VERSAILLES PALACE, FRANCE
- Versailles Palace, located outside Paris, epitomizes the classicizing Baroque style of architecture popular in France in the 17th century. Louis XIII originally commissioned Philibert Le Roy to build it in 1624 as a small hunting lodge, but it was dramatically expanded by his son, Louis XIV, beginning in the 1660s, to become the largest château at the time in all of France. In 1682, Louis XIV moved his entire administrative court from the Louvre Palace in Paris to Versailles. The court consisted of 20,000 nobles, 5,000 of whom lived in the palace while the rest lived in the town of Versailles. This number was in addition to the 14,000 staff and military who lived at the palace as well. French monarchs continued to use Versailles as their administrative seat until they were forced to return to Paris in 1789 as a result of the French Revolution.Prior to the reign of Louis XIV, the French monarchy had experienced a period of instability beginning with the assassination of Henri IV in 1610, which left Henri's nine-year-old son, Louis XIII, and his wife, Marie de' Medici, together with the powerful Cardinal Richelieu, in control of the Crown. During this time, the nobles gradually attained more power, carving out their own alliances and regions of authority. The same situation occurred in the next royal generation, when Louis XIII died in 1643 at a relatively young age, leaving his five-year-old son, Louis XIV, and his wife, Anne of Austria, who ruled as coregent with Cardinal Mazarin. When Cardinal Mazarin died in 1661, Louis XIV began to assert his authority. One of his main goals was to bring absolutist rule back to the monarchy, with more control over the nobility. It was primarily for this reason that Louis XIV moved his entire court to Versailles, where he could detach them from Paris and create a more centralized government. Louis XIV went on to assert himself as a powerful and firm ruler; he governed for a longer time than any other monarch in French history.During his rule, Louis XIV continued to revitalize the arts and culture in the French court. The French Royal Academy had been founded in 1635 and the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648. The establishment of the Royal Academy of Architecture during Louis XIV's rule in 1671 reemphasized the ideals of the Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius as well as the Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. In order to construct Versailles, Louis hired artists away from his finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, after accusing him of using money from the Crown for his lavish construction at Vaux-le-Vicomte. These artists included François Mansart and Louis Le Vau, whose architectural taste can be characterized as a restrained, classicizing Baroque, but the final additions to the palace, completed between 1738 and 1760 during the reign of Louis XV, were made according to the newer Rococo and Neo-Classical styles.The construction of Versailles Palace under Louis XIV is divided into four major building campaigns. The first, dating from 1664 to 1668, consisted of alterations to the original palace and garden to accommodate 600 guests invited for the first large-scale public event held there during the reign of Louis XIV. The three-story form of the hunting lodge remained, but was enlarged. Louis Le Vau oversaw the initial design for the palace; as the campaign progressed, Charles Le Brun was hired to oversee the interior decoration, while André Le Nôtre designed the vast formal gardens. During the second campaign, from 1669 to 1672, the new palace, called the château neuf, was constructed around the older stone and brick hunting lodge, enveloping the older building on the north, south, and west sides.Since Louis XIII had already obtained a deed to the city of Versailles in 1632, a large portion of the native population was already in service to the Crown at the time Louis XIV moved there, simplifying the logistics of construction and maintenance. The north side was constructed with a suite of rooms on the piano nobile, or second floor, for the king, while the south piano nobile wing had a suite of rooms of equal size for the queen, the scale of which was unprecedented at the time. The western side of the palace had a terrace that connected the royal apartments and overlooked the gardens. The ground floor consisted of the service quarters and grand stairwells. The third floor of the original structure, or château vieux, was the center of the palace, with private rooms for the king and rooms for the children and servants. Private rooms included a guardroom, an antechamber, a private room for eating, a council room, and rooms for clothing and the king's wigs, which numbered more than 500. The north and south wings were conceived of by Louis Le Vau as a suite of seven rooms each, with a hallway that ran continuously through each room and thus facilitated public access throughout each suite. The rooms were given celestial symbolism, with each room named after a planet and its corresponding god or goddess: Diana as the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and Apollo as the Sun God. Many connections between Louis XIV and the Sun God Apollo were made throughout the decorative