represented in a three-quarter bust up to the knees, a frame that the painter likes to reproduce in most of his paintings. The marshal wears a breastplate, a scabbarded sword and the large blue cloak of the peers of France, a dignity he attained in December 1709, three months after the battle of Malplaquet. Although not a victory for France, this battle was a major stopper for its enemies.
In the manner of Louis XIV leaning on his scepter, the duke holds in his right hand the marshal's staff studded with golden lilies. The dark tonality of the portrait is attenuated by the play of lights towards the head enhanced by a fine lace collar, the bright red ribbons of the medals of the Order of the Holy Spirit and the Golden Fleece. In the background, behind the staff, a fight rages in front of a town. As if to justify obtaining the dignity of Marshal of France, this is probably a depiction of Friedlingen's coup, a victory that preceded the commissioning of the original portrait.
The sword of the French
This painting uses the marks of service and of the honor of the State: employment of a renowned painter, medals, marshal's staff, luxurious costume and large wig bear witness to the exceptional career of a noble of the sword whose he action alternates between battlefields and diplomatic missions. Villars participates in the great conflicts of the Sun King, which he describes in voluminous memoirs: the wars in Holland, the League of Augsburg and the Spanish Succession. In 1702, he joined the very closed circle of Marshals of France, of which Louis XIV increased the number from sixteen to twenty. Attested since the 12the century, the marshalate is a rank which rewards the most eminent soldiers of the army of the king, until its suppression in 1793.
A man of valor, the Duc de Villars is showered with honors. In the weeks following the Battle of Denain, he was the envoy of the King of France during the Rastadt Congress negotiations ending the War of the Spanish Succession. Returning from his mission, he became a member of the Académie Française, participated in the education of the young Louis XV and received the presidency of the Council of War during the polysynody (1715-1718). At the start of the War of the Polish Succession, at the age of eighty, Villars took up arms again as lieutenant general in command of the army of Italy. In 1733, he was raised to the exceptional and rare dignity of marshal of the king’s camps and armies, which gave him precedence over all the king’s other marshals and earned him the nickname "sword of the French". This umpteenth award crowns his exceptional career, still marked by the conquest of the Milanese, a few months before his death in Turin on June 17, 1734.
- official portrait
- war in spain
- Louis XIV
- Acadamy of Arts
- Holland War
- French Academy
- Louis XV
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Thierry SARMANT (dir.), The Ministers of War, 1570-1792: History and biographical dictionary, Paris, Belin, 2007.
Simon SURREAUX, The Marshals of France during the Enlightenment, History and Dictionary of a Military Elite in the Society of the Ancien Régime, Paris, SPM, 2013.
Simon SURREAUX, Serving the King: Life and Death of the Marshals of France in the 18th Century, Paris, Vendémiaire, 2017.
François ZIEGLER, Villars, the centurion of Louis XIV, Paris, Perrin, 1996.
To cite this article
Stéphane BLOND, “Portrait of the Duke of Villars”