Ornaments of the Real, 1688 and 1694 © Musée national de la Marine / L.-S. Jaulmes
According to Jean Mathias (? -1706)
Sculpture workshop of the Marseille arsenal
1688 and 1694
Walnut, lime and poplar
Inventory number MnM 37 OA 5
Exhibition Paris, palace of Chaillot
This set of sculptures, miraculously preserved from the outrages of the sea and the weather, is significant of the decoration of the ships at the time of Louis XIV, when it had to make "slat on sea the magnificence of His Majesty".
The galleys of the XVIIth centurye centuries are the heirs of the ancient rowing vessels and more directly of the medieval galleys which were the warships and merchants of the great Mediterranean maritime cities like Genoa, Barcelona or Venice.
The terrible carnage of the battle of Lepanto (1571) between 230 galleys and the 208 galleys of the Christian League showed that this navy was doomed to disappear, as the ships became faster, more maneuverable, and that their artillery was relatively effective.
Nevertheless, nearly a century after Lepanto, Louis XIV made the galleys of France one of the most ostentatious symbols of his policy of hegemony and prestige.
LIFE ON BOARD
Become ceremonial buildings, the galleys of the XVIIe and XVIIIe centuries mainly carry out reconnaissance and security missions along the coast. They then move as far as possible to the sail, in order to save the strength of the rowers.
Slaves and convicts, hobbled day and night on the only bridge, badly fed, rowers crowded in a small, damp and unhealthy space.
On the other hand, at the stern, the staff and hosts of the captain dominate the whole from the covered hut that overhangs the rear: the "carriage". There are concentrated sculptured ornaments, the iconography of which is generally to the glory of the sovereign.
THE ICONOGRAPHIC PROGRAM
The Reale, at the head of the fleet of the galleys of France, is evidently the most richly decorated.
Here, the iconographic program is centered around the character of Apollo, the god of the day, who reigns over the seasons as the Sun King reigns over the world. At the coronation the bas-relief appears in the summer, while in the bulwark, just below, is depicted the winter. Fall and spring are respectively on port and starboard. The whole is completed by great figures in round humps: two tritons blowing conchs surmounted by two Renominations. Above are two escutcheons bearing a crowned L, and at the top a winged genius bears the escutcheon of France.