We live in a society of limitless ego and self-promotion. Instagram and Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest make it possible for each of us to have our portrait in the public eye continuously. But long before the Internet, there was one man who perfected the ability to say “Look at me!”
He was Louis XIV, also known as “The Sun King,” a nickname, so to speak, that embodied his political belief that as the earthly representative of God he had been anointed with the divine right to rule over France, and so he did from 1638 when he was 5 years old to 1715 when he was 77. His home in the exurbs of Paris, the Palace of Versailles, 550,000 square feet of gilt and gold and mile high ceilings, is his testament to himself.
I had a chance to visit Versailles in November, and of course I oohed and ahed and was awed by this historical Disney extravaganza. But what made it especially fun was spotting the busts of Louis, sculptures of Louis, and paintings of Louis that directed the audience of the past and the audience of today to “look at him.” He never let anyone forget his presence was present around the clock.
Over his 72-year reign, the longest of any European monarch, it is estimated that Louis commissioned over 300 portraits of himself. Whether he was dressed up for his close-up as the god Apollo or the conquerer Alexander the Great or the human representation of the country of France, he made sure he was never forgotten.
Imagine what he could gave accomplished had he had the Internet and a phone with a stick at his disposal.