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Art and visual culture: medieval to modern
Art and visual culture: medieval to modern

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Bürger’s functions of art: the courtly

By 1600, it was ‘courtly art’ (Bürger’s second category) that increasingly prevailed in much of Europe. ‘Courtly art’ can be defined as consisting primarily of art actually produced at a royal or princely court, but also extending beyond it to include works of art that more generally promote the leisured lifestyle of an aristocratic elite (some of who may not strictly be nobles, that is, they might not have a title). As in the Renaissance, artists served the needs of rulers by surrounding them with an aura of splendour and glory. In this context, art was integrated into the courtly or aristocratic way of life, as part of a culture of spectacle, which functioned to distinguish the nobles who frequented the court from other social classes and to legitimate the ruler’s power in the eyes of the world (see for example, Elias, 1983; Adamson, 1999; Blanning, 2002). The consolidation of power in the hands of a fairly small number of European monarchs meant that their need for ideological justification was all the greater and so too were the resources they had at their disposal for the purpose. Exemplary in this respect is the French king Louis XIV (ruled 1643–1715), who harnessed the arts to the service of his own autocratic rule in the most conspicuous manner imaginable. From 1661 onwards, he employed the architects Louis Le Vau (1612/13–1670) and Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1648–1708), the painter Charles Le Brun (1619–90) and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre (1613–1700), among many others, to create the vast and lavish palace of Versailles, not far from Paris. Every aspect of its design glorified the king, not least by celebrating the military exploits that made France the dominant power in Europe during his reign (Figure 9).

Figure 9 The Salon de la Guerre (War room), Château de Versailles, designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, showing plaster relief by Antoine Coysevox of Louis XIV trampling over his enemies and lower part of the ceiling paintings by Charles Le Brun, 1678–86. Photo: © Château de Versailles/Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.

Artists continued to be employed by royal and princely courts for the purpose of painting dynastic portraits, producing designs for tapestries and similar tasks into the nineteenth century. A notable example is Francisco Goya (1746–1828), many of whose early works were painted for the Spanish crown (Figure 10); he drew a salary as court painter from 1789 until his death in 1828 (Tomlinson, 1994, pp. 147, 282).

Figure 10 Francisco Goya, The Family of Carlos IV, 1800, oil on canvas, 280 × 336 cm. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Photo: © Museo Nacional del Prado/Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.