Saint Louis the King: The Iconography

In Carthage [the death of] St. Louis IX, King of France and Confessor, renowned for his life of sanctity and glorious miracles. His bones were later returned to Paris. – Roman Martyrology for August 25

King Louis IX lived an unusually prayerful and pious life and pursued a foreign policy in tune with his beliefs – supporting the papacy, encouraging union with the Orthodox churches, and strengthening the position of the faltering crusader regimes in Palestine.

He is normally portrayed with a crown and/or other signs of regal status, like other sainted kings. Unlike them, he can be identified by the French royalty's fleur-de-lis symbol, which may appear on his crown, as in the first picture at right, or on his clothing, as in the second. In the first picture El Greco further distinguishes him from other sainted kings by giving him the Main de Justice, the "Hand of Justice" sceptre used in the French coronation ceremony (Godefroy, 452).

In some images Louis's attribute is the crown of thorns that he obtained from Baldwin II, Latin Emperor of Constantinople. The story of his journey with the crown to Venice, Troies, Villeneuve, Sens, and finally Paris is told by his contemporary Gualterus Cornutus, Archbishop of Sens (Acta Sanctorum, August vol. 5, 355-56) and pictured in a pair of stained glass panels now in The Cloisters.

The second picture is also an example of images that put him in armor, in recognition of his service as a crusader. As a third-order Franciscan, he is paired in that picture with St. Anthony of Padua.

Despite his connection with the Franciscans, King Louis is rarely portrayed as one of them. An exception is the third image on the right, where he wears sandals and the Franciscan habit under a rich cape with a fleur-de-lis collar.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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El Greco, 1592-95. (See the description page.)


Saint Louis and St. Anthony of Padua Interceding for the Souls in Purgatory, (See the description page.)


With other Franciscans and the Madonna, 1516. (See the description page.)

DATES

  • Feast day: August 25
  • Lived 1214-70

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