Henri IV on horseback Trampling his Enemy
- Place of origin:
Paris (probably, made)
ca. 1615-1620 (made)
Le Sueur, Hubert (sculptor)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Given by Dr. W. L. Hildburgh FSA
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Europe 1600-1815, Room 5, The Friends of the V&A Gallery, case FS 
Henri IV of France reigned 1589-1610. This bronze statuette is one of a pair; the other representing Louis XIII, his son and successor (A.47-1951). The only equestrian bronzes by Le Sueur with a signature are a small statuette of Louis XIII in the V&A (A.1-1994) of about 1620, and the life-size statue of Charles I at Trafalgar Square dated 1633. It is on the basis of their close relationship to these two works that the statuettes of Henri IV and Louis XIII are attributed to le Sueur.
Both works probably date from Le Sueur's period of activity as sculptor in Paris before he was sent to England in 1625 to work for the court of Charles I, shortly after the marriage of Charles to Louis XIII's sister, Henriette-Marie. The date of 1615-20 for the pair is made from comparisons with the apparent age of Louis XIII on contemporary medals. Henri IV was deeply involved in the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Huguenots (Protestants) in France which lasted 1562-1598. This statuette reflects Henri's successful struggle to bring these hostilities to an end.
Le Sueur was an established sculptor, recognised for his exceptional bronze-casting skills by the King, before being sent to London where he stayed until Civil War forced his return to France. His skill and precision in portraying armour may reflect the influence of his father who was a master armourer in Paris. Horse and rider were cast separately. The back of the horse has a large hole, concealed by the rider, through which the core material from casting was removed. The head was also separately cast, so that horse and body could be replicated for other commissions. In this working practice, as well as in the concept of the heroic equestrian statue, Le Sueur was heavily influenced by the work of Giambologna and of his assistant and successor as Grand-dukes of Tuscany sculptor to the Medici, Pietro Tacca, whose work he knew in Paris.
The horse is shown in a rearing pose with its front hooves resting on the enemy beneath. In the saddle sits the bearded figure of Henry IV of France in full armour wearing a helmet and with the pommel of a sword (blade missing) in his right hand and his left slightly raised to hold the reins (now missing).
Place of Origin
Paris (probably, made)
ca. 1615-1620 (made)
Le Sueur, Hubert (sculptor)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 96 cm whole group (including A.1-1992), Width: 83.8 cm whole group (including A.1-1992), Depth: 39.7 cm whole group (including A.1-1992)
Object history note
Henri IV of France was born in 1553 and reigned from 1589 to 1610. This bronze statue is one of a pair; the other representing Louis XIII (b.1601, reigned 1610-43), Henri's son and successor (A.47-1951). Both works probably date from Le Sueur's period of activity as court sculptor in Paris (he was appointed in January 1614) before he was sent to England in 1625 to work for the court of Charles I, shortly after the marriage that year of Charles to Louis XIII's sister, Henrietta Maria. The date of 1615-20 for the pair is made from comparisons with the apparent age of Louis XIII on contemporary medals.
This bronze was previously attributed to Giambologna and to his assistant Pietro Tacca. It has been suggested that Le Sueur worked in Giambologna's Florentine workshop in Florence (during time unaccounted for), but he might have simply gained knowledge of Giambologna's work indirectly.
Le Sueur is associated with a number of French equestrian bronzes inspired by work of Giambologna and his workshop, most notably by the monument to Grand-Duke Cosimo I in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence, erected in 1598. These equestrian statues were ultimately derived from classical prototypes which they were designed to emulate. In 1612, Le Sueur transported from Ecouen, and erected at Chantilly, an equestrian statue of constable Henri de Montmorency (destroyed in 1792) which had been commissioned from Pierre Biard the Elder (1559-1609). He would also have known the imposing life-size equestrian monument of Henri IV (also destroyed in 1792), which had been cast after Giambologna's death by Tacca, and sent to Paris in 1614, where it was set up by the Pont Neuf opposite Le Sueur's studio. In his conception for this statuette, Le Sueur was perhaps also influenced by Barthélémy Prieur's equestrian bronze 'Henry IV destroying his Enemies' of about 1603.
Two signed equestrian bronzes by Le Sueur survive: one is the statuette of Louis XIII in the V&A (A.1-1994) dated to about 1620, and the other the life-size statue of Charles I (now at the original site of Charing Cross, at Trafalgar Square) dated 1633. It is on the basis of their close relationship to these two works that the pair of statuettes of Henri IV and Louis XIII are attributed to le Sueur. In 1623 Le Sueur produced a, now at last, equestrian statue of Gilles de Souvré, maréchal de France, who had been the tutor to the Dauphin, the future Louis XIII. Intended to be displayed on a cabinet, it was perhaps similar to A.1-1994. Finally, there is a fourth equestrian statuette at the V&A attributed to Le Sueur, though of lesser quality, thought to be Philip III of Spain (A.108-1956), one of a numbe of surviving variants.
