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Western Europe

Gallery: Around Versailles

by Peter Kessler, 30 August 2008



The Palace of Versailles

Three avenues converge on the main gates of the Palace of Versailles from the town which has grown up around it. The site was home to Louis XIII's hunting lodge before his son massively rebuilt it. The grand entrance to the palace now leads up to a statue of Louis out hunting (centre-left), which stands before  the Marble Court on the far right.

The Royal Chapel at Versailles

Once inside the palace, one of the first sights is the Chapel Royal, which combines elements of Baroque and Gothic styles and reaches up over two floors, with the balcony accessible from the first floor. Constructed in 1699, it was dedicated to St Louis IX, the Crusader king. This was where Louis XIV daily attended mass, and where the young Louis XVI was married to Marie Antoinette.

The road leading from the forum to the northern walls of the city has two arches

The magnificent ceiling of the Hercules Salon contains the last of two commissioned works by the French rococo artist François Lemoyne (1688-1737), 'Hercules entering the Kingdom of the Gods', which was executed between 1733-1736. It watched over the stately receptions which were held in this room. Below, the fireplace is decorated with lions' skins and the head of Hercules.

The Venus Drawing Room at Versailles

The Venus Drawing Room was used during receptions. Buffets were set up in the room, loaded with silver bowls offering up fresh and preserved fruits. The ceiling here displays René-Antoine Houasse's Venus, the Goddess of Love lying surrounded by her admirers. Houasse was born in about 1645, and died in 1710.

A little way north of the Forum lie the remains of a typical bakery on the Via della Terme

The Mars Drawing Room is the third of the seven state apartments on the first floor of the palace which together form the Grand Apartment. Since the sun was the emblem of Louis XIV, seven planets were taken to serve as the subjects of the paintings in each room.

The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

The state apartments of the king and queen (and each succeeding queen), and the King's Chamber, lie behind the Hall of Mirrors to the left, with a view over the gardens to the right. The hall extends along most of the width of the palace's centre section, has a barrel vault ceiling, and an entire wall of mirrors, creating the illusion that the room is wider than it is.

The King's Chambers at Versailles

In 1701, Louis XIV moved his bedchamber into the drawing room which lay east to west in the palace, facing the rising sun, and renamed it the King's Chamber (Chambre du Roi). The bed lay in an alcove with a carved and gilded wooden balustrade (just visible here) separating it from the rest of the chamber. Louis died here on 1 September 1715, after reigning for 72 years.

The King's Chamber at Versailles, photo by Briséis, February 2005, and released under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation licence

A bust of Louis XIV sits over the fireplace to the right-hand side of the king's bed. The bed itself is visible in the mirror, as are the high paintings on the wall opposite. This was the king's sanctuary where he could lunch en petit couvert (in relative privacy).

The Peace Salon at Versailles

In 1729, the first of François Lemoyne's two commissions in the palace, 'Louis XV According Peace to Europe', was completed and displayed over the fireplace in the Peace Salon (Salon de la Paix). Court intrigues at Versailles were partially responsible for the artist committing suicide just eight years later.

The Peace Salon at Versailles

The same salon is also a prime example of the extensive use of marble throughout France during the reign of Louis XV, which was assisted by an effective transportation network. Versailles itself became a centre point for the rarest and most beautiful use of marble.

Portrait of Marie Antoinette at Versailles

This official portrait of Marie Antoinette in full court dress by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun in 1778 is in the Grand Couvert Antechamber, which was the former Queen's Guard Room. In the eighteenth century the king and queen dined here in public.

The History of France Galleries at Versailles

On one side of the Battle Gallery is a series of paintings which show the major battles in French history in chronological order, plus other major historical events which relate to France. On the other side is a series of paintings featuring Napoleon's various battles. Before being converted into a gallery, the room was separated into apartments for the royal children.

Battle of Wagram painting at Versailles

One of the first of the paintings to feature Napoleon is of the emperor and his staff at the Battle of Wagram on 6 July 1809, when he defeated the rebellious Austrian Empire and its Russian allies. It was painted by Horace Vernet (1789-1863) between 1835 and 1836.

The Hall of Statues in Versailles

The hall which links to the Opera contains statues of past kings of France. Here, Dagobert I was king of Austrasia (north-eastern France and part of western Germany) in 623-629 while his father was still alive, and then king of France in 629-639. He was one of the rare Merovingian kings not to partition and weaken the kingdom.

The Palace of Versailles overlooking the park

The palace's garden façade overlooks the Water Parterre and the beginnings of the park, which was the scene of fetes, parties, and celebrations hosted by Louis XIV, one of which lasted for three days. Operas, plays, and fireworks displays were all part of the entertainment.

Aerial view of the near park at Versailles

King Louis XIV's gardener, André Le Nôtre (1613-1700) was also a landscape architect. Responsible for the construction of the grand park at Versailles, in Paris he also extended the Tuileries westwards onto land which would one day become the Champs-Élysées.

Water feature at Versailles

A minor but still impressive water feature, this stands between the Water Parterre and the Latone Fountain. During the ancien régime, the chateau grounds were ten times greater than they are today. What is now called Le Grand Parc was formerly the lesser park, and was surrounded by grounds set aside for hunting.

Large perspective from the foot of the Palace of Versailles

A long perspective from the foot of the palace starts with the Latone Fountain and Parterre, and proceeds down the green carpet to the Apollo Fountain which heralds the start of the Grand Canal. The canal's cross-point is visible halfway along its length, with the right-hand turn leading to the Grand Trianon.

Sheltered paths and hidden alcoves in the gardens

The gardens are filled with short side paths and sheltered alcoves in which ministers and members of the king's court could conduct private meetings or secret rendezvous without being seen by anyone from a distance.

The Colonnade Grove in the gardens of Versailles

The columns of the Colonnade Grove form an outdoor room. Each arch houses a fountain which throws up an identical stream of water. The grove lies just off the Green Carpet lawn and opens up to the maze of pathways that forms the formal gardens.

The Saturne Fountain in the gardens of Versailles

One of those paths leads to the intersection between the King's Garden, the Colonnade Grove, the Girandole Grove, and the Mirror Fountain. At its centre sits the Saturne Fountain. The same layout is mirrored three more times in the gardens with the Bacchus, Ceres and Flora fountains.

The Grand Canal at Versailles

Looking out past the Apollo Fountain, this area was previously not much more than swamp with little flowing water. The land was drained and the Grand Canal, over a mile long, was built with numerous fountains. The gardens were organised around it and from this point, Louis XIV could take a boat to the Grand Trianon.

The Print Corridor in the Grand Trianon at Versailles

The entrance to the Grand Trianon now leads into the antechamber and Print Corridor, which looks onto an interior courtyard on the south side of the building. The structure was erected in 1687-1688 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart to provide Louis XIV with a retreat at the far end of the park, far from the constraints of power.

The King's Antechamber at the Grand Trianon in Versailles

In the early nineteenth century the King's Antechamber became the sitting room for ushers attending the Empress Josephine. It leads out into the Peristyle (seen in the main feature on Versailles), which is now open on both sides, but was enclosed by glass windows on the courtyard side when it was first built, and was glazed on both sides between 1810-1910.

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Text copyright © P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.