King Louis XVI (1754 - 1793)

Not on display

Order image © All images subject to copyright

Artist or maker

Callet, Antoine-François (b.1741, d.1823)

frame attributed to Francois-Charles Buteux (b.1732, d.1788)



payment made on 19 January 1782

Place of production

  • Paris, France


  • oil on canvas

Type of object

  • paintings

Accession number


Large oil state portrait of Louis XVI wearing coronation robes in gilded oak frame. Louis is over life size.

Callet's portrait of the French king Louis XVI was sent to London with Jean-Baltazar, comte d'Adhemar, the French ambassador following the end of the American War of Independence in 1783.


The ambassador's residence, in Piccadilly, was a showcase for French luxury arts, including Sèvres porcelain, Gobelins tapestries and Boulle furniture. Callet's portrait hung in the throne room, where all official business was conducted. It was not just an image of the king but embodied his virtual presence. The ambassador was the representative of the monarch, the human symbol of royal authority. The portrait and the throne that was placed in front of it were a manifestation of power.

This painting is one of at least 15 repetitions of Callet's portrait of the king commissioned by the French foreign minister, the comte de Vergennes, in 1779. Callet had begun work on the prime version of the portrait the year before. He modelled the composition on Hyacinthe Rigaud's celebrated 1701 portrait of Louis XIV (Musée du Louvre, Paris, INV. 7492). This iconographic continuity emphasised the five generations of unbroken royal lineage and bathed the weaker Louis XVI in the glory of his forebear.

The conventional trappings of baroque princely portraiture, such as the column and billowing canopy, imbue the painting with grandeur and add to the king's stature. The monarch is depicted as the sole source of justice in politically turbulent times. The Main de Justice (Hand of Justice) is prominent beside him and the figure of Justice and bundled fasces of Roman magistrates decorate the gilded throne behind him. He holds the sceptre of Henri IV (1589-1610), founder of the Bourbon dynasty, and wears the sword known as the Joyeuse, traditionally associated with Charlemagne (c. 747-842), with the chains of the two highest chivalric orders, from which the cross of the Saint-Esprit is suspended. Beneath his mantle of state, embroidered with fleurs-de-lys and lined with ermine, he wears court dress of Louis XIV’s era, including shoes with red heels (talons rouges), which could be worn only by the highest ranks of the aristocracy.

Unlike most other surviving examples of Callet's portrait, this one retains the neoclassical frame carved for it by Francois Buteux (1732-88). Buteux supplied several frames for versions of Callet's state portrait intended for French diplomatic missions abroad. The decoration of each one reflected the political relationship of the recipient nation with France at the time.

At the very top sits the crown of France, with the crossed Main de Justice and sceptre below. The shield is carved with the arms of France and Navarre, from which the Order of the Saint-Esprit is suspended. The trophy of arms with the flag of Louis XIV with its emblematic sunburst represents the might of France. The arms are lowered, laid aside in peace. This emphasis on peaceful rapprochement was important. The ensemble of painting and frame was made for display in London in 1783, when France wanted to restore good relations with Britain following the American War of Independence, in which France had supported the newly emerging nation.

Juliet Carey 2008

Physical description

Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)

2800 x 1800 approx - sight

Signature & date

not signed or dated


on cartouche on frame, lower centre

Translation of inscription

Given by the King to the Count d'Adhèmar, his ambassdor extraordinaire to His Royal Highness of Great Britain, in the year 1783





  • Commissioned by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, payment made to Callet on 19 January 1782 for 3000 livres; given by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an ambassadorial gift to Jean-Balthazar Comte d' Adhémar (b.1736, d.1790) for his ambassadorial residence in London, February 1783; acquired by 9th Earl of Devon, William Courtenay (b.1768, d.1835) of Powderham Castle before 1803; by descent through the Earls of Devon; purchased by a Rothschild Family Trust in 2006.


  • Rothschild Foundation, Waddesdon
  • On loan since 2006


  • Marc Sandoz; Antoine-François Callet (1741-1823); Paris; Éditart; 1985; pp. 96-102; on the numerous copies
  • Department of Culture, Media and Sport; Export of objects of cultural interest. Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest; Department for Culture, Media and Sport.; London; Her Majesty's Stationery Office; 2005-2006; pp. 60-63, Case 20
  • Sarah Medlam, Callet's Portrait of Louis XVI: A Picture Frame As Diplomatic Tool, Furniture History: The Journal of the Furniture History Society, XLIII, 2007, 143-154; p. 144
  • Pippa Shirley, Waddesdon Manor and Le Gôut Rothschild, World of Antiques & Art, 73, August 2007, 60-63; Juliet Carey; Philippa Glanville; p. 61, fig. 2.
  • Michael Hall, An Acquisitive Gene: Lord Rothschild's Collecting for Waddesdon, Apollo, July 2007-August 2007, 44-49; p. 44, fig. 1
  • Juliet Carey, New Paintings at Waddesdon Manor, Apollo, 168, September 2008, 52-57; pp. 55-56
  • Christian Baulez, Souvenirs of an embassy: the comte d'Adhemar in London, 1783-87, The Burlington Magazine, 151, June 2009, 372-381; pp. 372-381

Related files

Other details

Subject person

  • Louis XVI of France, Sitter