The Internet Is Trying to Decode Elon Musk’s Recent Tweet of an 18th-Century Painting of King Louis XIV

While Elon Musk’s $44 billion purchase of Twitter on hold, nothing, it seems, can stop the Tesla boss from trolling his way to viral social media fame.

On May 15, Musk sent a portion of his 93.6 million followers into a frenzied guessing game after he posted an 18th century portrait of Louis XIV, captioning it: “Borderline too sexy.” In subtweets, he complimented the French king’s shoes in the painting, adding that it was “great art.” 

The painting is part of the collection of the Louvre in Paris where it is on also view; it is a sumptuous portrait of French King Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud from 1701. Predictably, the Internet is flush with cheeky theories deconstructing the potential motivation for Musk’s eccentric comment.

As one of the foremost court painter’s of the famous Sun King, Rigaud’s portrait of Louis XIV wearing a splendorous arrangement of coronation robes is emblematic of the largesse of the ruling class. The king presided over France prior to the French Revolution and his reign came to symbolize the unimaginable wealth and dominance of the aristocracy.

So, is this how Elon sees himself? (One Twitter user speculated Musk was sharing a teaser to his outfit for next year’s Met Gala.)

Others, perhaps more accurately, read it as a jab at Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who Musk had recently called a Louis XIV 2.0 at a TED conference in Vancouver, Canada, last month. “As for media sort of ownership,” Musk said, “I mean, you’ve got Mark Zuckerberg owning Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp, and with a share ownership structure that will have Mark Zuckerberg XIV still controlling those entities,” adding: “We won’t have that at Twitter.”

The CEO of SpaceX, known for his liberal use of Twitter to poke fun at his opponents, has previously stated he wanted to free Twitter users from the “illuminaughty,” a riff on the Enlightenment-era secret society over which Louis XIV presided.

In any case, this isn’t the first time that Elon has made inscrutable statements about art (lest anyone forget his 2020 tweet, “I put the art in fart.”) He also once trolled the Museum of English Rural Life by borrowing their 1962 picture of a ram for his Twitter profile—the museum returned the favor and used his picture on their own profile.

With regards to what this tweet of King Louis XIV really means, we may never know.

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