|aerial view, with view of garden facade||aerial view, focusing on trident|
Palace: Charles Le Brun, Louis
Le Vau and Jules Hardouin-Mansart
Gardens: André Le Nôtre
major building campaign: 1668-85
At Versailles, the development of the gardens preceded that of the palace. A hunting lodge had been built there in the 1620s by Louis XIII. Louis XIV developed the palace to royal dimensions, making it the center of his court and government.
The Italian renaissance garden was
the model for the early design of the Versailles gardens by Le Nôtre.
This model, true to the values of the Renaissance, was a geometric model,
based on large square modules subdivided into smaller squares. Le Nôtre
later departs from this order as his work on Versailles progresses.
|garden at the Villa Medici la Petraia, Florence, 15th cent.||parterres and view of Palace, garden facade|
parterre de broderie: embroidered landscape
|aerial map of Versailles gardens (palace and trident at bottom)|
Le Nôtre's plan proceeds by
defining three avenues forming a trident or trivium, leading to the palace.
He then adds fountains, canals, and several squares of carefully planted
flowers. A cave (Grotto of Thetis), intended to represent the birthplace
of Apollo, was added although later destroyed when the Versailles chapel
was built. The garden contains multiple allusions to Apollo and Roman emperors
in order to communicate the message that Louis XIV was not only as glorious
as the Sun God but enjoyed a status equal to that of the greatest emperors
of all time.
|central palace block, garden facade|
The flower beds have coordinated
color patterns in intricate configurations, suggesting a parallel to embroidery
work and giving them the name "parterres de broderie" (emboridered landscape).
The combination of axiality (made by the continuation of the Avenue of
Paris in the central canal through the garden), geometric modular design,
and a planned and intricate use of color leads to the sense of these gardens
as being "gardens of intelligence." As rational, ordered, intellectual
experiences of nature, the gardens maintain a tie to the classical Renaissance
spirit. The more dramatic and "irrational" areas of the garden reflect
the baroque interest in creating emotional and theatrical experiences.
Several pictures below communicate the aesthetic of these gardens as a
series of planned and unplanned encounters with symbols of the king, with
nature, and with infinity.
|Apollo Fountain, Jean-Baptise Tuby, 1668-70||Apollo Fountain|
|sculpture of Apollo's bath, made for the Grotto of Thetis, marble and rocaille, life-sized (Francois Girardon, 1666-75)||Latona Fountain, 1668-86|
There is also a baroque side to the gardens: they literally became theaters, or stage-sets, for the dramas and spectacles of court life and the royalty, as well as for performances of true plays. These festivities, however, were not conceived for the purpose of amusement. Versailles was the incarnation of paradise, or at least, that was what Louis wanted the French nobles to think. As paradise on earth, it was the site of ceremonies and festivals, to which Louis would invite nobles, tempt them with the offer of a wonderful life, lead them into a life of debauchery, which would then make them ineffective, at least in the sense that they would not challenge the authority of Louis.
In addition to this "theater of politics," it was and is a setting conceived for the presence of the visitor who walks through paths to arrive at bridges and moats which of course cannot be seen until reached, to receive glimpses of the palace, and glimpses of distant parts of the garden, freestanding arcades which hint at the palace but are not a part of it.
The gardens are an example of baroque art for several reasons. They are painterly, through the use of dramatic effects of light and shadow cast by the natural forms and sculptural (again through the natural forms) and they incorporate surprising vistas made through the contrast between visions of indefinite and infinite expansion into the distance as opposed to the enclosing and disorienting space of the labyrinths. In other words, the overall effect of the gardens is both transcendence and "vanitas"--an anamorphic experience made into a garden. They are also baroque because they are the setting for this theater of politics. Versailles, in its gardens and palace, communicates a visual story of power. Finally, they are the living version of the "grand manner" landscape painting (paintings such as Nicolas Poussin's two paintings about the burial of Phocion).
|Nicolas Poussin: The Burial of Phocion, 1648 (approx. 4' x 6')||Claude Lorrain: Landscape with Cattle and Peasants, 1629, 3'6 x 4'10|
We have only to look at the dates to recognize that these paintings were not influenced by Versailles, but what they may tell us is that in both cases (paintings and garden), the Baroque vision of allegory, of the dynamic between nature and human control, and theatricality was manifested. Likewise, Poussin and Claude do not offer us identical visions of the "grand manner" landscape and we should probably not be surprised to learn that their influences on later generations of artists were not identical. Poussin's influence will be felt more strongly by neo-classical artists, along with philosophers who "read" moral lessons in his paintings in both cases because they, like Poussin, believed that the paintings should be carefully composed to communicate important values. As a result, although his landscapes are naturalistically rendered, they are not "real." His later landscapes, near the end of his life, become very poetic, as he continues to believe that the viewer should read the painting but the lessons themselves become less philosophical and moral, and more imagined. Claude's interest was more purely in the landscape as landscape (rather than the site of a political message) and his influence will be felt in particular by American landscape painters of the 19th century.
