L’Académie française rajeunit les immortels


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Louis XIV, Le Roi soleil

Louis XIV was born on September 5th in the year 1638 to Louis XIII and Anne of Austria after 23 years of barrenness. Due to his parents’ childlessness, he was regarded as a divine gift and was often referred to as the Sun King. He bore the traditional title of Dauphin and was crowned king on the 14th of May in 1643 upon his father’s death, at the young age of four years old. However, Louis XIII declared that a regency council should reign from his death, throughout his son’s youth. He did not make Anne the sole regent, which was unheard of in that time, but he did put her in charge of the council. Anne later had her husband’s decision overturned by the Parliament of Paris and placed Cardinal Mazarin in charge of the regency until Louis XIV was of age.

            Louis assumed control of the government in 1661 upon Mazarin’s death. Unfortunately, the treasury was on the verge on bankruptcy and Louis XIV took control by exiling Nicolas Fouquet, on the charge of embezzling and replaced him with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who was able to reduce the debt through more efficient taxation. Louis and Colbert were able to turn the economy around through a mercantilist administration. Louis also reformed the military, successfully curbing the ambitious nobility.

            Louis was a generous patron of the arts and the royal court. He supported several Classical French writers, many of whom are still influential in today’s world. Artists such as Charles Le Brun, Pierre Mignard, Antoine Coysevox and Hyacinthe Rigaud became famous under the Sun King’s protection. Louis moved the royal court to the Palace of Versailles, a converted hunting lodge, on May 6th 1682. While at Versailles, the king alone commanded attention. Some speculated that the king chose Versailles so he could more easily discover those who plotted against his reign. Another theory is that the plotting of the nobles caused Louis to hate Paris, but the many improvements he created such as the establishment of police and street-lighting disproved that theory. Louis also established the Hôtel des Invalides, a military complex and home for military officers and personal rendered infirm from injury or age, as well as the Institute de Saint-Louis, the only non-religious school for poor, noble girls.

            Louis married Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660, as part of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees. They had six children, of which only the oldest, Louis, le Grand Dauphin, survived to adulthood. Despite evidence of affection early on in their marriage, Louis XIV did not remain faithful to his wife. He took many mistresses and had many illegitimate children, many of whom he married to cadet branched of the royal family. After Maria Theresa’s death in 1683, Louis married Madame de Maintenon, to whom he was much more faithful than his first wife.

            Louis XIV died six days before his 77th birthday on September 1st 1715, after a reign of 72 years. His son, the Dauphin, had predeceased him, as had his son, so the heir to the Sun King’s throne was his five-year-old great-grandson. Despite his own self-chastisement, many historians believe that Louis XIV greatly expanded the defensibility of France and applied himself to the alleviation of the burdens of his subjects. Even though it is said that the Sun King liked nothing so much as flattery, Louis goes down in history as one of the greatest monarchs of France, adding ten provinces and earning France the admiration of Europe for its success, power and sophistication.


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André Le Nôtre

André Le Nôtre was known as the greatest French landscape architect in the world. He was born in Paris, France on March 12th, 1613. Even from a young age, André was heavily influenced by landscape architecture by his family. Many members of his family had careers dealing with gardens including his father, grandfather, godfather, and his godmother’s husband. Their careers ranged anywhere from administering gardens to garden illustrators. His father and grandfather worked at the Palace of Tuileries. His family’s influence allowed him to develop an early interest in art while developing the knowledge and ability to create landscape. After completing some academic training, Le Nôtre studied underneath the French painter and draftsman, Simon Vouet and the French architect, François Mansart. He also studied the works of Salomon de Caus and Père Nicéron, which helped him master the art of landscape architecture.

André Le Nôtre grew up in a house filled with gardeners and in fact at a home that was located inside the Tuileries Palace decorated with the most magnificent gardens in Paris, France. He worked under some of the most well-known architects, artists, and designers in France such as Charles Le Brun and François Mansart. Needless to say, André Le Nôtre was very well-educated.

His career began when he became the gardener of Gaston d’Orléans, who was the uncle of Louis XIV. Early on his career, around 1635, his work was dedicated to the servicing the monarchy. His first important design was the park of Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1656 to 1661. This palace was created by Louis Le Vau, an architect, Charles Le Brun, a painter decorator, and André Le Nôtre himself. They collaborated to convey a masterpiece and the beginning of the “Louis XIV” style. It brought fame and fortune to André by attracting the attention of the king, Louis XIV. Louis then entrusted André Le Nôtre the direction and management of the majority of the royal parks and gardens in France.

