Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles (/ /, vair-SY, vur-SY; French: Château de Versailles [ʃɑto d(ə) vɛʁsɑj] (listen)) is a world-famous palace located in Versailles, about 12 miles (19 km) west of Paris, France. The palace is owned by the French Republic and has since 1995 been managed, under the direction of the French Ministry of Culture, by the Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. 15,000,000 people visit the Palace, Park, and Gardens of Versailles every year, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world.
|Palace of Versailles|
French: Château de Versailles
|Official name||Palace and Park of Versailles|
|Criteria||Cultural: i, ii, vi|
|Inscription||1979 (3rd Session)|
|Buffer zone||9,467 ha|
A château was built on the site of the Palace of Versailles by King Louis XIII, and expanded by Louis XIV in three phases from 1661 to 1715. The palace was a favorite residence for both men, and in 1682, Louis XIV moved the seat of his court and government to Versailles, making the city of Versailles the de facto capital of France. This state of affairs was continued by Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI, who primarily made interior alterations to the palace, but in 1789 the royal family and capital of France returned to Paris. For the rest of the French Revolution, the Palace of Versailles was largely abandoned and emptied of its contents, and the population of the surrounding city plummeted.
Napoleon Bonaparte, following his takeover of France, used Versailles as a summer residence from 1810 to 1814, but did not restore it. When the French Monarchy was restored, it remained in Paris and it was not until the 1830s that meaningful repairs were made to the palace. A museum of French history was installed within it, replacing the apartments of the southern wing.
The estate of Versailles has been massively influential in the history of art, architecture, and horticulture, and has been recognized as an important piece of the world's cultural heritage. The palace has also been important to the histories of France, Europe, and the world from the 17th century to the present day. The palace and park were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, while the French Ministry of Culture has placed the palace, its gardens, and some of its subsidiary structures on its list of culturally significant monuments.
- 1 History
- 2 Architecture and plan
- 3 Royal Apartments
- 3.1 Ambassador's Staircase
- 3.2 The State Apartments of the King
- 3.3 Private apartments of the King and Queen
- 4 Hall of Mirrors
- 5 Royal Chapel
- 6 Royal Opera
- 7 Museum of the History of France
- 8 Gardens and fountains
- 9 The Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon
- 10 The Hamlet of Marie Antoinette
- 11 Modern Political and ceremonial functions
- 12 Cost
- 13 Gallery
- 14 See also
- 15 Notes
- 16 References
- 17 Further reading
- 18 External links
In 1623, Louis XIII, King of France, built a hunting lodge on a hill in a favorite hunting ground, 12 miles (19 km) west of Paris, and 10 miles (16 km) from his primary residence, the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The site, near a village named Versailles,[a] was a wooded wetland that Louis XIII's court scorned as being generally unworthy of a king; one of his courtiers, François de Bassompierre, wrote that the lodge "would not inspire vanity in even the simplest gentleman". From 1631 to 1634, architect Philibert Le Roy replaced the lodge with a château for Louis XIII, who forbade his queen, Anne of Austria, from staying there overnight, even when an outbreak of smallpox at Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1641 forced Louis XIII to relocate to Versailles with his three-year-old heir, the future Louis XIV.
When Louis XIII died in 1643, Anne became Louis XIV's regent, and Louis XIII's château was abandoned for the next decade. She moved the court back to Paris, where Anne and her chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, continued Louis XIII's unpopular monetary practices. This led to the Fronde, a series of revolts against royal authority from 1648 to 1653 that masked a struggle between Mazarin and the princes of the blood, Louis XIV's extended family, for influence over him. In the aftermath of the Fronde, Louis XIV became determined to rule alone. Following Mazarin's death in 1661, Louis XIV reformed his government to exclude his mother and the princes of the blood, moved the court back to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and ordered the expansion of his father's château at Versailles into a palace.
Louis XIV had hunted at Versailles in the 1650s, but didn't take any special interest in Versailles until 1661. On 17 August 1661, Louis XIV was a guest at a sumptuous festival hosted by Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances, at his palatial residence, the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Louis XIV was impressed by the palace and its gardens, which were the work of a triumvirate: Louis Le Vau, the court architect since 1654, André Le Nôtre, the royal gardener since 1657, and Charles Le Brun, a painter in royal service since 1647. Vaux-le-Vicomte's scale and opulence inspired Louis XIV's aesthetic sense, but also led him to imprison Fouquet that September, as he had also built an island fortress and a private army. Louis XIV was also inspired by Vaux-le-Vicomte, and he recruited its authors for his own projects. Louis XIV replaced Fouquet with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a protégé of Mazarin and enemy of Fouquet, and charged him with managing the corps of artisans in royal employment. Colbert acted as the intermediary between them and Louis XIV, who personally directed and inspected the planning and construction of Versailles.
Work at Versailles was at first concentrated on its park and gardens, and through the 1660s, Le Vau only added two detached service wings and a forecourt to the château. But in 1668–69, as a response to the growth of the gardens, and victory over Spain in the War of Devolution, Louis XIV decided to turn Versailles into a full-scale royal residence. He vacillated between replacing or incorporating his father's château, and settled on the latter, and from 1668 to 1671, Louis XIII's château was encased on three sides in a feature dubbed the enveloppe. This gave the château a new, Italianate façade overlooking the gardens, but preserved the courtyard façade, resulting in a mix of styles and materials that dismayed Louis XIV and that Colbert described as a "patchwork". Attempts to homogenize the two façades failed, and in 1670 Le Vau died, leaving the post of First Architect to the King vacant for the next seven years.
