French baroque artist. Court painter to Louis XIV from 1662, he became director of the French Academy and of the Gobelins factory, which produced art, tapestries, and furnishings for the new palace of Versailles.
In the early 1640s he studied under Poussin in Rome, returning to Paris 1646. As director of the Academy, and with the patronage of the powerful minister Colbert, he became the virtual dictator of art in France, ensuring through commissions and training that the arts and crafts served to glorify the reign of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’. He worked on large decorative schemes, including the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) at Versailles 1679–84, and painted official portraits.
The son of a sculptor, he showed precocious talent, and having studied under Vouet and Poussin, he became a painter to the king at 19 and was a founder-member of the French Academy 1648. He was patronized by Fouquet, for whom he decorated the Château de Vaux, then by Colbert, who found in him the perfect instrument for creating a comprehensive system of art and manufacture supporting the absolutism of Louis XVI. He became the first painter to the king 1662, director of the Manufacture Royale des Meubles 1663, turned the Academy into a monopoly under his dictatorship, directed the decoration of Versailles, his chief work (notably the Staircase of the Ambassadors and the Galerie des Glaces), and made the Gobelins into a great centre of art industry employing painters, sculptors, weavers, dyers, goldsmiths and other craftsmen.
His prodigious output included religious and history paintings, for example the History of Alexander series (Louvre, Paris) designed for tapestry; portraiture, such as the group of the banker Jabach and his family (Staatliche Museen, Berlin) and countless designs for decorative projects. After the death of Colbert 1683 he was replaced in authority by his enemy Mignard, though Louis XIV remained his loyal admirer.