Art and sagacity

The Old KingAmong the many portraits of sagacity is Rouault’s The Old King. The work can be interpreted as appealing to monarchy or rule, but the tragic expression of the face denies this and reveals the paradox of power. Rouault has many portraits of Christ, and The Old King is one of them, next to portraits of clowns. The Old King embodies the paradox of divinity and human fragility. Jesus did not want to be made a king, yet he has been made a god. Further, one can reflect upon the tragic sense of Plato’s dream of a philosopher-king, a dream that has never come to fruition. One thinks of Marcus Aurelius, the closest exemplar, rather than the naive but reckless Christian kings of medieval Europe that might be suggested with this painting. Or we can think of the fabled Yellow Emperor of China so esteemed by later generations as an ideal, because they never knew him as a historical reality.