Compare and Contrast: Portraits of Leaders

To a considerable degree, history owes art a debt of gratitude, because we know how prominent figures from the past look like.


To a considerable degree, history owes art a debt of gratitude, because we know how prominent figures from the past look like. In the era of the digital devices absence, artists were the masters of time who could capture the moment or even more than just that. Indeed, we may not be certain that painters or sculptors depicted their models completely correct in every detail. However, at the minimum, what we have gives us an idea about how those people wanted to look like or how they wanted to be perceived by others. This paper checked with  focuses on the rulers, thus one may claim that the attitude towards the reproduction of their appearance was an issue of an exceptionally diligent approach. On the one hand, a piece of art enables a creator to highlight the dignity of the rulers and hide their drawbacks, at least visually. On the other hand, a ruler is an authoritative figure, i.e. someone who has the position of power and influence. He is an example, an object of imitation and a charismatic leader people want to obey and follow. Hence, the artist's purpose is to meet their demands or subconscious preferences. Moreover, in the course of history, numerous emperors and kings were believed to be descendants of gods. This fact proves the reason why many leaders were idealized. The objects of the analysis in this paper are the picture Louis XIV (1701) by Hyacinthe Rigaud and a marble copy of Augustus of Primaporta (early 1st century CE).

First, attention should be drawn to the common features, predominantly visible to the naked eye. Both the picture and the statue demonstrate the full-length figure of the ruler. This element bears a shade of magnificence and evokes respect. The posture of Louis XIV and Augustus are similar: reached out hand, one step forward. The royal regalia are presented in both works: lavish garments of Louis XIV and grand emperor armor of Agustus. It is impossible not to notice the stick, or baton, held by the rulers (also Louis XIV with his sword in the sheath). These details are aimed at emphasizing the power of command. The presence of martial elements proves the importance of the leader's role as a warrior – the one who is ready to protect, to defeat and to bring peace.

In order to contrast two pieces of art appropriately, one should possess background knowledge about the figures and the epochs these works belong to. Such dissimilarities as the materials used (oil on canvas and marble) and colors are obvious. However, the aforementioned convergent features may be questioned if to penetrate into the historical context. For example, it is known that Augustus was the first Roman emperor who defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Even though he was not a brilliant general, his rule may be characterized as dictatorial, wise, and prosperous. A cuirass of Augustus is engraved with war motif, namely conquered lands and Mars. Unlike the Roman emperor, Louis XIV spent most of his life conducting wars. However, his warrior nature is relatively diminished by the luxury and pomposity of the clothes and interior: royal blue and affluent red interspersed with noble gold and white, stockings and fur, fashionable ribboned shoes. In addition, the position of two rulers diverges in spite of being quite similar at first glance. Augustus is depicted in motion. He raises his hand saluting his troops and makes a step forward, which may be regarded to be a sign of readiness to move forward, to go ahead, or to face a challenge. Louis XIV is clearly motionless. Beyond doubts, he spent hours being a model; however, his motionless shows his venerability.

To conclude, the statue of Augustus provokes awe and demonstrates strict authority. It possesses a stronger taste of force and war, while the picture of Louis XIV elucidates sumptuousness of France in the XVII century and elegance of the very king.