program of the palace, as well as in propagandistic dialogue.The third building campaign, begun after the death of Le Vau, was overseen by Jules Hardouin-Mansart from 1678 to 1684. During these renovations, the famous Hall of Mirrors was built from the originally open garden terrace on the piano nobile and lengthened to include three of the royal apartment rooms — those of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. In the Hall of Mirrors, Hardouin-Mansart added the huge mirrors along the wall opposite the windows, which were quite expensive at the time, and light reflected from the arched windows overlooking the gardens into the mirrors, creating an ephemeral, richly spacious interior. The barrel-vaulted ceiling was filled with allegorical, propagandistic narratives glorifying the reign of Louis XIV. Hardouin-Mansart reconfigured the rooms of the remaining king's suite to be used for billiards, balls, playing cards, music, and the serving of food to guests, and he added a small apartment suite for the king's collection of "rarities." This collection was modeled on those amassed by Italian Renaissance princes and kept in their studioli, or private studies. Hardouin-Mansart also regularized the garden façade to match the wings.It was during the time following the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678 that Louis gradually began to move his court to Versailles, making the move official in 1682. His famously intricate court etiquette evolved during this time, centered on his morning lever (in which Louis got up and dressed), which was described as parallel to the morning sunrise and the symbolism of Apollo. This courtly ritual, which provided daily structure for the vast nobility by keeping them entertained and out of political power, was quickly emulated across Europe, including Russia. In addition, Louis added the Orangerie, and it was during this third campaign that the majority of the interior decoration and gardens were completed. During the final campaign, which dates to 1701-1710, the Royal Chapel was built by Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte.The palace, as it was finally constructed, consisted of a three-story central core, flanked by massive wings that created a huge, U-shaped cour d'honneur where horses and carriages arrived and departed. From there, guests entered the marble-floored, open forecourt and then proceeded through the main entrance at the ground floor to be escorted up to the piano nobile. Still today, the entrance consists of three doors separated by tall paired columns, topped by a gilded balustrade, and then three arched windows in the piano nobile. The brick walls are articulated with classical pilasters and other Vitruvian details that help to organize the flat exterior walls and provide them with a visual rhythm. The central structure has a mansard roof in front of which is a continuous classical balustrade. The garden façade reveals rusticated stonework on the ground floor, punctuated by arched windows, while the taller piano nobile is more ornate, with tall arched windows and three porticoes of paired columns demarcat-ing the central garden entrance foyer and relieving the visual conformity of the broad façade. The third floor acts as an attic level, with a shorter register of smooth stone and square windows, all capped by a classical balustrade with sculpture located at various points across the roofline. The Royal Chapel, built in the first years of the 18th century in a Rococo style, has elegant white fluted Corinthian columns supporting an oval-shaped interior space made of marble. The barrel-vaulted nave ceiling is painted with frescoes and framed in the more organic, curved lines of the Rococo.The gardens are an important element of the architectural design in that they expand outward the various areas used for the entertainment of the nobles. André Le Nôtre organized the vast cultivated area in an axial direction, along a broad avenue from which a trident of streets angled away. Broad vistas contrasted with private, enclosed gardens. The most formal gardens were located near the palace and the less formal areas melded into the forest beyond. Classical fountains and sculpture designate particular areas of the garden, which were used as gathering spots or for entertainments. Several garden buildings were constructed over the years, the first of which was the Baroque Grand Trianon, built in 1669 by Hardouin-Mansart for Louis XIV as an escape from the rigors of palace life at Versailles. The Rococo-styled Petit Trianon was constructed in the 1760s by Ange-Jacques Gabriel for Louis XV as a gift to his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. The Petit Trianon was given to the young Queen Marie Antoinette by King Louis XVI at the beginning of his reign in 1774; she had the elegantly rustic Hamlet constructed nearby in the more informal style favored by late-18th-century French nobility just prior to the French Revolution. The events of the French Revolution ended courtly life at Versailles by forcing the royal couple to return to Paris, where they were later held for treason and executed by guillotine.
Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. Allison Lee Palmer. 2008.
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