NO. 6 IVORY RELIEF OF LOUIS XIV; Our Weekly Series Examines an Artefact from the British Museum with Origins in One of the Capital's Diverse Cultures

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Byline: Aileen Dawson, British Museum curator, Early Modern Collections

An ivory relief of King Louis XIV of France carved by David Le Marchand. About 1690-96 LONDON A WORLD CITY IN 20 OBJECTS THE art of ivory carving was practised in Europe, above all in the town of Dieppe from the 17th century, often using elephant ivory from Africa. The shape of this delicately carved relief on a black velvet support conforms to a tusk. The artist responsible, whose signature "LE MARCHAND FECIT" (Le Marchand made [it]) appears on the lower part, was born in Dieppe and was the son of a painter. A Protestant, he left France to escape religious persecution and was in Edinburgh by 1696. Around 1700 he went to London where he carved portraits of many famous men, including Sir Isaac Newton, and where a thriving French Protestant community settled around Shoreditch and Spitalfields.

The relief, measuring 14cm in height, depicts King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), often known as "the Sun King", and celebrates his military exploits. He stands on a pedestal inscribed in Latin "To the Victory of Louis the Great" with chained slaves at his feet and a series of flags to either side of him. The figures are framed by a laurel wreath. During his long reign Louis XIV fought many battles, vastly increasing the power and prestige of France and centralising its government. The magnificent chateau at Versailles was his creation and served the double purpose of demonstrating his wealth and taming the aristocracy, which was obliged to reside there. …