Louis XIV was responsible for spawning a bizarre fashion for enemas in late seventeenth-century France. The Roi de Soleil’s love affair with the clyster began as an attempt to cure a painful anal fistula but rapidly became popular amongst courtiers and fashionable members of French society. By the mid-1680s Louis was said to have subjected his poor backside to over 2,000 enemas and the procedure had become so commonplace that members of the royal court thought nothing about interrupting a conversation or a meal in order to have undertake a quick purgative there and then.
Naturally this fad was a gift for satirists, particularly those from nations that found themselves at war with France. Romeyn de Hooghe’s (1645 – 1708) Les Monarch Trombants (c.1674) for example, shows Louis straddling a globe whilst receiving an enema. The resulting stream of effluence flows across the map of Holland and western Germany, symbolising the befouling nature of French power and influence on Protestant Europe.
Images such as these crossed over from print into other forms of material culture. These silver buttons show Louis XIV (his identity being confirmed by the royal fleur-de-lis on the wall) receiving a rather forceful enema treatment from a burly physician who seems to be applying the treatment with such vigour that the monarch’s nightcap stands on its end.
It appears as though these buttons may have been part of a set which also contain another design, with no apparent royal connection, which shows a physician resting on his syringe as his satisfied patient relieves himself in a chamber pot.
We do not know whether these buttons were manufactured in France and intended to serve as a form of scatological social satire amongst those who did no share the king’s passion for rectal hygiene, or whether they were produced elsewhere in Europe for the purpose of mocking the French ruler and his subject. No doubt they would have served both purposes equally well.
This pair of buttons will be going on sale in the UK after Christmas, with an auctioneer’s estimate of £200 – £300.