Le Vau was succeeded at Versailles by architect François d'Orbay, his junior colleague. Work at the palace during the 1670s focused on its interiors, as the palace was then nearing completion, though d'Orbay expanded Le Vau's service wings and connected them to the château, and built a pair of pavilions for government employees in the forecourt. In 1670, d'Orbay was tasked by Louis XIV with designing a city, also called Versailles, to house and service Louis XIV's growing government and court. The granting of land to courtiers for the construction of townhouses that resembled the palace began in 1671. The next year, the Franco-Dutch War began and funding for Versailles was cut until 1674, when Louis XIV had work begun on a grand staircase for the reception of guests that became known as the Ambassadors' Staircase, and demolished the last of the village of Versailles.
Following end of the Franco-Dutch War with French victory in 1678, Louis XIV appointed as First Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, an experienced architect and courtier who would benefit from a restored budget and large workforce of former soldiers. Mansart began his tenure with the addition in 1678 of the Hall of Mirrors, a renovation of the courtyard façade of Louis XIII's château, and the expansion of d'Orbay's pavilions to create the Ministers' Wings in 1678–79. Adjacent to the palace, Mansart built a pair of stables called the Grande and Petite Écuries from 1679 to 1682 and the Grand Commun , which housed the palace's servants and general kitchens, from 1682 to 1684. Mansart also added two entirely new wings in Le Vau's Italianate style to house the court, first at the south end of the palace from 1679 to 1681 and then at its north end from 1685 to 1689.
War and the resulting diminished funding slowed construction at Versailles for the rest of the 17th century. The Nine Years' War, which began in 1688, stopped work altogether until 1698. Three years later, however, the even more expensive War of the Spanish Succession began and, combined with poor harvests in 1693–94 and 1709–10, plunged France into crisis. Louis XIV thus canceled some of the work Mansart had planned in the 1680s, such as the remodeling of the courtyard façade in the Italianate style, and quashed funding. Louis XIV and Mansart focused through these two wars on a permanent palace chapel, which was completed in 1710. Mansart died in 1708, however, and the work was completed by his half-brother, architect Robert de Cotte.
The Palace of Louis XV
Louis XIV died in 1715, and the young new King, Louis XV, just five years old, and his government were moved temporarily from Versailles to Paris under the regency of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. In 1722, when the King came of age, he moved his residence and the government back to Versailles, where it remained until the French Revolution in 1789. Louis XV remained faithful to the original plan of his great-grandfather, and made few changes to the exteriors of Versailles. His main contributions were the construction of the Salon of Hercules, which connected the main building of the Palace with the north wing and the chapel (1724–36); and the royal opera theater, designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, and built between 1769 and 1770. The new theater was completed in time for the celebration of the wedding of the Dauphin, the future Louis XVI, and Archduchess Marie Antoinette of Austria. He also made numerous additions and changes to the royal apartments, where he, the Queen, his daughters, and his heir lived. In 1738, Louis XV remodeled the king's petit appartement on the north side of the Cour de Marbre, originally the entrance court of the old château. He discreetly provided accommodations in another part of the palace for his famous mistresses, Madame de Pompadour and later Madame du Barry.
The extension of the King's petit appartement necessitated the demolition of the Ambassador's Staircase, one of the most admired features of Louis XIV's palace, which left the Palace without a grand staircase entrance. The following year Louis XV ordered the demolition of the north wing facing onto the Cour Royale, which had fallen into serious disrepair. He commissioned Gabriel to rebuild it in a more neoclassical style. The new wing was completed in 1780.
Louis XVI, and the Palace during the Revolution
Louis XVI was constrained by the worsening financial situation of the kingdom from making major changes to the palace, so that he primarily focused on improvements to the royal apartments, but gave Marie Antoinette the Petit Trianon in 1774. The Queen made extensive changes to the interior, and added a theater, the Théâtre de la Reine. She also transformed the arboretum planted during the reign of Louis XV into what became known as the Hameau de la Reine, a collection of buildings modeled after a rural French hamlet. The Queen was at the Petit Trianon in July 1789 when she first learned of the beginning of the French Revolution.
The King and Queen learned of the storming of the Bastille in Paris on 14 July 1789, while they were at the Palace, and remained isolated there as the Revolution in Paris spread. The growing anger in Paris led to the Women's March on Versailles on 5 October 1789. A crowd of several thousand men and women, protesting the high price and scarcity of bread, marched from the markets of Paris to Versailles. They took weapons from the city armory, besieged the Palace, and compelled the King and Royal family and the members of the National Assembly to return with them to Paris the following day.
As soon as the royal family departed, the Palace was closed. In 1792, the Convention, the new revolutionary government, ordered the transfer of all the paintings and sculptures from the Palace to the Louvre. In 1793, the Convention declared the abolition of the monarchy, and ordered all of the royal property in the Palace to be sold at auction. The auction took place between 25 August 1793 and 11 August 1794. The furnishings and art of the Palace, including the furniture, mirrors, baths and kitchen equipment, were sold in seventeen thousand lots. All fleurs-de-lys and royal emblems on the buildings were chambered or chiseled off. The empty buildings were turned into a storehouse for furnishings, art and libraries confiscated from the nobility. The empty grand apartments were opened for tours beginning in 1793, and a small museum of French paintings and art school was opened in some of the empty rooms.
