King Louis XIV and the Patronage of the Chateau of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles is a royal chateau in the then country village of Versailles France. It is a monumental work because it symbolizes the power of France during that time. It was patronized by the current monarch of that time, King Louis XIV, when he moved to area from Paris, the capital of France. The building became the home of the central power of France, and since then, it has always been associated with the absolute monarchy of its patron, King Louis XIV.
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Chateau of Versailles is located on the countryside of Versailles, France. As a chateau, it is a manor house or the country house of King Louis XIV and his royal family. It does not bear any resemblance to a castle which is the common notion about a chateau, which is why it is known to many as the Palace of Versailles. It holds a deep history of culture, politics, and art which is why it can be considered as one of the monumental works of art not only in France, but all over the world.
The Chateau of Versailles started out as a hunting chateau for Louis XIII way back in the 1600s. When Louis was able to fully acquire the chateau from the previous owner, he began enlargements to the place. His son, Louis XIV had a great interest in the chateau, mainly for political purposes. He was looking for a site where he could organize and establish a government of France wherein he has absolute power. As he settled on the chateau of Versailles, he made several expansions of the place, making it one of the largest palace structures in the world. He hired the help of the architect Louis Le Vau and the landscape architect Andre Le Notre for that purpose. King Louis XIV’s aim is to come up with a center for the royal court. Along with the construction, the court and the French government slowly began its transfer to the Chateau of Versailles, until it was officially established on the sixth of May, 1682.
The renovation of the chateau and the transfer of the royal court may be a political move for Louis XIV, but it was also an important event in the aspect of the arts. The Chateau of Versailles not only became a political center for France, but it also became a large art project sponsored by King Louis XIV.
Chateau of Versailles Building Campaigns
The first building campaign happened because of a party that was held in May 1664, known as the Plaisirs de l’lle enchantee. It was in celebration for the two queens of France, Anne of Austria and Marie-Therese, the wife of Louis XIV. The chateau mainly saw alterations in the gardens and other minor parts, just to be able to accommodate 600 guests invited to the party.
The second building campaign was the result of the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, ending the War of Devolution. The changes made to the chateau made it look more like it is today. One of the most important modifications done to the chateau that time was architect Louis Le Vau’s envelope of the hunting lodge of Louis XIII. It enclosed the lodge on the northern, western, and the southern part, providing new lodgings for the members of the king’s family. The main floor housed the two main apartments, one for the king and the other one for the queen. The northern part was for the Grand appartement du roi, and the southern part of the chateau neuf was for the Grand appartement de la reine. One of the significant features of the grand appartements is that the rooms of the two possess the same configuration and dimensions, a unique feature in the design of French palaces. These rooms are a part of a suite of seven enfilade rooms which is dedicated to the then known celestial bodies. Charles Le Brun was the one who directed the decoration of the rooms, all depicting the heroic actions of the king, patterned to the actions of historical figures like Alexander the Great, Augustus, and other figures of the antique past.
The third building campaign resulted from the signing of the Treaty of Nijmegen, which ended the Dutch War of 1672-1678. Architect Jules Hardouin Mansart directed the project, attributing most of the chateau’s present day look. The Hall of Mirrors was erected, and the north and south wings were designed (Berger, 1991). It was not only the interior designs that were given focus, but also the landscaping of the palace gardens.
The fourth building campaign was concentrated exclusively to the design and construction of the Chapel Royal, initially designed by Mansart and finished by Robert de Cotte. Some modifications were also done in the Petit Appartement of the king, including the construction of the Salon de l’Oeil de Boeuf. Construction at the Chateau of Versailles ceased after the chapel was completed in 1710, up until the reign of the next king, Louis XV.
There are several features of the Chateau of Versailles. One of this is the part of the Grands Appartements. It was a result of Louis Le Vau’s envelope of the previous king’s hunting lodge, giving new apartments for the king and queen. It was known as the chateau neuf. The State Apartments or the Grands Appartements is composed of the grand appartement du roi and the grand appartement de la reine, which occupied the main floor of the chateau neuf.
