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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

A new Hercules

For those steeped in humanist culture, references to Antiquity were omnipresent. Mythological, heroic and historical images were summoned to emphasise certain aspects of the king's character, and quickly transformed him into a legendary figure who was half-human and half-god. In the various accounts of his life, Henri was given the traits of Mars, Apollo, Caesar, Alexander the Great and Augustus.

One theme – that of a new Gallic Hercules, complete with club and lion skin – was particularly popular and even became the primary means for depicting the king after 1592. The association of a ruler with Hercules was not anything new; France's kings had for a long time embraced the legend according to which Hercules had given rise to the Gallic dynasty.

To closely associate Hercules and Henri – since both had, according to the legend, killed a serpent in their cradles – was, of course, to insist that the god's physical strength, hardiness and courage were reborn in the French king. It was also a way to more closely tie the king to his predecessors and dampen any objections to his legitimacy.

There are innumerable Classical representations of Henri IV. He himself took part in the creation of his own myth by organising extravagant royal entrances into certain cities. In doing so, Henri was reviving the medieval tradition of ceremonious entries of kings, and added an illustrative dimension. The goal was not simply to impress onlookers to these events, but also to disseminate the royal image that had been presented in printed texts and images.

There was a profusion of Classical themes, since the idea was to present his royal majesty along the lines of a Roman triumphal procession. The king, modelled on human leaders such as Caesar and Alexander the Great, could also take on the appearance of Mars, Jupiter and Hercule – parading through streets decked out in triumphal arches, sculptures and classically-inspired obelisks.

Related multimedia

Title: Henri IV on horseback depicted as a Roman victor

Henri IV on horseback, bas-relief
© RMN / René Gabriel Ojéda
Caption:
Henri IV on horseback depicted as a Roman victor, bas-relief attributed to Mathieu Jacquet, marble, late 16th c. Musée national du château de Pau, Inv. P. 235

Title: Battle of Ivry and the surrender of Mantes

"La Belle Cheminée" at the Château de Fontainebleau
© RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola
Caption:
Fragments of "La Belle Cheminée" at the Château de Fontainebleau depicting the Battle of Ivry and the surrender of Mantes (1597–1600), by Mathieu Jacquet. Musée du Louvre

Title: Statue of Henri IV

Statue of Henri IV
© RMN / Hervé Lewandowski
Caption:
Statue of Henri IV, by Pierre de Franqueville. Musée national du château de Pau, Inv. P 44

Title: Henri IV as a triumphant Roman emperor

Henri IV as a triumphant Roman emperor
© Archives départementales de l’Aube
Caption:
Henri IV as a triumphant Roman emperor. Sketch by Linard Gontier prior to the creation of a series of stained-glass windows at the Hôtel de l’Arquebuse. Fonds Jean-Baptiste Coffinet, 136 J 10

Title: Henri IV as Mars

Henri IV as Mars, painting
© RMN / Sorbé
Caption:
Henri IV as Mars, painting attributed to Ambroise Dubois, 16th c. Musée national du château de Pau, P.81-20-1

Title: Henri IV, king of France and Navarre, as Jupiter

Henri IV, king of France and Navarre, as Jupiter, sculpture
© RMN / Daniel Arnaudet
Caption:
Henri IV, king of France and Navarre, as Jupiter, by Barthélémy Prieur, vers 1610. Musée du Louvre

Title: Henri IV depicted as Apollo

Henri IV depicted as Apollo, hanging
© RMN / Gérard Blot
Caption:
A so-called "Arsenal" hanging for Sully with Henri IV depicted as Apollo (detail), 1600–1610. Musée national de la Renaissance d'Écouen, ECL1209a

Title: Statue of Henri IV

Statue of Henri IV, 1608
© Musée national du château de Pau
Caption:
Statue of Henri IV erected at the basilica of St. John Lateran in 1608, engraving. Musée national du château de Pau, P. 601

Title: Henri IV and Louis XIII as Hercules – Battle of Ivry

Allegory : Henri IV and Louis XIII as Hercules
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
Allegory of the war with the House of Savoy: Henri IV and Louis XIII as Hercules – Bataille d’Ivry, drawing by Linard Gontier, 1623–1624. Musée national du château de Pau, P.67-29-1.
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