In 1662 while André was working on the gardens on Chantilly for the Grand Condé, Louis XIV appointed André as primary landscape architect of the renovation and expansion of the Palace of Versailles. Once again, André worked together with Charles Le Brun and Louis Le Vau to recreate the beauty of the palace. Not only did André rehabilitate the gardens, but he composed the plan that would lay the groundwork for the largest avenue in Europe at the time, the Avenue de Paris. He continued to work on many projects for King Louis XIV, including many gardens and parks, including Chateau de Chantilly, Chateau Fontainebleau, Racconigi, Saint-Cloud, Saint-Germain-en-Laye and St. James’s Park.

For all of his incredible work, Le Nôtre was ennobled by the King in 1675. After retiring in 1693, Le Nôtre remained in name as the chief gardener of King Louis XIV, until his death in 1700. André Le Nôtre was one of the first landscape architects to work on such large projects that were given to him by the king. Even today the majority of his masterpieces still stand. The Palace of Versailles is one of the main attractions for tourists going to France. André Le Nôtre is an important icon in French culture because of the impact he left on the architectural world.

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Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault was a French Philosopher, Sociologist, and Psychologist (“Wikipedia”). He was made famous for his study of society, psychiatry, medicine, and human sexuality. Foucault rarely allowed himself to be associated with a certain label or movement for very long, and it was even rarer for him to accept even the labels that fit him best (“Wikipedia”). He has been called many things, including but not limited to: neo-anarchist, neo-functionalist, crypto-normativist, and by the Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, “the last rampart of the bourgeoisie,” (“Wikipedia”).

Michel Foucault was born October 15th, 1926, in the town of Poitiers, France (“Wikipedia”). He was born to Paul Foucault and Anne Malapert. Despite being deemed intellectually gifted at an early age, he had difficulty in school until he attended the Jesuit College Saint-Stanislas (“Foucault Society”). It wouldn’t be until his education at the Ecole Normale Superieure that his interest in psychology would make an appearance (“Wikipedia”). Due to a difficult personal life at ENS he suffered from acute depression. The interest showed itself after Michel was taken to see a psychiatrist for his depression (“History of Madness”). In 1952 Michel was given a license in psychology and a degree in philosophy. Foucault took up various jobs in teaching and lecturing across France from 1951 to 1954 (“Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy”).

After the publishing of his first book, Maladie mentale et personnalite ( later renamed and very slightly edited for its 1963 reissuing as Maladie Mentale et Psychologie ) Michel exiled himself from France, living in Sweden, Poland, and Germany respectively (“Wikipedia”). Michel, after returning to France in 1960, earned his doctorate with two theses: Folie et Deraison: Histoire de la folie a l’age classique and a secondary thesis (“Wikipedia”).

After Michel’s lover Daniel Defert, whom Michel met while at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in 1960, was relocated to Tunisia by the military, Michel took up a position at the University of Tunis in 1965 (“Foucault Society”). After angering many critics with his statements about his distaste of Marxism and publishing Les Mots et les choses, which earned him the unwanted label of “Structuralist,” he returned to France in 1968 (”Wikipedia”).Foucault was appointed the first head of Paris VIII’s philosophy department in 1968 (“Foucault Society”). “Foucault appointed mostly young leftist academics”. The board of education was angered by this decision and decided that students from the school would not be able to become secondary school teachers. Foucault left Paris VIII in 1970 when he was elected to the College de France, as Professor of the History of Systems of Thought (“Wikipedia”).

Shortly after his election, Michel began to write “The History of Sexuality”, which was intended to have six-volumes. The project was never completed. Three of the six planned volumes have been released. It could be speculated that this was due to his increased travel during this part of his life. Much of Michel’s time was spent in the United States. In 1975, while in Death Valley Park in the United States, he took LSD at Zabriskie Point. Later he called it the best experience of his life (“Wikipedia”).

AIDS took the life of Foucault in Paris on the 25th of June, 1984 (“Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy”). Shortly before his death, Michel had destroyed most of his manuscripts, and in his will had prohibited the publication of what he might have overlooked (“Wikipedia”).


“Michel Foucault.” Wikipedia. 22 Sept 2010. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.. 22 Sept 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Foucault&gt;. (”Wikipedia”)

 “Biography of Michel Foucault (1926-1984).” The Foucault Society. Foucault Society, 2005. Web. 23 Sep 2010. <http://www.foucaultsociety.org/resources/michel_foucault.asp&gt;. (“Foucault Society”)

“Michel Foucault.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Gary Cutting, 17 Sep 2008. Web. 23 Sep 2010. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entreid/foucault/&gt;. (“Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy”)

Foucault, Michel (2006). History of Madness. New York: Routledge. Print.  (“History of Madness”)

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Claude Lévi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called the “father of modern anthropology.” He is well-known for his development of structural anthropology. He was born in Brussels, Belgium on November 28, 1908. And died in Paris, France on October 30, 2009. He was 100 years old at the time of death. His main interests were Anthropology, Society, Kinship and Linguistics. He wrote a famous book entitled Tristes Tropiques, which positioned him as one of the central figures in the structuralist school of thought, where his ideas reached into fields including the humanities, sociology and philosophy.