The image of the King here is an idealised one, and the rigid pose of the horse lacks the attention to life study which is evident in the works of Giambologna and his studio. However, Le Sueur demonstrates particular skill and precision in portraying armour which may reflect the influence of his father who was a master armourer in Paris.
The statuette was cast in three main sections: horse (tail separate), the rider and saddle, and the head. The back of the horse has a large hole, concealed by the rider, through which the core material from casting was removed. This was a method used, for example, by Giambologna for his equestrian monument of Cosimo I de' Medici. With the head cast separately, the horse and body could be used as a basic, variable model and replicated for other commissions, a practice thought to have been developed by Tacca in Giambologna's workshop, and found also in the work of Caspr Le Gras, the Austrian sculptor.
The separately-cast crouching and contorted warrior was identified as part of the group when it came up for sale in 1991 and was bought by the V&A, forty years after the gift of the main figure. It acts as a physical support to the horse and rider as well as adding a dramatic element to the composition. Henri IV was often portrayed as a conqueror of his enemies, as also seen a bronze statuette of the king by Barthélémy Prieur (A.42-1956), which was once in the French royal collection.
Historical context note
Le Sueur was sculpteur ordinaire du roi to Louis XIII, recognised for his exceptional bronze-casting skills by the King and royal authorities, before being sent to London. Here he produced a number of statues of Charles I, tombs and effigies for the aristocracy, and copies of classical works, before the Civil War forced his return to France. By 1643, he was back in Paris, where he was last documented in 1658.
As Henri of Navarre, and subsequently King, Henri IV was deeply involved in the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Huguenots (Protestants) in France which are generally regarded to have started in 1562. This statuette reflects Henri's successful struggle to bring these hostilities to an end, which was finally achieved by the Edict of Nantes of 1598. His triumph over the enemy, who is literally trampled underfoot here by the warrior King, contrasts to the calmness of the bronze of Louis XIII, who inherited the kingdom his father had stabilised.
Statue, bronze, Henri IV on Horseback Trampling his Enemy, by Hubert Le Sueur, ca. 1615-1620
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Evelyn, Peta, 'Hubert Le Sueur's Equestrian Bronzes at the Victoria and Albert Museum' in The Burlington Magazine, February 1995, pp.85-92
Evelyn, Peta 'The Equestrian Bronzes of Hubert Le Sueur' in Giambologna tra Firenze e l'Europa, Atti del convegno internazionale, Florence, Instituto Universitario Olandese di Storia dell'Arte, 2000 pp.141-56
Bresc-Bautier, Genevière and Scherf, Guillaume (Ed., with Draper, James D. for English Edition), Cast in Bronze, French Sculpture from Renaissance to Revolution. Paris (Musée du Louvre), 2009, Cat. 44, pp 176-7
Evelyn, Peta in Williamson, P (ed), European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1996 p.130
Williamson, P, 'Acquisitions of Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1992-1999' in The Burlington Magazine, December 1999, CXLI, p.785, fig. VI
Avery, Charles, 'Hubert Le Sueur's Portraits of Charles I in bronze: at Stourhead, Ickworth, and elsewhere' in National Trust Studies, 1979 pp.128-47, reprinted in Avery, Charles, Studies in European Sculpture, I, London, 1981, p.202 and fig. 23.
Avery, Charles, 'Hubert Le Sueur, the 'Unworthy Praxiteles' of Charles I' in The Walpole Society, 1982, pp. 135-209 (no. 10, pp 140, 174) reprinted in Avery, Charles, Studies in European Sculpture II, London, 1988, pp.145-235
Avery, Charles, Baroque Sculpture and Medals in the Art Gallery of Ontario. The Margaret and Ian Ross Collection, Toronto, 1988, No. 10
Bresc-Bautier, G. , 'L'activité Parisienne d'Hubert Le Sueur Sculpteur du Roi (connu de 1596 à 1658)' in Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, 1985 (pub. 1987), pp.35-54
Patterson, Angus, "Power and Glory", Chapter, Medlam, Sarah, and Miller, Lesley Ellis, Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, V&A Publishing, London, 2011, pp.44-5
Warrior; Armour; Horse; Sword
Royalty; Sculpture; Arms & Armour