19th century – history museum and government venue
When Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor of the French in 1804, he considered making Versailles his residence, but abandoned the idea because of the cost of the renovation. Prior to his marriage with Marie-Louise in 1810, he had the Grand Trianon restored and refurnished as a springtime residence for himself and his family, in the style of furnishing that it is seen today.
In 1815, with the final downfall of Napoleon, Louis XVIII, the younger brother of Louis XVI, became King, and considered returning the royal residence to Versailles, where he had been born. He ordered the restoration of the royal apartments, but the task and cost was too great. Louis XVIII had the far end of the south wing of the Cour Royale demolished and rebuilt (1814–1824) to match the Gabriel wing of 1780 opposite, which gave greater uniformity of appearance to the front entrance. Neither he nor his successor Charles X lived at Versailles.
The French Revolution of 1830 brought a new monarch, Louis-Philippe to power, and a new ambition for Versailles. He did not reside at Versailles, but began the creation of the Museum of the History of France, dedicated to "all the glories of France", which had been used to house some members of the royal family. The museum was begun in 1833 and inaugurated on 30 June 1837. Its most famous room is the Galerie des Batailles (Hall of Battles), which lies on most of the length of the second floor of the south wing. The museum project largely came to a halt when Louis Philippe was overthrown in 1848, though the paintings of French heroes and great battles still remain in the south wing.
Emperor Napoleon III used the Palace on occasion as a stage for grand ceremonies. One of the most lavish was the banquet that he hosted for Queen Victoria in the Royal Opera of Versailles on 25 August 1855.
During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, the Palace was occupied by the general staff of the victorious German Army. Parts of the chateau, including the Gallery of Mirrors, were turned into a military hospital. The creation of the German Empire, combining Prussia and the surrounding German states under William I, was formally proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors on 18 January 1871. The Germans remained in the Palace until the signing of the armistice in March 1871. In that month, the government of the new Third French Republic, which had departed Paris during the War for Tours and then Bordeaux, moved into the Palace. The National Assembly held its meetings in the Opera House.
The uprising of the Paris Commune in March 1871, prevented the French government, under Adolphe Thiers, from returning immediately to Paris. The military operation which suppressed the Commune at the end of May was directed from Versailles, and the prisoners of the Commune were marched there and put on trial in military courts. In 1875 a second parliamentary body, the French Senate, was created, and held its meetings for the election of a President of the Republic in a new hall created in 1876 in the south wing of the Palace. The French Senate continues to meet in the Palace on special occasions, such as the amendment of the French Constitution. 
The end of the 19th and the early 20th century saw the beginning of restoration efforts at the Palace, first led by Pierre de Nolhac, poet and scholar and the first conservator, who began his work in 1892. The conservation and restoration was interrupted by two world wars, but has continued until the present day.
The Palace briefly returned to the world stage in June 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles, formally ending the First World War, was signed in the Hall of Mirrors. Between 1925 and 1928, the American philanthropist and multi-millionaire John D. Rockefeller gave $2,166,000, the equivalent of about thirty million dollars today, to restore and refurnish the palace.
Starting in the 1950s, when the museum of Versailles was under the directorship of Gérald van der Kemp, the objective was to restore the palace to its state – or as close to it as possible – in 1789 when the royal family left the palace. Among the early projects was the repair of the roof over the Hall of Mirrors; the publicity campaign brought international attention to the plight of post-war Versailles and garnered much foreign money including a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Concurrently, in the Soviet Union (Russia since 26 December 1991), the restoration of the Pavlovsk Palace located 25 kilometers from the center of Leningrad – today's Saint Petersburg – brought the attention of French Ministry of Culture, including that of the curator of Versailles. After the war when Soviet authorities were restoring the palace, which had been gutted by the retreating Nazi forces, they recreated the silk fabrics by using preserved 18th-century remnants.
When these results and the high quality achieved were brought to the attention of the French Minister of Culture, he revived 18th-century weaving techniques so as to reproduce the silks used in the decoration of Versailles. The two greatest achievements of this initiative are seen today in wall hangings used in the restoration of the chambre de la reine in the grand appartement de la reine and the chambre du roi in the appartement du roi. While the design used for the chambre du roi was, in fact, from the original design to decorate the chambre de la reine, it nevertheless represents a great achievement in the ongoing restoration at Versailles. Additionally, this project, which took over seven years to achieve,has required several hundred kilograms of silver and gold to complete. One of the more costly endeavours for the museum and France's Fifth Republic has been to repurchase as much of the original furnishings as possible. Consequently, because furniture with a royal provenance – and especially furniture that was made for Versailles – is a highly sought after commodity on the international market, the museum has spent considerable funds on retrieving much of the palace's original furnishings.
In 2003, a new restoration initiative – the "Grand Versailles" project – was started, which began with the replanting of the gardens, which had lost over 10,000 trees during Hurricane Lothar on 26 December 1999. One part of the initiative, the restoration of the Hall of Mirrors, was completed in 2006. Another major project was the further restoration of the backstage areas Royal Opera of Versailles, which was completed on 9 April 1957.
The Palace of Versailles is currently owned by the French state. Its formal title is the Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles Since 1995, it has been run as a Public Establishment, with an independent administration and management supervised by the French Ministry of Culture.
