Assassination of Henri IV and arrest of Ravaillac on May 14, 1610
© RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Pau) / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Publication date: September 2018
Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director
A painting for the occasion
Charles-Gustave Housez has been part of the tradition of the exaltation of Henri IV (1553-1610) since the beginning of the XIXe century. A former student of the École des beaux-arts and active since the 1840s, Housez exhibits his painting entitled Assassination of Henri IV and arrest of Ravaillac at the Salon of 1859. Esteemed by his contemporaries without being considered a great painter, Housez gives the event a dramatic turn by capturing it on the spot, in the middle of the rue de la Ferronnerie.
The artist thus responds to an order placed by the Emperor Napoleon III himself, when the latter had been the victim of an attack perpetrated by Orsini at the beginning of the year 1858. The painting then gained the imperial apartments in Chateau de Pau, where it still hangs.
The staging of a regicide
Housez made the Paris of 1610 a dark, dirty and populous city, according to a vision still marked by the troubadour style in vogue in the first XIXe century. The rue de la Ferronnerie, where Henri IV's coach was stranded on May 14, 1610, on the way from the Louvre to the Arsenal, takes on the appearance of a noisy and dramatic scene. There are two episodes in the foreground.
The first episode is the agony of Henry IV, surrounded by the great lords who accompanied him. The king, recognizable by his beard and ruff, has just been stabbed through one of the coach windows, by which his body must be supported so as not to collapse. It captures the viewer's attention, at the center of the canvas's only lit scene, and stands out against a white sheet, the symbolic color of the early Bourbons.
The second episode is the arrest of Ravaillac, who is promised the fate of regicide, namely quartering in public. Pointed by Henri IV with his arm, Ravaillac was finally apprehended by three men, including a bourgeois and a halberdier, after having thrown a fourth man to the ground. The violence of the scene lies in its capture on the spot. The wheel on which Ravaillac rode to reach the king also echoes the torture of the condemned. The regicide still holds the instrument of his crime in his right hand; he writhes in a fit of unchecked fury. Housez thus underlines the diabolical character of the crime of lèse-majesté, perpetrated by a bearded and red-haired man - therefore necessarily a traitor according to the color code - and inspired by evil.
The event is a real crime scene, witnessed by the passers-by gathered in the street and the inhabitants gathered at the windows. The dramatic effect is accentuated by the noises, screams and smells one can imagine when contemplating the canvas.
The politicization of a traumatic scene
The painter plays on the traumatic charge of the regicide committed by Ravaillac. The death of Henri IV, which took place in the midst of preparations for war to defend France's interests in the land of the German Empire, sounded like a cry of alarm throughout the kingdom. Heir to the Crown of France on the death of Henri III, in the midst of the civil war of religion, it was necessary for Henri IV to conquer his kingdom with the point of his sword and the strength of his armies (1589-1596). After his conversion to Catholicism, Henry IV had succeeded in pacifying France by granting the Edict of Nantes to the Protestants (1598) and by buying the rallying of the most resistant Catholic lords. The reconstruction of the kingdom was accompanied by the development of a partly deconfessionalized conception of politics and the exercise of power, a prelude to the absolutism of the Grand Siècle. By assassinating the king, Ravaillac achieved what a score of people had tried in vain before him; he thus removed the guarantor of the interior peace of the kingdom - the motivations of this regicide are mainly due to the detestation of the foreign policy of the king, allied to the Protestant powers, and no doubt to the tyrannicidal inspiration supported by the Jesuits. The youth of King Louis XIII, barely ten years old, plunged France into an unstable period of regency, during which the great lords would soon take advantage of the institutional weakness of Marie de Medici to provoke disorders and rebellions. . To paint the death of Henri IV was therefore both to recall the fragility of the young dynasties and the powerlessness of the regicide to prevent their taking root, since the Bourbon dynasty founded by Henri IV reigned in France until 1792, then from 1815 to 1848.
Napoleon III, who has just escaped the Orsini attack, is also in the position of the monarch from a young dynasty - he is the nephew of Napoleon Ier and the subject of strong protests - whose legacy rests on a child - his son is only two years old. TheAssassination of Henri IV de Housez resonates in this context as a reminder of the dire consequences engendered by regicides and a call for the loyalty of the French to the providential figure of the monarch, whether king or emperor. To contemplate the work of Husez was thus to rally to the reigning dynasty.
The dark vision of the Halles district, where rue de la Ferronnerie is located, also implicitly legitimizes the large-scale restructuring operations undertaken by Baron Haussmann in the heart of the capital. Michel Cassan even evokes "a piece of evidence and prosecution in the trial against old Paris" when speaking of the canvas of Housez.
- living room
- Henry IV
- edict of Nantes
- Louis XIII
- Medici (Marie de)
- Napoleon III
- Haussmann (Georges Eugène)
Michel Cassan, The great fear of 1610. The French and the assassination of Henri IV, Champ Vallon, “Époques”, 2010.
Michel Cassan, "The" Assassination of Henri IV and the Arrest of Ravaillac "by Charles-Gustave Housez (1859)", Parliament [s], Revue d'histoire politique, 2017/1 (N ° 25), p. 163-168. URL: https://www.cairn.info/revue-parlements-2017-1-page-163.htm
Monique Cottret, Kill the tyrant? Tyrannicide in modern Europe, Fayard, 2009.
Roland Mousnier, The assassination of Henri IV, May 14, 1610, Gallimard, "The thirty days that made France", 1964. New edition in 2008 with a preface by Arlette Jouanna.
Jean-Christian Petitfils, The assassination of Henri IV, Perrin, 2009.
To cite this article
Jean HUBAC, "The assassination of Henri IV painted in the XIXe century "