In 2008 the Palace of Versailles instituted a somewhat controversial contemporary art program. The first woman to exhibit is Joana Vasconcelos, born in Paris and working in Lisbon. The Bride is one of her most famous works, although this not exhibited at Versailles. Taking the form of an 18th-century candelabra, it is made entirely of white tampons. Vasconcelos is inclined to see Marie Antoinette as a women's lib heroine. “She is no longer the wife of the king, but a political woman, executed for that reason. Her execution was one of the first steps towards female emancipation. Without her, I wouldn't be here,” she says. Seen above in the 1830 Room is the Lilicoptère, a Bell-47 helicopter, which she has decorated with glass studs and ostrich feathers. But why ostriches? “Because Marie Antoinette loved them and bred them in the gardens of the chateau to decorate her hats,” she says. To me, those are the little details that help bring the Palace of Versailles alive.
Versailles started out as a hunting lodge for King Louis XIII. When Louis XIII was younger, he had accompanied his father King Henry IV on hunting trips to the estate of Albert de Gondi, a French general originally from Florence. At this time, Versailles was a fair distance from Paris, heavily forested, with only about 500 people living around an old castle. In 1622 Louis XIII bought land for his private hunting reserve and in 1624 bought more land to build a small hunting lodge on top of a hill. In 1634 he bought the rest of the land and gradually enlarged the building to a small chateau by 1635.