Architecture and plan
The Palace of Versailles offers a visual history of French architecture from the 17th century to the end of the 18th century. It began with the original château, with the brick and stone and sloping slate mansard roofs of the Louis XIII style used by architect Philibert Le Roy. It then became grander and more monumental, with the addition of the colonnades and flat roofs of the new royal apartments in the French classical or Louis XIV style, as designed by Louis Le Vau and later Jules Hardouin-Mansart. It concluded in the lighter and more graceful neoclassical Louis XVI style of the Petit Trianon, completed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1768.
The palace was largely completed by the death of Louis XIV in 1715. The eastern facing palace has a U-shaped layout, with the corps de logis and symmetrical advancing secondary wings terminating with the Dufour Pavilion on the south and the Gabriel Pavilion to the north, creating an expansive cour d'honneur known as the Royal Court (Cour Royale). Flanking the Royal Court are two enormous asymmetrical wings that result in a façade of 402 metres (1,319 ft) in length. Covered by around a million square feet (10 hectares) of roof, the palace has 2,143 windows, 1,252 chimneys, and 67 staircases.
The façade of Louis XIII's original château is preserved on the entrance front. Built of red brick and cut stone embellishments, the U-shaped layout surrounds a black-and-white marble courtyard. In the center, a 3-storey avant-corps fronted with eight red marble columns supporting a gilded wrought-iron balcony is surmounted with a triangle of lead statuary surrounding a large clock, whose hands were stopped upon the death of Louis XIV. The rest of the façade is completed with columns, painted and gilded wrought-iron balconies and dozens of stone tables decorated with consoles holding marble busts of Roman emperors. Atop the mansard slate roof are elaborate dormer windows and gilt lead roof dressings that were added by Hardouin-Mansart in 1679–1681.
Inspired by the architecture of baroque Italian villas, but executed in the French classical style, the garden front and wings were encased in white cut ashlar stone known as the enveloppe in 1668–1671 by Le Vau and modified by Hardouin-Mansart in 1678–1679. The exterior features an arcaded, rusticated ground floor, supporting a main floor with round-headed windows divided by reliefs and pilasters or columns. The attic storey has square windows and pilasters and crowned by a balustrade bearing sculptured trophies and flame pots dissimulating a flat roof.
The construction in 1668–1671 of Le Vau's enveloppe around the outside of Louis XIII's red brick and white stone château added state apartments for the king and the queen. The addition was known at the time as the château neuf (new château). The grands appartements (Grand Apartments, also referred to as the State Apartments) include the grand appartement du roi and the grand appartement de la reine. They occupied the main or principal floor of the château neuf, with three rooms in each apartment facing the garden to the west and four facing the garden parterres to the north and south, respectively. The private apartments of the king (the appartement du roi and the petit appartement du roi) and those of the queen (the petit appartement de la reine) remained in the château vieux (old château). Le Vau's design for the state apartments closely followed Italian models of the day, including the placement of the apartments on the main floor (the piano nobile, the next floor up from the ground level), a convention the architect borrowed from Italian palace design.
The king's State Apartment consisted of an enfilade of seven rooms, each dedicated to one of the known planets and their associated titular Roman deity. The queen's apartment formed a parallel enfilade with that of the grand appartement du roi. After the addition of the Hall of Mirrors (1678–1684) the king's apartment was reduced to five rooms (until the reign of Louis XV, when two more rooms were added) and the queen's to four.
The queen's apartments served as the residence of three queens of France – Marie-Thérèse d'Autriche, wife of Louis XIV, Marie Leczinska, wife of Louis XV, and Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. Additionally, Louis XIV's granddaughter-in-law, Princess Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy, duchesse de Bourgogne, wife of the Petit Dauphin, occupied these rooms from 1697 (the year of her marriage) to her death in 1712.[b]
Before entering the King's State Apartments, one had to climb the Ambassadors Staircase – a suitable entrance as its magnificence matched the grandness of the apartments. The Ambassadors Staircase (Escalier des Ambassadeurs) was built in 1674 but was finished in 1680. Although it was designed by architect Louis Le Vau, the staircase was built by François d’Orbay and was primarily painted by Charles Le Brun. Destroyed in 1752, the staircase was the entrance to the King's Apartments and was the official grand entrance into the Chateau, specifically intended to astonish and impress foreign dignitaries. At the time of its creation, Versailles was transitioning to reflect governmental power and authority instead of a private home for the crown. The staircases’ primal function and the details it encompasses reinforces this progression at Versailles.
The staircase incorporates allegories of the Four Parts of the World on the vault and representation of crowds of foreign visitors on the walls. The staircase was lit from above with a skylight – a fairly advanced quality for seventeenth century architecture and is thought to have played a symbolic role in the connection with the scenes of the kings heroism depicted by Le Brun. Additionally, it is known to include Thalia (the muse of Comedy), Melpomene, Calliope, and Apollo (Louis XIV's emblem) and the twelve months of the year. References to the greater world, such as the depiction of the twelve months of the year and the four parts of the world, circle back to Louis XIV's mentality of Versailles symbolizing supreme and divine power which in turn, reflects Louis XIV's desired depiction of his reign.
