Student Work

  • Art and Design History and Theory, History of Design and Curatorial Studies (MA)

    Catherine Powell

    Charles Le Brun and the Replicas of the Triumphs of Alexander: Extending a Reputation Through Weaving and Print

    Between 1661 and 1679, Charles Le Brun painted a cycle of five monumental paintings referred to as The Triumphs of Alexander for Louis XIV. The paintings were universally acclaimed, and remain one of Le Brun’s best-known projects. They were reproduced as a suite of tapestries in France and in Flanders by weavers in Brussels and Antwerp. They were also reproduced as prints, with engravings produced in France and abroad. The printed and woven replicas of The Triumphs of Alexander reached a wide audience across geographical boundaries for nearly a century.

    Le Brun’s Alexander designs were the perfect subject matter for royal propaganda. This thesis, however, considers a different question: the extent to which the popularity of the designs can be attributed to the impressive reputation.

    Le Brun achieved and, if the reputation of Le Brun was a factor in the popularity of his Alexander designs, whether that reputation was incidental to Le Brun’s position within Louis XIV’s court, or whether Le Brun actively participated in the expansion of his reputation through replicas (directly, or by creating the circumstances that allowed for the production and dissemination of replicas).

    This thesis adopts a new approach by considering Le Brun’s Alexander designs across media, across geographic boundaries, and within their socio-economic context. This multidimensional analysis reveals that combining his talent and ambition, Le Brun partly created and partly fed and encouraged the circumstances that facilitated the dissemination of his works through tapestries and prints in France, which prints in turn proved essential in expanding Le Brun’s reputation abroad through additional, foreign-produced, prints and tapestries. Le Brun was at once the King’s humble servant, and the master of his own destiny.