In 1575, Albert de Gondi, a naturalized Florentine who gained prominence at the court of Henry II, purchased the seigneury of Versailles. In the early seventeenth century, Gondi invited Louis XIII on several hunting trips in the forests surrounding Versailles. Pleased with the location, Louis ordered the construction of a hunting lodge in 1624. Designed by Philibert Le Roy, the structure, a small château, was constructed of stone and red brick with a based roof. Eight years later, Louis obtained the seigneury of Versailles from the Gondi family and began to make enlargements to the château (Batiffol, 1913; Bluche, 1991; Marie, 1968; Nolhac, 1901; Verlet, 1985).
Beginning in 1669, architect Louis Le Vau, landscape architect André Le Nôtre, and painter-decorator Charles Le Brun began a detailed renovation and expansion of the château. This was done to fulfill Louis XIV's desire to establish a new entre for the royal court. Following the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678, he began to gradually move the court to Versailles. The court was officially established there on 6 May 1682.
By moving his court and government to Versailles, Louis XIV hoped to extract more control of the government from the nobility, and to distance himself from the population of Paris. All the power of France emanated from this centre: there were government offices here, as well as the homes of thousands of courtiers, their retinues, and all the attendant functionaries of court (Solnon, 1987). By requiring that nobles of a certain rank and position spend time each year at Versailles, Louis prevented them from developing their own regional power at the expense of his own and kept them from countering his efforts to centralize the French government in an absolute monarchy (Bluche, 1986, 1991; Bendix, 1978; Solnon, 1987). The meticulous and strict court etiquette that Louis established, which overwhelmed his heirs with its petty boredoms, was epitomized in the elaborate ceremonies and exacting procedures that accompanied his rising in the morning, known as the Lever, divided into a petit lever for the most important and a grand lever for the whole court. Like other French court manners, étiquette was quickly imitated in other European courts (Benichou, 1948; Bluche, 1991; Solnon, 1987).
Evolution of Versailles
The expansion of the château became synonymous with the absolutism of Louis XIV (Bluche, 1986, 1991). In 1661, following the death of Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of the government, Louis had declared that he would be his own chief minister. The idea of establishing the court at Versailles was conceived to ensure that all of his advisors and provincial rulers would be kept close to him. He feared that they would rise up against and start a revolt. He thought that if he kept all of his potential threats near him, that they would be powerless. After the disgrace of Nicolas Fouquet in 1661 — Louis claimed the finance minister would not have been able to build his grand château at Vaux-le-Vicomte without having embezzled from the crown — Louis, after the confiscation of Fouquet’s estate, employed the talents of Le Vau, Le Nôtre, and Le Brun, who all had worked on Vaux-le-Vicomte, for his building campaigns at Versailles and elsewhere. For Versailles, there were four distinct building campaigns (after minor alterations and enlargements had been executed on the château and the gardens in 1662-1663), all of which corresponded to Louis XIV’s wars (Bluche, 1986, 1991; Verlet, 1985).
First building campaign
The first building campaign (1664-1668) commenced with the Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée of 1664, a fête that was held between 7 and 13 May 1664. The fête was ostensibly given to celebrate the two queens of France — Anne of Austria, the Queen Mother, and Marie-Thérèse, Louis XIV’s wife, but in reality honored the king’s mistress, Louise de La Vallière. The celebration of the Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée is often regarded as a prelude to the War of Devolution, which Louis waged against Spain. The first building campaign (1664-1668) witnessed alterations in the château and gardens in order to accommodate the 600 guests invited to the party (Nolhac, 1899, 1901; Marie, 1968; Verlet, 1985).
Second building campaign
The second building campaign (1669-1672) was inaugurated with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of Devolution. During this campaign, the château began to assume some of the appearance that it has today. The most important modification of the château was Le Vau’s envelope of Louis XIII’s hunting lodge. The enveloppe — often referred to as the château neuf to distinguish it from the older structure of Louis XIII — enclosed the hunting lodge on the north, west, and south. The new structure provided new lodgings for the king and members of his family. The main floor — the piano nobile — of the château neuf was given over entirely to two apartments: one for the king, and one for the queen. The Grand appartement du roi occupied the northern part of the château neuf and Grand appartement de la reine occupied the southern part. The western part of the enveloppe was given over almost entirely to a terrace, which was later demolished for construction of the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces). The ground floor of the northern part of the château neuf was occupied by the appartement des bains, which included a sunken octagonal tub with hot and cold running water. The king’s brother and sister-in-law, the duc and duchesse d’Orléans occupied apartments on the ground floor of the southern part of the château neuf. The upper story of the château neuf was reserved for private rooms for the king to the north and rooms for the king’s children above the queen’s apartment to the south (Nolhac, 1901; Marie, 1972; Verlet, 1985).
Significant to the design and construction of the grands appartements is that the rooms of both apartments are of the same configuration and dimensions — a hitherto unprecedented feature in French palace design. It has been suggested that this parallel configuration was intentional as Louis XIV had intended to establish Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche as queen of Spain, and thus thereby establish a dual monarchy (Johnson, 1981). Louis XIV’s rationale for the joining of the two kingdoms was seen largely as recompense for Philip IV's failure to pay his daughter Marie-Thérèse’s dowry, which was among the terms of capitulation to which Spain agreed with the promulgation of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which ended the war between France and Spain that began in 1635 during the Thirty Years’ War. Louis XIV regarded his father-in-law’s act as a breach of the treaty and consequently engaged in the War of Devolution.