The State Apartments of the King
The construction of the Hall of Mirrors between 1678 and 1686 coincided with a major alteration to the State Apartments. They were originally intended as his residence, but the King transformed them into galleries for his finest paintings, and venues for his many receptions for courtiers. During the season from All-Saints Day in November until Easter, these were usually held three times a week, from six to ten in the evening, with various entertainments.
The Salon of Hercules
This was originally a chapel. It was rebuilt beginning in 1712 under the supervision of the First Architect of the King, Robert de Cotte, to showcase two paintings by Paolo Veronese, Eleazar and Rebecca and Meal at the House of Simon the Pharisee, which was a gift to Louis XIV from the Republic of Venice in 1664. The painting on the ceiling, The Apotheosis of Hercules, by François Lemoyne, was completed in 1736, and gave the room its name.
The Salon of Abundance
The Salon of Abundance was the antechamber to the Cabinet of Curios (now the Games Room), which displayed Louis XIV's collection of precious jewels and rare objects. Some of the objects in the collection are depicted in René-Antoine Houasse's painting Abundance and Liberality (1683), located on the ceiling over the door opposite the windows.
The Salon of Venus
This salon was used for serving light meals during evening receptions. The principal feature in this room is Jean Warin's life-size statue of Louis XIV in the costume of a Roman emperor. On the ceiling in a gilded oval frame is another painting by Houasse, Venus subjugating the Gods and Powers (1672–1681). Trompe-l'œil paintings and sculpture around the ceiling illustrate mythological themes.
The Salon of Mercury
The Salon of Mercury was the original State Bedchamber when Louis XIV officially moved the court and government to the Palace in 1682. The bed is a replica of the original commissioned by King Louis-Philippe in the 19th century when he turned the Palace into a Museum. The ceiling paintings by the Flemish artist Jean Baptiste de Champaigne depicts the god Mercury in his chariot, drawn by a rooster, and Alexander the Great and Ptolemy surrounded by scholars and philosophers. The Automaton Clock was made for the King by the royal clockmaker Antoine Morand in 1706. When it chimes the hour, figures of Louis XIV and Fame descend from a cloud.
The Salon of Mars
The Salon of Mars was used by the royal guards until 1782, and was decorated on a military theme with helmets and trophies. It was turned into a concert room between 1684 and 1750, with galleries for musicians on either side. Portraits of Louis XV and his Queen, Marie Leszczinska, by the Flemish artist Carle Van Loo decorate the room today.
The Salon of Apollo
The Salon of Apollo was the royal throne room under Louis XIV, and was the setting for formal audiences. The eight-foot high silver throne was melted down in 1689 to help pay the costs of an expensive war, and was replaced by a more modest throne of gilded wood. The central painting on the ceiling, by Charles de la Fosse, depicts the Sun Chariot of Apollo, the King's favorite emblem, pulled by four horses and surrounded by the four seasons.
The Salon of Diana
The Salon of Diana was used by Louis XIV as a billiards room, and had galleries from which courtiers could watch him play. The decoration of the walls and ceiling depicts scenes from the life of the goddess Diana. The celebrated bust of Louis XIV by Bernini made during the famous sculptor's visit to France in 1665, is on display here.
Private apartments of the King and Queen
Private apartments of the King
The apartments of the King were the heart of the chateau; they were in the same location as the rooms of Louis XIII, the creator of the chateau, on the first floor (second floor US style). They were set aside for the personal use of Louis XIV in 1683. He and his successors Louis XV and Louis XVI used these rooms for official functions, such as the ceremonial lever ("waking up") and the coucher ("going to bed") of the monarch, which were attended by a crowd of courtiers.
The King's apartment was accessed from the Hall of Mirrors from the Oeil de Boeuf antechamber or from the Guardroom and the Grand Couvert, the ceremonial room where Louis XIV often took his evening meals, seated alone at a table in front of the fireplace. His spoon, fork, and knife were brought to him in a golden box. The courtiers could watch as he dined.
The King's bedchamber had originally been a Drawing Room before Louis XIV transformed it into his own bedroom in 1701. He died there on 1 September 1715. Both Louis XV and Louis XVI continued to use the bedroom for their official awakening and going to bed. On 6 October 1789, from the balcony of this room Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, joined by the Marquis de Lafayette, looked down on the hostile crowd in the courtyard, shortly before the King was forced to return to Paris.
The bed of the King is placed beneath a carved relief by Nicolas Coustou entitled France watching over the sleeping King. The decoration includes several paintings set into the paneling, including a self-portrait of Antony van Dyck.
Private apartments of The Queen
The petit appartement de la reine is a suite of rooms that were reserved for the personal use of the queen. Originally arranged for the use of the Marie-Thérèse, consort of Louis XIV, the rooms were later modified for use by Marie Leszczyńska and finally for Marie-Antoinette. The Queen's apartments and the King's Apartments were laid out on the same design, each suite having seven rooms. Both suites had ceilings painted with scenes from mythology; the King's ceilings featured male figures, the Queen's featured females.
Hall of Mirrors
The Hall of Mirrors is a long gallery at the westernmost part of the palace, and its most famous room, that looks out onto the gardens. It measures 73 meters (240 ft) long, 10.5 meters (34 ft) wide, and 12.3 meters (40 ft) high, and is decorated with 357 mirrors facing 17 windows and reflecting the light provided by them. The Hall occupies the site of a terrace Le Vau built between the king and queen's suites. It was however exposed to inclement weather, making it useable only in the summer months, and in 1678 Louis XIV tasked Mansart with demolishing it. In its place, from 1678 to 1681, Mansart built the Hall of Mirrors. The ceiling fresco, painted by Charles Le Brun over the next four years, embellishes the first 18 years of Louis XIV's reign in 30 scenes. The fresco depicts Louis XIV as a Roman emperor, breaking from earlier frescoes at Versailles that used Classical and mythological scenes as allegory rather than palette.
