Versailles - Journey Through Time - Part III
As Louis XIV left such an indelible fingerprint on the design of Versailles, we pick up where we left off... (ps, the above painting is P'Niche's favorite - Reception of the Grand Condé at Versailles. It was painted by Jean-Léon Gérôme and lives at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris...
The reign of Louis XIV (1638 - 1715) was an époque d'or (golden period) of French art, culture, and language. Hey, they didn't call him "The Sun King" for nothing! (Well, he actually gave himself that catchy moniker, but po-tay-toh, po-tah-toh)...
Louis XIV wished to exert his absolute authority and "The State, that is Me," point of view. Here's how it went down (and got built up)...
Picture it - the 1650s - and Louis XIV is ever eager to get out of Paris (and his big time distrust and childhood trauma.) He and his brother, Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, often ended up on hunts - and feasts - at their father's "old hunting lodge" at Versailles.
Warmed by his happy memories (and distance from Paris proper) Louis decided to make Versailles the center of his royal court and seat. And he built it to impress.
Recall that Louis XIV was furious at the display of vast wealth displayed by Nicolas Fouquet and the opening night soirée at his Château Vaux-le-Vicomte .
Enter stage (garden?) left, one Monsieur André Le Nôtre, landscape architect to the French aristocracy.
Having watched his father, Jean Le Nôtre maintain his role of lead Gardner of Louis XIII as well as orchestrating the Tuileries Garden, André was well educated and versed in landscape architecture himself. He even redesigned his father's work at the Tuileries garden!
P'Niche is not certain why Louis XIV started his renovations outside the palace, but hey, first impressions, amiright?
Le Nôtre was commissioned with the transformation of over 15,000 acres of mud and muck into an expansive wonderland of vistas, gardens, newly installed - state of the art - waterways for fountains, labyrinth like alleys, passages, the grand canal, etc.
No cost was spared. And of course, he followed the architectural rules of symmetry.
The second name in our Holy Trinity of Versailles construction is now here - Monsieur Louis Le Vau - an architect trained in the Italian and French baroque styles.
It was he who designed and oversaw construction to "Le Vau's Envelope," a symmetrical enclosure which housed the State Apartments of the King and Queen.
Next up, was the construction of the Pavilions of the Secretaries of State in 1670-1671 and the South Wing in 1679-1681.
This series of projects enabled Louis XIV to officially establish his royal court at Versailles in May 1682.
But wait... if you call now!
The King called for continuous works, projects, and new additions to his royal court - all in an effort to showcase his wealth - and total power.
The Grand Commun (which was mainly for the preparation of food) was constructed in 1681-1684, followed by the North Wing in 1685-1689 (completed by architect Jules-Hardouin-Mansart) to contain the government's administrative services.
Versailles' crowning jewel of a room is the Hall of Mirrors (1678 - 1684).
Jules Hardouin-Mansart undertook the massive (and decidedly political) task of replacing Le Vau's existing large terrace, originally connecting the King's (northern) and Queen's (southern) apartments. Prone to destructive exposure to nature's elements, an impressive solution was sought for connectivity.
Mansart's exquisite design for the Hall of Mirrors required many (many!) mirrors. Back then, Venice and Venetian artisans had the monopoly on mirrors and the skillset needed to produce them.
Mansart recruited several of these artisans to France (come for the work and stay for the baguettes!)
Plot twist - the Venetian government ordered the execution of those who helped the French on the project (le gulp!)
Truly this showcase deserves its own post and we will create one. We hope you will subscribe to join us back in the Parisian Niche...
Mansart's creation of the War Room (1678 - 1686) pays homage to several French military victories. The wall coverings and marble panels highlight six trophies and assorted weaponry in gilded bronze.
Other highlights include an oval stucco bas-relief depicting Louis XIV in triumph over his enemies. In other areas, Greek and Roman mythological creatures take flight - mythology being a passion of Louis XIV - he viewed himself as Apollo, after all!
Symmetrically opposite, the Peace Room is also decorated with marble panels and trophies from the chase. In this space, however, Le Brun chose to artistically highlight the many benefits that France brought to Europe as a whole.
When additional space was needed, the partition separating the room from the Hall of Mirrors could be removed to form part of the King's State Apartment.
Next up, we have the construction of the Royal Chapel (1699 - 1710).
While there was certainly a chapel during the reign of Louis XIII in his original Versailles, Louis XVI wanted / needed a religious showcase to demonstrate clearly that his authority was anointed by God.
Sadly, Mansard did not live to see the completion of the chapel (passing in 1708), and his brother in law, Robert de Cotte, oversaw the completion of the massive project.
The patron saint of the Bourbons, Saint Louis, is who the chapel was dedicated to upon its consecration in 1710.
Surround in columns, marble, glorious paintings, and golden religious necessities - we can only imagine masses held within!
In Louis XIV's court - by royal design - everything (even the wiping of le royal bum-bum) needed a certain level of glamour, pomp, and ceremony. He kept his courtiers in line by deciding who could help with what, when, and where.
As stated - absolute power and authority.
Despite his frail childhood, Louis XIV grew into a strong, intelligent, and study leader - determined to rule France and bring her to the forefront of European arts, culture, and politics.
Louis XIV reigned for 72 years, the longest reign in French (or European) history. He spent the majority of his time fighting wars (and renovating his glamour palace).
His long life saw him survive his own son and grandson. Sadly, just shy of Louis XIV's 77th birthday, he passed away after an agonizing battle against a gangrenous infection. This was September, 1715.
He passed his crown to his great grandson, crowned Louis XV, who was a mere 5 years old (history repeating?)
Will Louis XV make changes to Versailles? Join us here soon to find out!
In the meantime, you might consider reading "Mistress of the Sun" by Sandra Gulland.
I am so excited to introduce this book to our book club, the Parisian Page Turners, and to discover all of the opulence and decadence (and royal intrigues) of the times.
If you want to join us, please check out the Parisian Page Turners for more details.
All are welcome!
Certainly this is only a tasting of what Louis XIV accomplished at Versailles. That said, what do you think, P'Nicher? Ready to see how Louis XV continued the development of Versailles? We hope you join us in our next post and stop in the P'Niche Time Machine, "As the Palace Turns..."et à bientôt!