The apotheosis of Henry IV and the proclamation of the regency of Marie de Medici

The apotheosis of Henry IV and the proclamation of the regency of Marie de Medici

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Title: The Apotheosis of Henri IV and the proclamation of the regency of Marie de Medici, May 14, 1610

Author : RUBENS Pierre Paul (1577 - 1640)

Creation date : 1622 -

Date shown: May 14, 1610

Dimensions: Height 394 cm - Width 727 cm

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Thierry Le Mage Photographic agency

Picture reference: 00-010483 / INV1779

The Apotheosis of Henri IV and the proclamation of the regency of Marie de Medici, May 14, 1610

© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Thierry Le Mage

Publication date: October 2017

Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director

Historical context

The central room of the Rubens Gallery

In the preparatory program for the work of the Medici gallery, negotiated in 1622 between the famous Antwerp painter Pierre-Paul Rubens and the entourage of Marie de Medici, sponsor and heroine of the pictorial cycle, it is a question of representing "Le Roy ravy au ciel" and the "Régence de la Reyne" in a single large canvas intended to become the central part of the west gallery of the Luxembourg Palace. Responding to this order, Rubens delivered in 1625 a large canvas with a composition loaded with multiple figures in a space occupied in its smallest parts.

Marie de Médicis, wife ofHenry IV and mother of Louis XIII, wants a series of paintings that explicitly exalt the significant episodes of his life to decorate his new Parisian palace. It stages the passage of the reigning queen (1600-1610), alongside Henri IV, to the regent queen (officially 1610-1614, then until 1617 effectively), alongside Louis XIII . It emphasizes the strength of the royal metamorphosis thanks to a translatio imperii, a transmission of authority and power.

Image Analysis

The king is dead, long live the queen: from one power to another

This large, abundant composition tells a story in two distinct and strongly linked parts. On the left, an areopagus of Olympian gods welcomes Henry IV, delighted by Jupiter and Saturn to be elevated to divine rank, according to an imagination inspired by the Roman Empire. The king's apotheosis is the negation of Ravaillac's claims when he stabs Henri IV on May 14, 1610: it restores glorious life to the deceased, who wears precisely the garments of triumph, those of the ancient imperator. At the same time, it is to serpentine discord and the noise of arms that the king is kidnapped, thus provoking the tears of two grieving Victories, one of whom carries a trophy of arms which serves to visually separate the two parts of the Web.

To the right, a group rushes to the feet of the widowed Queen Marie de Medici, seated on a throne at the same height as the king in the process of divine ascension. The correspondence is evident in the respective positions of the king and queen, though the king lifts her head to a future wrested from the earthly as the queen looks down at the suffering and mourning brought on by the king's death. She thus appears as a humble protector who took over from the deceased to ensure the leadership of the kingdom. Inspired by Minerva, helmeted and armed, and by Prudence, which commits her to accept the globe of power stretched out by France and the tiller carried by Providence. The emptiness of the Queen Regent is accentuated by the black dress in which Rubens has draped her, a somber and sober figure who accepts with humility the charge that falls to her. The figures around him implore him to accept his new mission with the blessing of the gods and the consenting silence of the king who died too soon.

The baroque style of the composition, where movement and abundance find an echo in the twisted columns of the canopy under which Marie de Medici sits, accentuates the aesthetic virtuosity of the staging of a queen whose moral virtues seem to have no equal to political virtues.


The triumph of a bereaved queen

In this canvas, the allegory mediates the transmission of power: while the king entrusted directly to the queen the sovereign globe or orb of government in the painting representing the handing over of the regency, it is here two divinities or allegories who communicate this globe to each other, thus seeming to exonerate the regent of any speech accusing her of wanting to regain power. In retrospect, Rubens shows a queen who assumed power because she had no choice but to respond to the call of the monarchical order to which she submitted. This pictorial interpretation is obviously in contradiction with a good number of pamphlets which had ended up decrying, from 1614 and the proclamation of the majority of Louis XIII, a queen refusing to cede power to her son. In this sense, the Rubenian cycle is indeed “one of the most ambitious political programs ever proposed to a great painter” (Marc Fumaroli).

Rubens thus paints an anointing and a blessing that is both automatic and allegorical. However, the proclamation of the regency following the assassination of the king on May 14, 1610 had less glorious springs: the entourage of the queen believed it useful to convince her to ask the parliament of Paris to proclaim the regency. The assent of the assembly of magistrates is easily obtained, but it can be symbolically interpreted as a sign of a participation of the parliament in the transmission of monarchical power in the absence of male capacity to fully rule. This is why the queen regains control the next day, May 15, by going to parliament with her son Louis XIII to hold a lit de justice which proclaims her regent. The latter's anointing will therefore not come from the intermediary of the magistrates but from the royal authority alone. The Rubenian allegory collects in a single vision the sequence of May 14th and 15th, 1610 to give a representation which scripts the dramatic intensity and which places the queen in an inaccessible dimension of intercessor between the human and the divine, between the terrestrial and celestial, and which dispenses with the legitimizing mediation of the royal presence (Henri IV evaporates while Louis XIII, in whose name the queen reigns, is removed from the composition).

  • Henry IV
  • Medici (Marie de)
  • absolute monarchy
  • regency
  • allegory
  • royal bride


Fanny COSANDEY, The Queen of France. Symbol and power, Gallimard, Paris, 2000.

Id., “To represent a queen of France. Marie de Medici and the cycle of Rubens at the Luxembourg Palace ”, in Clio. Women, Gender, History [online], 19 - 2004, posted on November 27, 2005, consulted on September 30, 2016. URL:

Jean-François DUBOST, Marie de Medici. The queen unveiled, Payot, Paris, 2009.

Marie-Anne LESCOURRET, Rubens, Flammarion, Paris, 1990.

Marie de Médicis, government through the arts, Somogy art editions and Château de Blois, 2003 (exhibition catalog).

To cite this article

Jean HUBAC, "The Apotheosis of Henry IV and the Proclamation of the Regency of Marie de Medici"


  • Jupiter: King of the gods for the Romans, venerated under the name of Zeus by the Greeks.
  • Medici: Florentine family of bankers, collectors and protectors of the arts. Its members gradually seized power in Florence in the 15th century. Two great Renaissance popes came from it: Leo X (1475-1521) and Clement VII (1478-1534). Ennobled in the 16th century, the Medici family allied themselves twice with France by giving it two queens and regents: Catherine (1519-1589), wife of Henri II, and Marie (1575-1642), wife of Henri IV .

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