His three areas of study in life were said to be Marxism, psychoanalysis and geology, but anthropology gave him the opportunity to observe lives of men in different cultures and not just Western cultures. He grew up to study law and philosophy, but he did not pursue his study of law. Instead he dabbled in philosophy between the years of 1931-1935. He and his wife, Dina, did their anthropology work in Brazil for four years. He returned to France in 1939 to take part in the war effort, and was assigned as a liaison agent to the Maginot Line. After the French capitulation in 1940, he was employed at a lycée (school) in Montpellier, but then was dismissed under the racial laws. His family was of Jewish decent which wasn’t allowed back then. In 1941, he was offered a position in New York and granted admission to the United States. A series of voyages brought him, via South America, to Puerto Rico where he was investigated by the FBI after German letters in his luggage aroused the suspicions of customs agents. Lévi-Strauss spent most of the war in New York City.

Kinship is a relationship between any entities that share a genealogical origin, through biological, cultural, or historical descent. When The Elementary Structures of Kinship was published, it quickly came to be regarded as one of the most important anthropological works on kinship. While Lévi-Strauss was well known in academic circles, in 1955 he became one of France’s best known intellectuals by publishing Tristes Tropiques. This book was a memoir detailing his time as a French expatriate throughout the 1930s. He was a world renowned Anthropologist and had respect all around the world.

In 1962, Lévi-Strauss published what is for many people his most important work, La Pensée Sauvage. The title is a pun untranslatable in English—in English the book is known as The Savage Mind. Some of the reasons for his popularity are in his rejection of history and humanism, in his refusal to see Western civilizations as privileged and unique, in his emphasis on form over content and in his insistence that the savage mind is equal to the civilized mind.

When his death was announced in 2009 the world was shocked. He was a man of great stature and intelligence. His death was broadcasted worldwide and even made headlines in the New York Times. The loss of such a great anthropologist and man was a huge blow to the field of anthropology. He opened doors for many people in that field today and shed light on ideas that are still being studied to this day. Lévi-Strauss has 100 years of experience on why he is considered a great figure in France and around the world.



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Jacques-Louis David

Born in 1748, Jacques-Louis David became one of the most influential painters of the 19th century. His style of historical paintings, personality, and his high connections led to a heavy involvement in the French Revolution.

            From an early age, David wanted to be a painter, despite his family’s wishes for him to be an architect. He first studied under Joseph-Marie Vien, whose inspirations were more classical. He then attended the Royal Academy. David drew his inspirations from more classical sources, like Raphael and the ruins of Pompeii. He went on to have between 40 and 50 pupils, onto which he passed his  style and influence.

            In his paintings, David expressed himself politically. He attempted to portray historical events, past and present, in his early years, then shifted gears into a more sophisticated stylization. There was also a great deal of difference between his “public” and “private” works. In his commissioned portraits, men and women would sit on equal standing, in a loving manner. However in his public works, women were always swooning, smaller, and in general, appeared weaker than the male counterparts in the work. Also, there was a great deal of symbolism in his political works, all representing the need for unity and overthrowing the old royal regime. He tended towards more current controversial topics. As he shifted styles in his later years, he drew inspiration from ancient Greek mythology. These paintings had “a noble simplicity and silent greatness in pose as well as expression,” by David’s own admission.

            David’s personality lent a great deal to his influential way. He was ferocious in that he held strongly to his political beliefs and drew heavily on his political connections, but some found him hard to get along with. However, he had strong ambitions, and people acknowledged his genius, so was accepted into society despite several oppositions. In French society, socializing and an eloquent nature lent quite a bit to becoming powerful, as in the case of Napoleon. However, after a sword injury to the face, David had a speech impediment and what some thing to have been a benign tumor. This greatly lowered his sociability, but not his influence.

            He strongly strove to destroy the old order of France, and create a unification of man and country, which also became apparent in his artworks, making him a very strong supporter of the French Revolution. He believed not only in unification, but in sacrificing oneself for the sake of the country. He desired the end result of a republican government. Due to his strong political beliefs, David joined the Jacobin Club, the most popular political club at the time. Through the club, he became personal friends with Maximilien Robespierre, also a member of the Jacobin Club, and one of the most influential people during the French Revolution. Napoleon also held David in high regards, and he was soon hired as the official painter of the regime of new government.

            Due to his connections with Napoleon, David held strong positions during the French Revolution. David was soon appointed the head of organizing committees to celebrate the lives of martyrs who died fighting for the cause, and also to celebrate the deaths of the ex-ruling tyrants. These parties, known as “fêtes,” were used as a propaganda tool to support the revolution because they brought the masses together, and were henceforth used as initiation rites.

