This saint died at age 24 after less than eight months as Bishop of Toulouse. For this reason he is always portrayed as a beardless youth in sumptuous "pontificals," the formal garb worn by medieval bishops on the most solemn occasions. This is ironic, because as bishop of Toulouse he lived and dressed very humbly and encouraged his clergy to do the same. Once when he came upon a naked beggar, he even took off his own Franciscan habit and gave it to the man.1
I have combed through a great deal of original material regarding Louis and found nothing that would explain portraying him in sumptuous garments. It may be that they signify his spiritual habiliments. For that possibility, note the verse from a hymn for his feast day, "The one whom modesty, piety, and humble life bedeck (decorat) / God exalts and crowns with royal honor" (Dreves and Blume, XXVI, 265).
The pontificals in the saint's images include silk gloves and a richly embroidered cope with a jeweled clasp at the neck. The image at right allows Louis's simple gray habit to show through the pontificals. Other images do not.
Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University