Paintings in the Collège de France faculty Professors’ meeting room (Episode 2)

Translated by Liz Carey Libbrecht.

With Henry IV’s ascension to the throne and the dynasty change (the arrival of the Bourbons), in a country that had been pacified and was prospering, the Collège was founded again, this time materially and tangibly. This event is the subject of a second painting adorning the Collège de France faculty meeting room, painted a few years after that of Guillaume Guillon-Lethière. It represents a continuation of the historical timeline of the institution’s birth. We will also present a third painting depicting Louis XIV, which has a more mysterious story.

Henry IV deciding to build the Collège royal [French: Henri IV décidant la construction du Collège royal], by Charles Thévenin (1827)

Charles Thévenin (1764-1838)
Henri IV décidant la construction du Collège royal
Oil on canvas
2.570 m x 3.870 m
Photo: P. Imbert, Collège de France

Charles Thévenin. Sketch by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1817)

Charles Thévenin (Paris, 12 July 1764 – 28 February 1838) was a French neoclassical painter known for his heroic depictions of the French Revolution and the First French Empire.

He received the Prix de Rome in 1791. In 1816, he was appointed director of the Académie de France in Rome, successor to Guillaume Guillon-Lethière. Upon his return to Paris, he was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1825, and later appointed custodian of the Cabinet des Estampes of the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Infographic: A. Huszar, Collège de France
  1. In this painting, in the fall of 1609, King Henry IV, wearing the ribbon of the Order of the Holy Ghost, grabs the wrist of:
  2. Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully (1559-1641), his brother in arms, friend, and advisor. The king wished to order the construction of a building for the Collège.
  3. Wearing the red robe is Jacques Auguste de Thou, Président à mortier (one of the most powerful magistracies under the Ancien régime) of the Parlement de Paris and one of the authors of the Edict of Nantes (granting freedom of worship to protestants), which he would publish in 1598.

I see the learned Cardinal du Perron put all of his knowledge into the building of the College of which I spoke to you here above. God willing, henceforth let it not be a body without a soul, & let it be a magnificent stone College, in the place of that originally built of men by King Francis.” Estienne Pasquier, Les recherches de la France, in Jean Petit-Pas, 1621 : 839

  1. Cardinal Jacques Davy du Perron, Grand Aumônier (senior chaplain) de France, in this case representing the administrative supervision of the Collège Royal. He was its protector as well as its director, even though he did not teach at the institution.

The identity of the people behind them is unknown to us, as very few portraits of professors have survived. Nonetheless, by means of resemblances and cross-referencing, it is possible to recognize two of them in the centre of the canvas, who appear to be framed by the doorway. They are the only characters who are looking straight at us:

  1. Jean Riolan the Younger (1577-1657), professor of medicine at the Collège and personal doctor of Queen Marie de’ Medici. In 1626, he obtained the approval of Louis XIII to create the Jardin des plantes, thus sowing the first seeds of France’s National Museum of Natural History.
  2. Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614), professor of Greek, whose commented edition of the writings of Polybius, an eminent Greek historian from the 2nd century B.C.E., is still an authoritative text today.
  3. Once again based on resemblances, on the right side of the painting, to the far right, we believe that we recognize the official historian of France recording the scene: at the time, Bernard de Girard.
  4. Pierre Jeannin, a diplomat, who according to the United Provinces of the Netherlands, was one of the architects of their independence from Spain.
  5. Nicolas IV de Neufville de Villeroy, Secretary of State. As the second-most powerful minister after Sully, he succeeded the latter during the regency of Marie de’ Medici following the king’s death.
  6. Nicolas Brulart de Sillery, Chancellor of France, and who himself as Secretary of State.
  7. Louis XIII, still a child. Following the assassination of his father by Ravaillac on 14 May 1610, Louis XIII would lay the first stone of the new building on 28 August 1610. This cornerstone was rediscovered during the twentieth century.

In 1935, during the work to consolidate the east wing of the current building, the cornerstone of the first building designed by Claude Chastillon for the Collège Royal was unexpectedly discovered. The stone had been laid in 1610. At the end of the eighteen century the building was demolished to make room for the current one, and the rubble, including this stone, was used as an embankment. Therefore, its rediscovery during a period that valued the conservation of heritage was therefore a lucky chance of history. Today, it is on display in front of one of the pillars of the .

Written under the wardrobes of the king and the queen, his mother, is the following:

“During the first year of the reign of Louis XIII, King of France and of Navarre, aged 9, under the regency of Queen Marie de’ Medici, his mother. 28 August 1610.”

Louis XIV (ca. 1678)

Louis XIV
Oil on canvas
2.480 m x 1.670 m
ca. 1678
Photo: P. Imbert, Collège de France

The faculty assembled on 9 January 1678 are believed to have ordered the Collège’s syndic (the body responsible for the establishment’s financial management) to “commission a painting of the King standing, with the frame”, to be placed in the meeting room to thank the ruler for his generosity.

The latter had granted the “intermédiats” of Professor Roberval (Chair of Mathematics, 1634-1675) to the professors of the Collège. These surplus funds, not used between his death in 1675 and the appointment of a successor in 1683, constituted a substantial sum that allowed significant renovation work to be undertaken.

The king is represented majestically, bearing the Order of the Holy Ghost, the coronation crown, and the hand of justice placed on the fleur-de-lis-patterned cushion to his right. With a movement of his sceptre, he indicates that he intends to rule over the arts and the sciences, the symbols of which are placed at his feet: a globe, a compass, musical instruments, books, and bay leaves.

Licence Creative Commons
Ce(tte) œuvre est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution – Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale – Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International

Citer ce billet
Ronan Le Guen (2020, 2 octobre). Paintings in the Collège de France faculty Professors’ meeting room (Episode 2). Colligere. Consulté le 24 avril 2024, à l’adresse

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