Artibus et Historiae no. 82 (XLI)2020, ISSN 0391-9064
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ARNAUD MANAS - A New Interpretation of the Fresco by François Perrier in the Galerie of Hôtel de La Vrillière (pp. 287–303)
This fresco, executed by François Perrier from 1646 to 1649 for Louis Phélypeaux de la Vrillière is little known as it was entirely destroyed during the nineteenth century. It was viewed as a prolific mythological picture designed around Apollo and the Four Elements without any political meaning. In fact, the history of the reign of Louis XIII and the birth of Louis XIV were layered behind the mythology. The first quadro riportato depicting Water illustrates the story of Neptune and Amphitrite. In its hidden meaning, the scene represents the 1615 marriage of Louis XIII, as Neptune, and Anne of Austria, daughter of the King of Spain, depicted as Amphitrite. The second tableau is dedicated to Earth and represents the abduction of Proserpina by Pluto. On its deeper level, the painting represents the ‘Val-de-Grâce affair’ of summer 1637, and the cruel dilemma faced by Anne of Austria torn between her brother King Philip IV of Spain and her husband while the countries were at war. The third one deals with Fire, symbolised by the story of Jupiter and Semele, alluding to the almost miraculous conception of the future Louis XIV on 5 December 1637. The final tableau evokes the theme of Air in the story of Neptune and Aeolus in the prologue to the Aeneid. This scene alludes to the decision of Louis XIII, a few weeks before his death, to name Anne of Austria, instead of his brother Gaston of Orleans, as Regent of the kingdom. It illustrates the ‘Cabale des Importants’ plot that preceded the Fronde wars.
The central painting evokes Ether, the fifth element according to Aristotle. At the mythological level, it depicts Apollo (Louis XIV) in his chariot, preceded by the morning star (Anne of Austria) and followed by the Moon, crossing the heavens. This panel evokes the birth of the future Sun King in the placement of the stars, which corresponds exactly to the astrological description of the heavens on 5 September 1638 at 11:45, with the sun (Apollo) at the zenith in the sign of Virgo, in conjunction with the Moon and Venus as well as Saturn in opposition.