The edict of Fontainebleau

The edict of Fontainebleau

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Title: Allegory to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685

School : French

Creation date : 1685

Date shown: 1685

Dimensions: Height 142 cm - Width 180 cm

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

Contact copyright: Palace of Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin

Picture reference: 15-601764 / MV6892

Allegory to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685

© Palace of Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin

Publication date: June 2017

Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director

Historical context

Revoke the Edict of Nantes

On October 18, 1685, Louis XIV sealed the edict of Fontainebleau, by which he put an end to nearly ninety years of French exception and tolerance of the Reformed religion within the kingdom of the Lys. By revoking the Edict of Nantes granted by his grandfather Henri IV in 1598, he claims to acknowledge the fact that conversions to Catholicism - in part forced by the dragonnades - have reduced French Protestantism to a residual reality. This political as well as religious act is celebrated in France with a concert of praise in favor of the restoration of the unity of faith, even if it strongly contributes to the construction of the black legend of Louis XIV in Northern Europe, where several tens of thousands of Huguenot refugees flocked during the 1680s.

Guy Louis Vernansal chooses to celebrate the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in his reception piece at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1687. By his choice, he participates in the allegorical image of the revocation of the edict of Nantes.

Image Analysis

Overcome chaos and restore religion

Three groups organize the structure of the canvas. On the right - thus in the most noble part of the composition - sits an antique Louis XIV armored personnel carrier with wigs. Leaning against a massive architecture (columns and flight of steps), in an august pose and draped in a purple toga, he sits on a throne and raises a peremptory finger in the direction of the edict of Fontainebleau. He is surrounded by Piety, which brings his hand to his breast and inspires the sincere faith of the king, and Justice, who wields the sword while being absorbed in the watch of a porter who throws the heretical books.

Illuminated by a glory which also benefits the king, Truth presents the text of the Edict of Fontainebleau and brandishes the sun (unique as the truth), while the veiled Faith carries the cross. They occupy the center of the composition, in a relationship that is both complementary and symmetrical on either side of the cross. Religion, wearing the papal tiara, lifts the chalice and the host, thus recalling the miracle of the Eucharist, central dogma of the Catholic faith. This symbolic group imposes a hallucinatory atmosphere shrouded in the sacred, in which Louis XIV is the only being who is not allegorical. He directs the gaze towards the elevation of the soul inspiring the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and reinforced by it.

The defeated "heretics" are symbolized by allegories of vices and represented in the less honorable part of the canvas, below and to the left. They are immersed in darkness and disorderly movement akin to the anteroom of hell. Hypocrisy takes off its mask, Discord, an unlit torch in its left hand, twists in pain, while the Rebellion, helmeted and equipped with a sword, is rushed towards the flames.

The contrast of luminosity and the distinct juxtaposition of the three scenes (the first two communicating with each other, while the third is closed by a cloud) accentuate the marked opposition between two worlds: the iconographic interpretation of Vernansal therefore proposes an image of Louis XIV which restores order to chaos, which dispels the shadows of heresy and celebrates a triumphant Faith because it is joined to the Truth.


Painting orthodoxy to say order and law

The "so-called reformed religion," as Catholics call it, is equated with a rebellion against royal authority and against divine majesty. This theme is widely used in anti-Protestant discourse, despite the loyalist protests of the Huguenots. On the one hand, that of the king, faith and piety support and justify the dismissal; on the other, that of the Protestants, the crime of rebellion forced the Prince to act against some of his bad-thinking subjects. From whatever perspective one takes, it seems that the cause for the dismissal is heard and that the reestablishment of order and the law bears witness to a fully legitimate and necessary royal action.

By revoking the Edict of Nantes, Louis XIV reaffirmed his place of "Very Christian King" and illustrated the role conferred on the Prince by Bossuet, namely "to use his authority to destroy false religions in his State". He concluded a period of progressive restriction of the freedoms of his Reformed subjects (since the 1660s), then of frank persecution since the end of the 1679s, and claimed to return to times prior to the wars of religion. However, the effects of the revocation were more harmful than beneficial for the kingdom: forced conversions did not prevent clandestine religious practices, even the taking of arms at the beginning of the 18th century.e century (the famous war of the Camisards); exile outside the kingdom would have concerned 200,000 Huguenots and fueled the speeches of Vauban or Ancillon on depopulation and the economic disaster due to the revocation (without any real basis, however); the European anti-French coalition grew stronger… Behind the golden lights of Vernansal's canvas gripped the black image of the Sun King.

  • Louis XIV
  • Versailles
  • Protestantism


Mathieu DA VINHA, Alexandre MARAL and Nicolas MILOVANOVIC (dir.), Louis XIV, the image and the myth, Rennes University Press, 2014.

Janine GARRISSON, The Edict of Nantes and its revocation. History of intolerance, Threshold, 1985.

Élisabeth LABROUSSE, “One faith, one law, one king? "The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Payot / Labor and Fides, 1985.

Alexandre MARAL, The Sun King and God, Tempus, Perrin, 2015.

To cite this article

Jean HUBAC, "The Edict of Fontainebleau"

Video: Ch 16 Absolute 1