L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The great Carrousel of Louis XIV, 1662

By the seventeenth century, the medieval tournament had degenerated into the carrousel - a kind of equestrian display - a lavish pageant commemorating a memorable event. They were usually based on an allegorical theme, and the participants, often outrageously costumed, would perform a sequence of processions and equestrian figures to musical accompaniment, and participate in the relatively harmless sport of tilting at a ring.

View of the "Carrousel" facing the Palais des Tuileries.

The most famous carrousel was held in Paris on the fifth and sixth of June, 1662, to celebrate the birth of the dauphin, the first son and heir to the then twenty-five year old King Louis XIV. The pageant played out on a large square arena that had been specially created between the (now lost) Tuileries Palace and the Louvre. (To this day, the area carries the name of the Place du Carrousel.) Surrounded by fifteen thousand spectators, 1,297 participants - 655 of them on horseback - went through their carefully choreographed paces.

"Turkish" trumpeter and drummer.
View of the pageant facing the Louvre; the clutter of buildings obscuring the view of the palace was later cleared away.
"Roman" pages.
Another view facing the Tuileries.  (The central pavilion of the palace, seems to have been "lost" in the fold of the book.)
"American" drummer and trumpeter.

The revelers were divided into five groups: Le Quadrille persan, commanded by the king's brother; Le Quadrille des Turcs, led by the prince de Condé; Le Quadrille des Indiens, headed by the duc d'Enghien; leading Le Quadrille des Américains was the duc de Guise...

"Monsieur" - the duc d'Orléans - the brother of the king.
The prince de Condé.
The duc de Guise.

... and, most importantly, Le Quadrille des Romains, which was led by the king, himself. Louis XIV, at the height of his youthful powers, his horse's caparison reportedly enlivened with diamonds, was described by a contemporary:  "Dressed like a Roman in a long coat embroidered with silver and gold... on his head a silver helmet covered with gold leaf... from which there rises a crest of ostrich plumes dyed red..."


One hundred and forty-four years later, on this same spot, Napoléon built the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, intended as a grand entry to the Palais des Tuileries.  The palace has disappeared but the arch remains, positioned between the long wings of the Louvre; from it one can see, along the long axis of the Tuileries gardens and the Champs-Élysées, the more famous Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile.  The arch in the Place du Carrousel is one of the many sublime structures of central Paris, but very few know the reason for its very particular name.

The arch was designed by Percier and Fontaine, and modeled on the Arch of Constantine in Rome. 

And to conclude on an appropriately equine note, the quadriga that crowns the arch originally incorporated the famous horses of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, which Napoléon had captured in 1797.  In 1815, after Waterloo and the Bourbon Restoration, the French rightfully ceded the horses, which were immediately packed off, back to Venice.  It wasn't until thirteen years later that the ensemble was replaced by a quadriga sculpted by Baron François Joseph Bosio, depicting Peace riding in a triumphal chariot led by gilded Victories.


  1. Fascinating! And love the Ziegfeld Girl headdresses on some of those horsemen.

    1. Ziegfeld is exactly right; I wonder if the great showman ever put horses on stage?