I will be comparing the portrait of Norman “The Red Man” 22nd Chief of Macleod by Allan Ramsay to the portrait of Louis XIV by Riguad. Allan Ramsay was Scottish and lived during the 18th century, which was probably the only time that Scotland shook off its reputation of being barren and poverty-stricken. Ramsay’s painting portrays, from the face down, a romantic chieftain wearing ancestral tartan. The cloth is swathed around him with toga-like folds to remind the viewer of the essential nobility of the Scottish clans.
Norman stands with a background that implies the vastness and quintessential beauty of his inheritance. His gesture is commanding and effortlessly secure in the loyal obedience of his followers. From his neck up, however, his head is that of a sophisticated gentleman, with a neatly curled wig and a fair complexion, implying his status, and a controlled expression of non-enthusiast typical of the English gentleman. Rigaud’s portraiture of Louis XIV, who inherited the throne in childhood and was called the “Sun King” not only because of his extraordinary power but also because he had made himself the center of aristocratic and intellectual life in France. His portrait of Louis XIV portrays the bizarre personality of an absolute ruler without the least hint of irony, although, for us, his flamboyant pose is irrefutably comical.
The King regards us with the pompous, smiling condescension of one who knows nothing but admiring applause. He looks down at his viewers benignly, his wig rising to heaven and then cascading down his powdered cheeks. Rigaud is not showing us the portrait of a king or a gentleman, but rather the portrait of an all-knowing man with some kind of superpower, graciously sent to enlighten the French by his benign example of true majesty.
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