Monday, 1 June 2009

The Sun King's Legs

I stopped for lunch in Toronto recently after a doctor's appointment. It was a sunny day and I sat outside, facing the Bata Shoe Museum.

There, on an enormous banner, was a blow-up of my character's legs — the shapely legs of King Louis XIV of France.

(He's following me, I thought. He knows I'm not at my desk.)

Only they weren't really his legs.

Men in 17th century France were vain about their legs. Louis had beautiful legs in his youth, as many of his portraits show (it was said that he would always be recognized at a costume ball because of his legs) —
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but the face that's on the portrait from which the Bata banner was taken is an old Louis, not matching these legs at all. I learned on a visit to Versailles that a youthful man's legs had been painted in.

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I'm often asked what it is I love about French history, and I always think of the painting (below) of Louis greeting the Swiss ambassadors. There the ambassadors are, so somber in black, and there is Louis, a vision in pink ribbons and bows.

It's simply more fun.












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I say this only partially in jest. Louis was an exceptionally athletic man: he earned his shapely legs. But in general there was something of the peacock in the 17th century male (including Louis and his cousin, King Charles II of England) that I find delightful. These were supremely macho men, but they were not afraid of pink.

3 comments:

Kim Murphy said...

Too funny, Sandra! It's not a topic I would have thought about before now. :-)

Sandra Gulland said...

Thanks, Kim! Those 17th century men did love to show off their shapely legs.

Alison Stuart said...

Great post, Sandra! I am just back from France myself and met up with Louis in the Loire valley. Men had a leg thing for a number of centuries - I read recently that 18th century men were so concerned about the shapely turn of their calves that they used "falsies" inside their stockings to get the right profile. A modern man would die first!