We returned to Versailles to see the afternoon fountain display. they have scheduled it between 3:30 and 5 PM this summer. That is not a lot of time to see much of the gardens, but I thought I would present the pictures I got. The Ballroom (Bosquet Salle de Bal or Bosquet des Rocailles) was created by Le Nôtre between 1680 and 1683. The grove was the last made before the installation of Louis XIV at Versailles. The Salle de Bal was inaugurated in 1685 with a ball hosted by the Grand Dauphin. The Ballroom is also called Seed Grove because the stones and shells came from the Madagascar coast over which water flows in the cascade. The musicians stood above the waterfall, across a tiered amphitheater with grass covered steps allowing spectators to sit.
In 1668, Louis XIV purchased Trianon, a hamlet on the outskirts of Versailles, and commissioned the architect Louis Le Vau to design a porcelain pavilion (Trianon de porcelaine) to be built there, to escape the pomp and rigid formality of court life with his mistress Madame de Montespan. In only a few years the fragile porcelain tiles deteriorated and Louis XIV had it torn down to be replaced with a more robust building.
In 1687 Jules Hardouin Mansart built the Grand Trianon, considered the most refined group of buildings anywhere in the domain of Versailles, on the site of the “Porcelain Trianon”. It is located at the end of the right end of the cross of the Grand Canal seen in the map to the right by the red box. In 1717, Peter the Great of Russia, who was studying the palace and gardens of Versailles, resided at the Grand Trianon; the Grand Palace at Peterhof is copied on Versailles.
We happened to visit during a special exhibition, Les Dames de Trianon (Ladies of the Trianon) which features all the kings’ women, the wives, the daughters, the sisters, the mothers, the ladies-in-waiting, the mistresses. Versailles is trying to revive interest in the often-overlooked Grand Trianon by hosting exhibitions here, like last year’s successful “A Taste of the 18th Century,” which brought together modern designers’ creations inspired by the 18th-century. I will be presenting images of the paintings from the exhibition in addition to images of the Grand Trianon.
Napoleon Bonaparte is a larger than life figure. In life he aspired to recombine the empire of Charlemagne, something a long line of French kings failed to do. He struck a chord with the French people, in death they enshrined him, as he asked, on the bank of the Seine in a larger than life casket wrapped in the sumptuous Dôme des Invalides. Napoleon left his mark everywhere in France and appropriately in the Château de Versailles. While Napoléon did not reside in the château, apartments were, however, arranged and decorated for the use of the empress Marie-Louise. The emperor chose to reside at the Grand Trianon.
Although the fountains were not on the day we visited the gardens, the gardens were nonetheless beautiful and vast. It is a little hard to depict the sheer size of the gardens in photographs, but I will try. The gardens extend as far as you can see. In the center of the picture above, far in the distance, is the Grand canal, with even more gardens beyond. This is the Latone fountain. The large central strip of grass is called the Tapis Vert. The gardens were laid out by André Le Nôtre but he had the assistance of hundreds of artists and thousands of men and horses. A few statistics to begin with:
Number of trees: 200,000
Flowers planted annually: 210,00
Number of fountains: 50
Number of jets of water: 620
Surface area of the Grand Canal: 56 acres or 36,339 sq ft
Perimeter of the Grand Canal: 5.57 km
Amount of piping to feed the fountains: 35 km
It was completed over a period of 20 years
It covers an area larger than the island of Manhattan
The garden beds on the level of the palace are beautiful and formal. I can only imagine the work and money required to keep them this way.
The Hall of Battles is longer than the Hall of Mirrors, 394 feet, and is lined with huge paintings of French victories through the ages, including oils by Delacroix and Fragonard. Its creation was the idea of Louis-Philippe I, King of the French and it replaced apartments which had been occupied in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are literally hundreds of busts and 39 paintings, I will not present them all.
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.