The Royal Chapel, the tallest building of the Palace
The chapel was the last building at Versailles to be completed during the reign of Louis XIV. It was consecrated in 1710, and was dedicated to Louis IX of France, the ancestor and patron saint of the King. Construction was begun by Hardouin-Mansart in 1699, and was completed by de Corte. Daily services, wedding ceremonies, and baptisms were held in this chapel until 1789. Like other royal chapels, it had two levels: the King and family worshipped in the Royal Gallery on the upper level, while ordinary courtiers stood on the ground level.
The paintings on the ceiling display scenes depicting the three figures of the trinity. In the center is The Glory of the Father Announcing the Coming of the Messiah by Antoine Coypel, above the altar is The Resurrection of Christ, and above the royal gallery is The Holy Spirit Descending Upon the Virgin and the Apostles. The corridor and vestibule that connected the Chapel and the State Apartments included later art, commissioned by Louis XV, intended to portray the link between Divinity and the King: a statue of Glory Holding the Medallion of Louis XV, by Antoine Vassé; and Royal Magnanimity by Jacques Bousseau.
The Royal Chapel has been under restoration since 2018. The end of the construction was scheduled for spring 2021.
Ceiling of the opera, painted by Louis Jean-Jacques Durameau
The Royal Opera of Versailles was originally commissioned by Louis XIV in 1682 and was to be built at the end of the North Wing with a design by Mansart and Vigarani. However, due to the expense of the King's continental wars, the project was put aside. The idea was revived by Louis XV with a new design by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1748, but this also was temporarily put aside. The project was revived and rushed ahead for the planned celebration of the marriage of the Dauphin, the future Louis XVI, and Marie-Antoinette. For economy and speed, the new opera was built almost entirely of wood, which also gave it very high quality acoustics. The wood was painted to resemble marble, and the ceiling was decorated with a painting of the Apollo, the god of the arts, preparing crowns for illustrious artists, by Louis Jean-Jacques Durameau. The sculptor Augustin Pajou added statuary and reliefs to complete the decoration. The new Opera was inaugurated on 16 May 1770, as part of the celebration of the royal wedding.
In October 1789, early in the French Revolution, the last banquet for the royal guardsmen was hosted by the King in the opera, before he departed for Paris. Following the Franco-German War in 1871 and then the Paris Commune until 1875, the French National Assembly met in the opera, until the proclamation of the Third French Republic and the return of the government to Paris.
Museum of the History of France
The Battle of Taillebourg, by Eugène Delacroix (1837)
Shortly after becoming King in 1830, Louis Philippe I decided to transform the Palace into a museum devoted to "All the Glories of France," with paintings and sculpture depicting famous French victories and heroes. Most of the apartments of the palace were entirely demolished (in the main building, practically all of the apartments were annihilated, with only the apartments of the king and queen remaining almost intact), and turned into a series of several large rooms and galleries: the Coronation Room (whose original volume was left untouched by Louis-Philippe), which displays the celebrated painting of the coronation of Napoleon I by Jacques-Louis David; the Hall of Battles; commemorating French victories with large-scale paintings; and the 1830 room, which celebrated Louis-Philippe's own coming to power in the French Revolution of 1830. Some paintings were brought from the Louvre, including works depicting events in French history by Philippe de Champaigne, Pierre Mignard, Laurent de La Hyre, Charles Le Brun, Adam Frans van der Meulen, Nicolas de Largillière, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Jean-Marc Nattier, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Hubert Robert, Thomas Lawrence, Jacques-Louis David, and Antoine-Jean Gros. Others were commissioned especially for the museum by prominent artists of the early 19th century, including Eugène Delacroix, who painted Saint Louis at the French victory over the British in the Battle of Taillebourg in 1242. Other painters featured include Horace Vernet and François Gérard. A monumental painting by Vernet features Louis Philippe himself, with his sons, posing in front of the gates of the Palace.
The overthrow of Louis Philippe in 1848 put an end to his grand plans for the museum, but the Gallery of Battles is still as it was, and is passed through by many visitors to the royal apartments and grand salons. Another set of rooms on the first floor has been made into galleries on Louis XIV and his court, displaying furniture, paintings, and sculpture. In recent years, eleven rooms on the ground floor between the Chapel and the Opera have been turned into a history of the palace, with audiovisual displays and models.
Gardens and fountains
André Le Nôtre began transforming the park and gardens of Versailles in the early 1660s. They are the finest example of the jardin à la française, or the French formal garden. They were originally designed to be viewed from the terrace on the west side of the palace, and to create a grand perspective that reached to the horizon, illustrating the king's complete dominance over nature.
