- The Carrara marbled sculpture was sculpted in 1829 for the king’s daughter Marie Therese, the queen dowager of France.
- The Second French Revolution endangered the statue. It was placed at a military base for protection, then made its way to Montpellier University and finally ending up in the municipal archives’ storage basement.
- Officials discovered the statue with a damaged arm in 1899 and was in disrepair.
- It remained in storage until officials decided to give it to Louisville in 1966.
- The statue took a 7-month journey from Montpellier to Louisville.
- It was presented as a gift to the City of Louisville on July 17, 1967 to then Republican Mayor Kenneth Schmeid.
At the moment, repair of the statue does not seem to be the foremost priority of civic Louisville. It’s worth thinking a bit about the meaning of the statue, given that we’re at a moment in which we’ve opened space to talk and think about such things. Louis XVI obviously was not a nice guy, either with respect to the rulership of France or as a custodian of France’s colonial possessions. And yet Louisville is in fact named after Louis XVI, the consequence of Revolutionary enthusiasm and a symbol of the early friendship between France and the incipient United States. The statue has not, to my knowledge, ever been the center of significant protests, and evidently does not carry the whiff of white supremacy that attaches to Confederate statues across the South.
And so we have a statue of a brutal authoritarian who was once widely viewed as a caretaker of American freedom watching over protests in the city that bears his name, notwithstanding the fact that his own subjects removed his head. I suppose that the lesson is that the artifacts we maintain never carry intrinsic significance, but are only relevant in terms of what we can, at any given time, attribute to them. For my part, the idea of a statue of Louis XVI standing today in Louisville, Kentucky is pleasingly absurd, and I do hope that the city eventually decides to repair it.
Nevertheless, prospects for a restoration remain grim.