The departure of Henri IV for the war and the handing over of the regency

The departure of Henri IV for the war and the handing over of the regency

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Henry IV leaves for the German war

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

Publication date: October 2017

Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director

Historical context

A great gallery for a great queen

This painting belongs to a cycle commissioned by the queen Marie de Medici to the painter Rubens in 1622. Finding an influential role at court with her son Louis XIII after the death of the Constable of Luynes, Marie de Médicis sought to signify the legitimacy of her authority through the arts. After marrying Henry IV, she indeed succeeded in giving male descendants to the reigning king, which had not happened for several decades in France. The events - the assassination of Henri IV in 1610 and the minority of Louis XIII - allow him to access the exercise of sovereign power. The king, however, removed her from power during the years 1617-1621, during which she tried to gain access to business again. For this, she called on Pierre-Paul Rubens, whose artistic notoriety was at its height.

The preparatory program negotiated between Rubens and the entourage of Marie de Medici specifies that one of the paintings must show that the king "gives full powers to the Kingdom to command his kingdom as if he were in person". It is therefore an embodiment of sovereignty in several persons that Rubens must render pictorially, on the occasion of the departure of Henry IV for the war in May 1610.

Image Analysis

A translatio imperii

Rubens structured a rigorously ordered and symmetrical scene to express the idea of ​​a translatio imperii, that is, a transmission of power. In an architectural setting open to a distant and green countryside, the warrior world of men (armor, weapons, banners) faces the peaceful world of women (bare feet, balustrade which gives this part of the composition the appearance of a interior scene), a child creating the living link between these two contrasting universes. On the left, King Henry IV is accompanied by soldiers in armor and carrying the Fleurdelysée banner - the departure for war is imminent and justifies the necessity of the royal gesture. The king himself is protected by a half-armor covered with the blue ribbon and wears hose and spurs. He holds out to Marie de Medici, his wife, a globe decorated with the arms of France (golden lilies on an azure background). Dressed in a rich low-cut French dress, the Queen is already supporting the globe, expressing the immediate recovery of sovereignty. Marie de Medici, towards whom all eyes converge, is the only one staring at the globe itself, placed in the center of the composition. The two women who assist her are allegories of Providence and Generosity, according to the preparatory program for the work of the Medici Gallery - one of them stares at the viewer to make him participate in the scene.

About ten years old, the young dolphin commune with his father - he wears a similar outfit, he looks at his mother attentively - and holds the mother's hand. His position and that of his two parents draw an inverted triangle, the center of which is occupied by the globe of sovereign power. The harmony seems perfectly balanced, even if the detail of the king's drooping footwear also implies a voluntary distancing from the painter, which will be noted Baudelaire.

Rubens had been commissioned by Isabelle-Claie-Eugénie, governor of the Netherlands, to bring a dog to Marie de Medici. Maybe that's why he painted one at the Queen's feet, unless it was a symbol of loyalty.


The imaginary anointing of power

The scene represented is totally imagined. It is in itself an allegory of the supposedly natural transmission of royal authority through blood and dynastic ties. The outstretched hand - like the one at the center of another painting from the Rubenian cycle (The marriage by proxy of Marie de Medici and Henri IV) - visually means the communication of sovereignty. Rubens followed the advice of his friend Fabri de Peiresc, who had suggested that he highlight "the moment when the late king began to involve the queen in the most important advice and affairs of government". The canvas gives flesh and life to the legitimation of the power exercised by the queen; it places Marie de Medici as sovereign queen by the will of the living king (and not by the accidental death of the king and through his son Louis XIII).

The facts are less solemn than the painting by Rubens suggests. To oppose the Habsburgs, Henry IV engages in a conflict in the land of empire over the succession of the Duchies of Cleves and Juliers. He is therefore preparing to leave his kingdom in May 1610 and must thus entrust his government to a person of confidence during the time of his absence. Marie de Medici sees herself invested in this framework of what is called a regency of absence, whose task is to manage the daily functioning of the kingdom. Rubens notoriously embellishes this episode by giving it a symbolic force which shows the accession to power of Marie de Medici and by voluntarily telescoping regency of absence and regency of minority to better establish the legitimacy of a sovereignty that is necessarily fragile because it is exercised by a queen in a kingdom that excludes women from the throne. A woman and a foreigner, Marie de Medici can embody dynastic permanence because of the wife and mother of a king.

  • Medici (Marie de)
  • Henry IV
  • Louis XIII
  • absolute monarchy
  • allegory
  • regency
  • 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 departure of Henri IV for the war and the handing over of the regency"


  • 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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