|aerial view, garden facade||central block, garden facade|
In 1668, expansion of the original
hunting chateau already located on the site was begun. The basic plan for
the palace was that of two u-shaped wings, one for the king and one for
the queen, with a long gallery between them and a terrace on top. The queen
had to have quarters that were equal to those of the king because she had
inherited the Spanish throne and was a queen in her own right, a true equal
to Louis. Although the space was treated equally, the messages which the
ornamentation communicated were not the same. The King's stairs, known
as the Staircase of the Ambassadors, was a long ceremonial staircase. On
the first landing, there was a niche with a fountain, a sculpture of the
birth of Apollo, and above that, a bust of Louis. There were also illusionist
paintings in the architectural niches which created the sense of looking
outdoors and onto ceremonial scenes. The intention was to impress visitors
with the power of Louis. The Queen's staircase, located on the other side,
was less propagandistic than the king's, but opulent, with exotic marbles
|Salon de Guerre (War Chamber), 1678||Hardoun-Mansart and Le Brun: the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces), beg. 1678, approx. 240' long|
The Salon de la Guerre glorified
Louis as a warrior and as the leader of a nation which was victorious in
battle. This room was dominated by a marble relief of Louis as an equestrian
knight, derived from ancient roman images of emperors. The Hall of
Mirrors was created during a later expansion. The mirrors on one side of
the gallery echo the arched windows on the other, creating an effect of
layers of reality and unreality. In that sense, it may be very baroque
with the baroque qualities of light and infinite expansion again being
used to create an image of power -- a goal that may not have been that
distant from Bernini's colonnade for St. Peters, with its goal of framing
the church as the source of power in the western world. Yet at St. Peter's,
exterior and interior, the dominant theme is the co-existence of two realms
(secular and sacred) and the possibility of movement from one to the other.
At Versailles, the dominant theme is the extension of power into infinity,
rather than an interchange between the sacred and the secular.
|Hardoun-Mansart: Versailles Royal Chapel, 1698-1710, apse fresco by Charles de la Fosse: Resurrection of Christ||ceiling fresco in the chapel, by Antoine Coypel: God the Father in Glory|
The chapel continues the theme of the power of Louis using traditional Christian iconography, suggesting an interchange in this case which is more grandiose than simply Louis as Sun God.
The 18th century saw the addition of several buildings to the gardens, buildings which repeat some of the features of the palace on a smaller scale (Grand Trianon), and buildings which seem to be modeled on Palladio's villas (Petit Trianon). The conglomerate of trees, fountains, buildings on different scales, all contribute to the sense of Versailles as a city in and of itself. More than a city, the repetitions with uniformity suggest endlessness and infinite expansion, again the symbolic message of the power of Versailles.
As a unified composition, the components
of Versailles -- garden, palace and city -- are united and held together
through a gigantic axis of symmetry, the Avenue of Paris, which leads from
the park areas, to and symbolically, at least, through the center of the
palace, with Louis' bedroom located on the axis. The road continues through
the palace and garden seemingly to the rest of the world. Ultimately the
road projects the illusion that Louis controls Paris and the earth; he
is the Sun King, radiating his power over the earth.
|Hyacinth Rigaud: Portrait of Louis XIV, 1701|
The Rigaud portrait gives us the
leader in a solidly architectural setting, flooded with velveted and richly
colored surfaces, a king who stands securely and confidently, displaying
his legs almost as grandly as he indicates his crown with his scepter.
His face is not as pompous as we might expect, and the softness of the
velvety satiny surfaces, along with the suggested softness of his face
(and the dainty elegance of his legs), tends to undercut what could have
been a harsh and more objective portrait. But perhaps this needs
to be understood not only in the context of the person in the painting
but in light of the fact that by 1701, the baroque style was being replaced
by the rococo: a style of elegance used to portray "fantasy" worlds of
love and leisure. We might also make note of the fact that the king
had studied dance (not only for social reasons but because it improved
his physical agility) and he liked to perform.