The Fountains and the shortage of water
Supplying water for the fountains of Versailles was a major problem for the royal government. The site of the Palace itself is 490 ft (150 m) above sea level, with the nearest body of water capable of supplying the gardens and court being the Seine River, 6 miles (9.7 km) north. This presented the daunting problem to Louis XIV's engineers of how to transport water uphill over such a distance. In 1681, construction commenced on the Machine de Marly at Bougival; the machine consisted of 14 paddle wheels powered by the currents of the Seine. 259 pumps carried water up to the 530-foot (160 m) high Louveciennes Aqueduct, which fed the water into huge reservoirs at Marly-le-Roi. At full capacity, over one million gallons of water per day could be pumped into the Marly reservoirs, but ironically by the 1690s the Château de Marly had become the main recipient, since Louis XIV built an enormous water cascade to rival the waterworks at Versailles.
In 1685, pressure on water supplies led Louis XIV to commission another aqueduct, the Canal de l'Eure, to transport water from the River Eure, 52 miles to the southwest. The aqueduct was intended to carry water by gravity from a high reservoir near the river, through the gardens of the Château de Maintenon, to Versailles. Work on the Eure aqueduct came to a halt in 1688, when France entered the Nine Years' War, and the poor finances of the kingdom in the latter part of Louis XIV's life prevented work from ever resuming. Despite enormous investment in canals and machinery for hoisting water, Versailles never had sufficient water supply for its hundreds of fountains. When the King promenaded in the gardens, fountains were turned on only when the King was approaching them, and turned off after he departed.
In the time of Louis XIV, even the palace, with its thousands of inhabitants, was continually short of fresh drinking water, necessitating the relocation of the court periodically to the palaces of Fontainebleau or Compiègne. There was no fresh water tap above ground level until the reign of Louis XV, and even then it was limited to the King's private kitchen and his personal bathroom. For everyone else, water was carried by a small army of water carriers to the upper floors, filling copper tanks in the private appartements of the courtiers.
The Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon
In 1668 Louis XIV decided to build a smaller palace some distance from the main palace, where he could spend quieter time away from the crowds and formality of his Court. He purchased a village called Trianon which adjoined the park, and constructed a pavilion covered with blue and white porcelain in the fashionable Chinese style; it was finished in 1670, and became known as the Porcelain Trianon. In 1687, he replaced it with the Grand Trianon, a larger and more classical pavilion designed by Mansart, with a terrace and walls faced with different colored slabs of marble. After the Revolution, the Trianon served as a residence for both Napoleon I and later for King Louis-Philippe when they visited Versailles. It is decorated today largely as it was under Napoleon and Louis-Philippe.
The Petit Trianon was created between 1763 and 1768 by Ange-Jacques Gabriel for Louis XV. The square shaped building, with each façade different, was a prototype of Neoclassicism in France. The most ornate façade, with Corinthian columns, faced the French landscape garden. Louis XVI gave the Petit Trianon as a gift to his bride, Marie-Antoinette. She asked the architect Richard Mique and painter Hubert Robert to design a new English-style landscape garden to replace the formal French garden. Not far from the Petit Trianon she had the Rock Pavilion constructed, and added the classical rotunda of the Temple of Love, built in 1777. In 1780, she built a small theater at the Petit Trianon. In her theater she played a part in one of the first performances of the play The Marriage of Figaro by Pierre Beaumarchais, which helped ensure its success. She was at the Petit Trianon in July 1789 when she first heard the news from Paris of the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the French Revolution.
The Hamlet of Marie Antoinette
One of the most celebrated features of the park is the Hameau de la Reine, a small rustic hamlet near the Petit Trianon created for Queen Marie Antoinette between 1783 and 1785 by the royal architect Richard Mique with the help of the painter Hubert Robert. It replaced a botanical garden created by Louis XV, and consisted of twelve structures, ten of which still exist, in the style of villages in Normandy. It was designed for the entertainment of the Queen and her friends, and included a farmhouse with a dairy, a mill, a boudoir, a pigeon loft, a tower in the form of a lighthouse from which one could fish in the pond, and a luxuriously furnished cottage with a billiard room for the Queen.
Modern Political and ceremonial functions
The palace still serves political functions. Heads of state are regaled in the Hall of Mirrors; the bicameral French Parliament—consisting of the Senate (Sénat) and the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale)—meet in joint session (a congress of the French Parliament) in Versailles to revise or otherwise amend the French Constitution, a tradition that came into effect with the promulgation of the 1875 Constitution. For example, the Parliament met in joint session at Versailles to pass constitutional amendments in June 1999 (for domestic applicability of International Criminal Court decisions and for gender equality in candidate lists), in January 2000 (ratifying the Treaty of Amsterdam), and in March 2003 (specifying the "decentralized organization" of the French Republic).
In 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed the global financial crisis before a congress in Versailles, the first time that this had been done since 1848, when Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte gave an address before the French Second Republic. Following the November 2015 Paris attacks, President François Hollande gave a speech before a rare joint session of parliament at the Palace of Versailles. This was the third time since 1848 that a French president addressed a joint session of the French Parliament at Versailles. The president of the National Assembly has an official apartment at the Palace of Versailles.
Owing to the nature of the construction of Versailles and the evolution of the role of the palace, construction costs were essentially a private matter. Initially, Versailles was planned to be an occasional residence for Louis XIV and was referred to as the "king's house". Accordingly, much of the early funding for construction came from the king's own purse, funded by revenues received from his appanage as well as revenues from the province of New France (Canada), which, while part of France, was a private possession of the king and therefore exempt from the control of the Parliaments.
