Colbert introduces Louis XIV to the members of the Royal Academy of Sciences

Colbert introduces Louis XIV to the members of the Royal Academy of Sciences

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Title: Colbert introduced Louis XIV to the members of the Académie Royale des Sciences created in 1667.

Author : TESTELIN Henri (1616 - 1695)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 348 - Width 590

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Picture reference: 93-000724-02 / MV2074

Colbert introduced Louis XIV to the members of the Académie Royale des Sciences created in 1667.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Professor at Paris VIII University

Historical context

The reign of Louis XIV was marked by the centralization of all forms of artistic and intellectual creation in the service of the prince. This state-owned creation is deployed, on the Italian model, within the framework of academies: the Academy of Dance (1661), the Academy of Music (1669), the Academy of Architecture (1671) are added to the French Academy (1635) and the Academy of Painting and Sculpture, founded in 1648, reformed by Colbert in 1663.

The creation of the Academy of Sciences in 1666 is part of this great project of absolute monarchy aimed at placing the whole of cultural life under its supervision. All the more so as Colbert understood that scientific progress could translate into technical progress capable of increasing the power of France and exalting the glory of the king.

Bringing together a dozen scholars, the first session of the Academy of Sciences took place on December 22, 1666 in the king's library, rue Vivienne in Paris. The meetings were then bi-weekly.

A pupil of Simon Vouet, Henri Testelin (1616-1695) was one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648. He is best known for his portraits of Louis XIV and for his large compositions relating official events . Converted to Protestantism, he was expelled from the Academy in 1681 and had to flee to the United Provinces.

This large canvas, the sketch of which Versailles preserves, is originally a tapestry box for the hanging of The King's Story, intended to celebrate great events (coronation, marriage, military victories) as well as the great achievements of the reign.

Image Analysis

Henri Testelin's large painting is in fact a tapestry cardboard for a never-woven piece of the The King's Story. It depicts an imaginary scene, the presentation to the king of the members of the newly founded Academy of Sciences. This fictitious space opens onto the Observatory, which Claude Perrault then begins to build.

The painter paid particular attention to the portrait of each participant, thus easily recognizable: to the right of Louis XIV, seated on an armchair, Monsieur, his brother, is dressed in red; on the left, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who proudly wears the insignia of the Order of the Holy Spirit, with behind him his secretary, Charles Perrault (the author of Tales), introduces the members of the Academy to the sovereign, starting with Father Jean-Baptiste du Hamel, the first secretary, who respectfully bows to the sovereign. Behind him are Pierre de Carcavi, Jean Picard, Christiaan Huygens, Jean-Dominique Cassini, Philippe de La Hire, Father Edme Mariotte and Jacques Borelly.

Numerous objects illustrate the diversity of scientific activities: animal skeletons, armillary sphere, clock, terrestrial globe (left), plan of the Canal des Deux Mers, intended to link the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, which then begins to be produced. by Pierre-Paul Riquet, scientific treatises, plans of fortifications, celestial globe (right).


It was not only a question for Louis XIV of exercising an interested patronage by subsidizing scientists, but also of attracting to France scientists and specialized craftsmen to develop the knowledge useful to the economy of the kingdom, and to collect know-how of technicians of all kinds and artists who until then had ensured (or had ensured) the preeminence of dynasties and competing powers: in 1666, the king thus granted to the Dutchman Christiaan Huygens, a specialist in particular in optical instruments , in addition to housing, a gratuity of 6,000 pounds per year; three years later, he offered 9,000 books to the Italian Jean Dominique Cassini and entrusted him with the management of the Observatory.

The work of the Academy of Sciences concerned both the supply of water to the immense garden and the fountains of Versailles and the production of new geographical maps (Cassini was asked by Colbert to establish a detailed map of the generality of Paris in a fiscal intention), or the progress of ballistics and weaponry to ensure the power of the war king. In 1667, Claude Perrault proposed to undertake an inventory of living beings, which came into being many years later under the title of ’Animal history and D'Natural history of plants.

The new institution soon acquired an international reputation. In 1699, Louis XIV granted it a new status, which was to last until the end of the Ancien Régime. Henceforth, the Academy was the instrument of an official science contributing more than ever to the prestige and glory of the king.

  • Acadamy of Arts
  • Louis XIV
  • absolute monarchy
  • Colbert (Jean-Baptiste)
  • Great Century
  • conversion
  • Academy of Sciences


Thierry BAJOU, Painting in Versailles in the 17th century, Paris, R.M.N., 1998.

· Béatrix SAULE and Catherine ARMINJON (dir.), Sciences and curiosities at the court of Versailles, Paris, R.M.N., 2010.

To cite this article

Joël CORNETTE, "Colbert presents to Louis XIV the members of the Royal Academy of Sciences"


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