Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Henri IV at the Battle of Arques (1873)

Eugène Lami: Henri IV at the Battle of Arques

In August 1589, following the assassination of Henri III, Henri IV became king of France. One of his first tasks was to bring peace to France. To do so, he lifted the siege of Paris, which was in the hands of the Catholic League, in order to begin a military campaign in Normandy. Henri set up camp near the Chateau d'Arques near Dieppe, and prepared to do battle with the duc de Mayenne. He was outnumbered –pro-Catholic forces numbered between 25,000 and 30,000 soldiers, whereas he had only 8,000 men. (He was eagerly awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from England.) On 21 September 1589, Henri was victorious, particularly thanks to his artillery, which was under the command of the duc de Sully. After this initial success, and that of the Battle of Ivry, not far from Dreux, Normandy rallied to his cause, and Henri could once again turn his attention to Paris.

Eugène Louis Lami was a romantic artist of the 19th century who had made a name for himself as a battle painter, particularly under the July Monarchy. In this work, he has taken great pains to depict not only the two armies but also the landscape, and he has included some picturesque details. In this work, the Leaguers can be identified by their red sashes, but also by the cross of Lorraine. At the centre of the picture, Henri IV leads the charge, holding high his hat with the white plume – which actually would become celebrated later, at the Battle of Ivry. The artist emphasizes the role of the cavalry, suggests the artillery's firepower and shows the arquebusiers in action. This representation of the king is also an idealized one, but it also factors in a certain number of historical details as well. [Henry IV, The Interrupted Reign]

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