Once Louis XIV embarked on his building campaigns, expenses for Versailles became more of a matter for public record, especially after Jean-Baptiste Colbert assumed the post of finance minister. Expenditures on Versailles have been recorded in the compendium known as the Comptes des bâtiments du roi sous le règne de Louis XIV and which were edited and published in five volumes by Jules Guiffrey in the 19th century. These volumes provide valuable archival material pursuant to the financial expenditure on all aspects of Versailles such as the payments disbursed for many trades as varied as artists and mole catchers.
To counter the costs of Versailles during the early years of Louis XIV's personal reign, Colbert decided that Versailles should be the "showcase" of France. Accordingly, all materials that went into the construction and decoration of Versailles were manufactured in France. Even the mirrors used in the decoration of the Hall of Mirrors were made in France. While Venice in the 17th century had the monopoly on the manufacture of mirrors, Colbert succeeded in enticing a number of artisans from Venice to make the mirrors for Versailles. However, owing to Venetian proprietary claims on the technology of mirror manufacture, the Venetian government ordered the assassination of the artisans to keep the secrets proprietary to the Venetian Republic. To meet the demands for decorating and furnishing Versailles, Colbert nationalised the tapestry factory owned by the Gobelin family, to become the Manufacture royale des Gobelins.
In 1667, the name of the enterprise was changed to the Manufacture royale des Meubles de la Couronne. The Gobelins were charged with all decoration needs of the palace, which was under the direction of Charles Le Brun.
One of the most costly elements in the furnishing of the grands appartements during the early years of the personal reign of Louis XIV was the silver furniture, which can be taken as a standard – with other criteria – for determining a plausible cost for Versailles. The Comptes meticulously list the expenditures on the silver furniture – disbursements to artists, final payments, delivery – as well as descriptions and weight of items purchased. Entries for 1681 and 1682 concerning the silver balustrade used in the salon de Mercure serve as an example:
- Year 1681
II. 5 In anticipation: For the silver balustrade for the king's bedroom: 90,000 livres
II. 7 18 November to Sieur du Metz, 43,475 livres 5 sols for delivery to Sr. Lois and to Sr. de Villers for payment of 142,196 livres for the silver balustrade that they are making for the king's bedroom and 404 livres for tax: 48,861 livres 5 sol.
II. 15 16 June 1681 – 23 January 1682 to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths on account for the silver balustrade that they are making for the king's use (four payments): 88,457 livres 5 sols.
II. 111 25 March – 18 April to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths who are working on a silver balustrade for the king, for continued work (two payments): 40,000 livres
- Year 1682
II. 129 21 March to Sr. Jehannot de Bartillay 4,970 livres 12 sols for the delivery to Sr. Lois and de Villers silversmiths for, with 136,457 livres 5 sol to one and 25,739 livres 10 sols to another, making the 38 balusters, 17 pilasters, the base and the cornice for the balustrade for the château of Versailles weighing 4,076 marc at the rate of 41 livres the marc[c] including 41 livres 2 sols for tax: 4,970 livres 12 sols.
Accordingly, the silver balustrade, which contained in excess of one ton of silver, cost in excess of 560,000 livres. It is difficult – if not impossible – to give an accurate rate of exchange between 1682 and today.[d] However, Frances Buckland provides valuable information that provides an idea of the true cost of the expenditures at Versailles during the time of Louis XIV. In December 1689, to defray the cost of the War of the League of Augsburg, Louis XIV ordered all the silver furniture and articles of silver at Versailles – including chamber pots – sent to the mint to be melted.
Clearly, the silver furniture alone represented a significant outlay in the finances of Versailles. While the decoration of the palace was costly, certain other costs were minimised. For example, labour for construction was often low, due largely to the fact that the army during times of peace and during the winter, when wars were not waged, was pressed into action at Versailles. Additionally, given the quality and uniqueness of the items produced at the Gobelins for use and display at Versailles, the palace served as a venue to showcase not only the success of Colbert's mercantilism, but also to display the finest that France could produce.
- ^ The name "Versailles", first used in 1038, from the Old French word versail, comes from the Latin word vertere; both mean "ploughed field".
- ^ Six kings were born in this room: Philip V of Spain, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Louis XVII, Louis XVIII, and Charles X.
- ^ The marc, a unit equal to 8 ounces, was used to weigh silver and gold.
- ^ As of 4 April 2008, silver has been trading in New York at US$17.83 an ounce.
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- "Domaine national : Petites Ecuries" . Base Mérimée (in French). Ministry of Culture. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
- "The History" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 1 June 2021.
- "Day of the Dupes" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 1 June 2021.
- "The party of the Delights of the Enchanted Island" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
- "Versailles, "capital" of the kingdom, 1682" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
- "Reception of the Doge of Genoa, 1685" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
- "Reception of the Ambassador of Siam, 1686" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
- "Reception of the Ambassadors of Persia, 1715" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
- "Death of Louis XIV" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
- "Louis Le Vau" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
- "Jules Hardouin-Mansart" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
- "Charles Le Brun" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
- "The Estate" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
- "The Royal Stables" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
- "The Park" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
- "The Grand Commun" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
- "The Royal Chapel" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
- "The Royal Opera" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
- "The Hall of Mirrors" . en.chateauversailles.fr. Public Establishment of the Palace, Museum and National Estate of Versailles. Retrieved 17 July 2021.
- Mansel, Philip. King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV (2020) chapters 8, 13.
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