            David was later arrested for his involvement in the Revolution. In prison, he saw a reform in his arduous ways, and he plead for the people of France to reunite after all the blood shed during Revolution.  After being released from prison, David retired from politics to pursue more peaceful, family-oriented endeavors. As the Royals returned to power, however, David chose to exile himself to Brussels. He continued to live there, peacefully, until the end of his life.

            In a twist of irony, this highly politically and artistically influential man was killed in the most mundane of ways. After being hit by a carriage, Jacques-Louis David died at the age of 77. Some of his painting were sold or exhibited, but not much profit was generated. Despite his anti-climactic death, David’s memory and influence lived on in the lives he had affected throughout his own. He inspired many pupils and art admirers, as well as supporters of the Republic and unity of France.

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Louis XVI

            King Louis XVI of France, born Duc de Berry, was born on August 23, 1754 at the Palace of Versailles in France. When Louis’ father died when he was twelve, he became the new heir to the throne. He married Marie Antoinette when he was fifteen. The couple eventually had four children together. 

            Louis became king in 1774 at twenty years old. His education from 1760-1770 had not prepared him for his kingly duties. France was already in debt when he took the throne, so he was instantly off to a bad start. In addition, Louis was very indecisive, which was not a good quality for a king. Still, he was determined to succeed. (“Historical Figures: Louis XVI (1754-1793).” BBC.co.uk.)

            Throughout his reign, King Louis had several different advisors who came up with different financial reforms, all of which failed. One reform was formed by Charles Alexander de Calonne. Alexander tried to increase the spending of the citizens in order to buy France’s way out of debt. After this failed, Louis called forth the Assembly of Notables to discuss another reform. The nobles learned of the extent of debt that France was in and rejected the plan, proving to Louis that he had lost authority as an absolute monarch and sending him into depression.

            Louis was forced to call on the Estates General, which hadn’t been summoned since 1614. The group was the only legislative body who could approve the new taxes. The third class members of the Estates General became angry because they didn’t feel like any progress was being made, so they formed the National Assembly. With the meeting of the Estates General on May 4, 1789, the French Revolution began. The French people were not pleased with the country’s economy, and the third class revolted. On July 14, 1789 the storming of the Bastille Prison took place – a symbol of the uprising nation. This day is known in France as La Fête Nationale (meaning The National Celebration) and is commonly called le quatorze juillet (the fourteenth of July).

            On October 5, 1789 the Palace of Versailles was invaded by an angry mob of Parisian women who attempted to kill the queen. The crisis was averted, but the royal family moved to Tuileries Palace in Paris. There, Louis was able to attend more to the social, economic, and political reform of the revolutionaries. Still, the revolution was getting out of hand and the monarchy was becoming less powerful in comparison to the new democratic government.

            Louis became fed up with this treatment. When he was pressured to accept terms from the National Assembly that he did not agree to, he decided he wanted to stop the revolution. He and Marie made plans to leave France and, with assistance from other countries, come back to recapture France.

            The family was caught before they left France and sent back to Tuileries Palace, where they were put under house arrest. In July 1792, a proclamation called the Brunswick Manifesto was issued that declared that Austria and Prussia were fighting to restore King Louis to power and anyone against this would be condemned to death. The Manifesto did more harm than good when, on August 10, a group of Parisians invaded the Tuileries Palace. The royal family took shelter with the Legislative Assembly.

            King Louis XVI was arrested on August 13, 1792 and sent to an ancient fortress in Paris called the Temple. On December 11, he was officially indicted for high treason and crimes against the State.  On January 16, 1793, 380 deputies (the majority) of the National Convention voted for his death. (“Louis XVI of France.” wikipedia.org.)

            King Louis XVI was beheaded on January 21, 1793 at what is today known as the Place de la Concorde. His death was met by shots of “Vive la Republique!” (The Execution of Louis XVI, 1793.” Eyewitnesstohistory.com.) The next day, the National Convention announced to the people, “He has paid his penalty, and only acclamations for the Republic and for liberty have been heard from the people.” (Steven Kreis, “Proclamation of the Convention to the French People”, Historyguide.org) His death was a relief to the people of France.

            Louis was nicknamed “Louis le Dernier” by the French people, meaning “Louis the Last”. Louis XVI symbolizes the end of an era and the beginning of another – the transition from absolute monarchy to the French republic

Works Cited

“Louis XVI of France.” wikipedia.org. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Sept. 2010. Web.   Sept. 2010.

“The Execution of Louis XVI, 1793.” Eye Witness to History,         http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (1999). Web. Sept. 2010

Kreis, Steven. “The Trial and Execution of Louis XVI.” The History Guide. n.p. 13     May 2004. Web. Sept. 2010.

“Historical Figures: Louis XVI (1754-1793).” BBC.co.uk. BBC, n.d. Web. Sept. 2010.

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