In the Grand Appartement du roi, Le Vau planned an enfilade of seven rooms, wherein each of these rooms are dedicated to the known planets of those times, and the Roman deity they represent. He followed a heliocentric system for his design, with the salon d’Apollon as the center. It was designed originally as the bedchamber of the king but it served as the throne room for the palace. The decorations of the grand appartement conformed to the contemporary conventions of the palace designs, but it was reserved more for court functions. The rooms were decorated by Charles LeBrun, thus demonstrating Italian influences. The design was later on altered with the inauguration of the second building campaign. This has suppressed the terrace which links the king and queen’s apartments, as well s the salons of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus, in order to give way to the construction of the Hall of Mirrors.
The Grand Appartement de la reine served as the residence for the three queens of France, as it forms a parallel enfilade with the appartement du roi of the king. The completion of Le Vau’s envelope of the chateau resulted to the addition of a suite of seven enfilade rooms that mirrored exactly the grand appartement du roi. While the appartement du roi’s ceiling decorations were the heroic actions of Louis XIV as allegories of other prominent figures in the past, the ceiling decorations of the grand appartement de la reine depicted heroines from the antique past, harmonizing with the general theme of the room’s décor (Molinier, 1903).
The grand appartement de la reine was also affected by the construction of the Hall of Mirrors, transforming the chapel to the salle des gardes de la reine, reusing the decorations of the salon de Jupiter of the appartement du roi. The room was completely redecorated by orders of Louis XV in commemoration of the birth of his only son.
Another important part of the Chateau of Versailles is the Hall of Mirrors or the galerie des glaces which was constructed in 1678. The salon de la guerre and the salon de la paix which connects the grand appartement du roi with the grand appartement de la reine gave way for the construction of the Hall of Mirrors. The main feature of the Hall is the seventeen mirror filled arches reflecting the seventeen arcaded windows overlooking the gardens. The arches contain twenty-one mirrors each, summing up to a total of 357 mirrors used for the decoration of the hall. The arches are intricately designed and fixed on the marble pilasters, with capitals that depict the French symbols. These capitals are gilded with bronze, and can be seen as a fleur-de-lys design, as well as the Gallic rooster.
The main dimensions of the room are 73.0 m by 10.5 m by 12.3 m, flanked by the salon de la guerre and dela paix in the north and south accordingly. It was initially used for court and state functions. It holds a great ceiling decoration, mainly dedicated to the victories of Louis XIV. However, the original decorative plan was to depict the exploits of Apollo, with reference to the imagery being associated to him as the Sun king. It was rejected and was replaced by another decorative plan which shows the exploits of Hercules as allegories to that of Louis IVs actions. It was rejected to be finally replaced by the military victories of King Louis, starting with the Treaty of Pyrenees to the Treaty of Nijmegen.
The Hall served as a walkway used daily by King Louis XV on his walks towards the chapel from his private apartment. In the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, the Hall of Mirrors served as a function rooms for family gatherings. Special occasions like births and marriages were often held in this room.
Another key part of the Chateau of Versailles is the Gardens of Versailles, which occupy part of the once domaine royale de Versailles. It was located at the west of the main palace building, covering of about 800 hectares of land, with most of this vast land landscaped to the French Garden style. In the first building campaign, great attention was given to developing the gardens. Bosquets and parterres which previously existed were expanded, as well as creating new ones all over the area. The most important creations during these times were the Orangerie and the Grotte de Thetys (Thacker, 1972).
The Orangerie was generally designed by Louis Le Vau at the south of the chateau, taking advantage of the area’s topography, specifically the slope of the hill. It also provided a protected area wherein the orange trees were kept especially during the winter months. The Grotte de Thetys on the other hand was located at the northern part of the chateau, being completed during the second building campaign.
With a rich historical background, France’ Chateau of Versailles really is a monument of works of art. It is not only a political and cultural icon; it also serves as a repository of artworks that resulted from King Louis XIV’s patronage. If not for the king, none of the present day Chateau of Versailles would be present. With the King’s effort to have France under his influence, he was also able to give the world a great collection of artistic works, all because of the creation of Chateau of Versailles.
Berger, R. W. (1991). Mansart's Colonnade at Versailles: Further Observations. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 50(No. 2), pp. 189-191.
Molinier, E. (1903). French Furniture of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Article I.-The Louis XIV Style-Introduction. The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 1(No. 1).
Thacker, C. (1972). "La Maniere de montrer les jardins de Versailles," by Louis XIV and Others. Garden History, Vol. 1(No. 1).
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