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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Louis IX of France features in this memorable portrait by El Greco from around 1592–1595. Saint Louis is joined by a page within this relatively small but detailed painting that resides today within the permanent collection of the Louvre in Paris, France.

The artist incorporates most of the elements that you might expect for the depiction of a King, with a crown and sceptre as well as some highly impressive armour which would not have been gifted to just any soldier. El Greco features the bottom of a classical column just behind the two figures and some have suggested that this was to symbolise the King's strength, in a military sense. Whilst we discuss St Louis, King of France and his role within this work, it must be said that over the years several other figures have also been linked to this painting, including Ferdinand V and Ferdinand III. It may turn out in later years that the current belief is not actually correct, but it feels the most likely at the moment. We also know that the artist's son would produce a copy of this painting and that is now to be found within Madrid, Spain. He regularly worked alongside his father as part of a larger studio which helped him to keep up with a large number of commissions. We can be grateful for some cleaning work carried out in the 2000s which helped more of the background detail to appear once more.

Luis de Castilla, who was close to the artist, would commission this painting. The scenery, discovered after the restoration, is likely to have been inspired by Toledo, a beautiful region in which the artist lived for many years. He also included in other artworks, sometimes referring to it by name. The Louvre purchased the piece in 1903, attempting to expand their coverage of this important artist who is far better represented within Spanish public collections than in France. Perhaps it is the Prado Museum in Madrid which serves his career the best, or instead the museum set up in his name in Toledo, where a strong focus is specifically placed on his achievements. Despite being forgotten by historians for several centuries, El Greco has risen again to become one of the most respected and much loved painters from the Spanish Renaissance, enjoying almost a cult-like status in the eyes of some.

This piece can be found at the Louvre, which itself hosts one of the finest collections of art anywhere in the world. Surprisingly, only four items from his career can be found here, with most of this artist's highlights remaining in public collections in Spain. The other items from his oeuvre in the Louvre are all from the 1590s, ensuring that there is not quite the breadth of his evolution here that you might want to see. That said, it remains an exceptional venue from where to learn more about European art history, with the 15th to 19th centuries particularly well served. El Greco himself was from Crete but many consider him a Spanish artist because of how the mature period of his career was mainly spent in that country. He is strongly linked to Toledo, and a museum in his name has since been set up and this continues to strengthen his name amongst younger generations who perhaps were not previously familiar with his work. The artist's expressive nature feels much more contemporary that other artists from that period, and he retains a great popularity today, almost universally.

Saint Louis in Detail El Greco