Both the grand appartement du roi and the grand appartement de la reine formed a suite of seven enfilade rooms. Each room is dedicated to one of the then known celestial bodies and is personified by the appropriate Greco-Roman deity. The decoration of the rooms, which was conducted under Le Brun's direction depicted the “heroic actions of the king” and were represented in allegorical form by the actions of historical figures from the antique past (Alexander the Great, Augustus, Cyrus, etc.) (Berger, 1986; Félibien, 1674; Verlet, 1985).
Third building campaign
With the signing of the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678, which ended the Dutch War, the third building campaign at Versailles began (1678-1684). Under the direction of the architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the Palace of Versailles acquired much of the look that it has today. In addition to the Hall of Mirrors, Hardouin-Mansart designed the north and south wings, which were used, respectively, by the nobility and Princes of the Blood, and the Orangerie. Le Brun was occupied not only with the interior decoration of the new additions of the palace, but also collaborated with Le Nôtre in landscaping the palace gardens (Berger, 1985; Thompson, 2006; Verlet, 1985). As symbol of France’s new prominence as a European super-power, Louis XIV officially installed his court at Versailles in May of 1682 (Bluche, 1986, 1991).
Fourth building campaign
Soon after the crushing defeat of the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697) and owing possibly to the pious influence of Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV undertook his last building campaign at Versailles. The fourth building campaign (1699-1710) concentrated almost exclusively on construction of the royal chapel designed by Hardouin-Mansart and finished by Robert de Cotte and his team of decorative designers. There were also some modifications in the appartement du roi, namely the construction of the Salon de l’Œil de Bœuf and the King’s Bedchamber. With the completion of the chapel in 1710, virtually all construction at Versailles ceased; building would not be resumed at Versailles until some twenty years later during the reign of Louis XV (Nolhac, 1911; Marie, 1976, 1984; Verlet, 1985).
During the reign of Louis XV, Versailles underwent transformation, but not on the scale that had been seen during the reign of Louis XIV. When the king and the court returned to Versailles in 1722, the first project was the completion of the Salon d'Hercule, which had been begun during the last years of Louis XIV's reign but was never finished due to the king’s death.
Significant among Louis XV’s contributions to Versailles were the petit appartement du roi; the appartements de Mesdames, the appartement du dauphin, and the appartement de la dauphine on the ground floor; and the two private apartments of Louis XV – petit appartement du roi au deuxième étage (later transformed into the appartement de Madame du Barry) and the petit appartement du roi au troisième étage – on the second and third floors of the palace. The crowning achievements of Louis XV’s reign were the construction of the Opéra and the Petit Trianon (Verlet, 1985).
The gardens remained largely unchanged from the time of Louis XIV; only the completion of the Bassin de Neptune between 1738 and 1741 was the most important legacy Louis XV made to the gardens (Marie 1984; Thompson, 2006; Verlet 1985). Towards the end of his reign, Louis XV, under the advice of Ange-Jacques Gabriel, began to remodel the courtyard façades of the palace. With the objective revetting the entrance of the palace with classical façades, Louis XV began a project that was continued during the reign of Louis XVI, but which did not see completion until the 20th century (Verlet, 1985).
On 21 June, 1791, Louis XVI was arrested at Varennes after which the Assemblée nationale constituante accordingly declared that all possessions of the royal family had been abandoned. For the safeguard the palace, the Assemblée nationale constituante ordered the palace of Versailles to be sealed. On 20 October 1792 a letter was read before the National Convention in which Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière, interior minister, proposed that the furnishings of the palace and those of the residences in Versailles that had been abandoned be sold and that the palace be either sold or rented. The sale of furniture transpired at auctions held between 23 August 1793 and 30 nivôse an III (19 January 1795). Only items of particular artistic or intellectual merit were exempt from the sale. These items were consigned to be part of the collection of a museum, which had been planned at the time of the sale of the palace furnishings.
In 1793, Charles-François Delacroix deputy to the Convention and father of the painter Eugène Delacroix proposed that the metal statuary in the gardens of Versailles be confiscated and sent to the foundry to be made into cannon (Gatin, 1908). The proposal was debated but eventually it was tabled. On 28 floréal an II (5 May 1794) the Convention decreed that the château and gardens of Versailles, as well as other former royal residences in the environs, would not be sold but placed under the care of the Republic for the public good (Fromegot, 1903). Following this decree, the château became a repository for art work seized from churches and princely homes. As a result of Versailles serving as a repository for confiscated art works, collections were amassed that eventually became part of the proposed museum (Fromegot, 1903).
Among the items found at Versailles at this time a collection of natural curiosities that has been assembled by the sieur Fayolle during his voyages in America. The collection was sold to the comte d’Artois and was later confiscated by the state. Fayolle, who had been nominated to the Commission des arts, became guardian of the collection and was later, in June 1794, nominated by the Convention to be the first directeur du Conservatoire du Muséum national de Versailles (Fromageot, 1903). The next year, André Dumont the people's representative, became administrator for the department of the Seine-et-Oise. Upon assuming his administrative duties, Dumont was struck with the deplorable state into which the palace and gardens had sunk. He quickly assumed administrative duties of the château and assembled a team of conservators to oversee the various collections of the museum (Fromageot, 1903).
One of Dumont’s first appointments was that of Huges Lagarde (10 messidor an III (28 June 1795)), a wealthy soap merchant from Marseille with strong political connections, as bibliographer of the museum. With the abandonment of the palace, there remained no less that 104 libraries which contained in excess of 200,000 printed volumes and manuscripts. Lagarde, with his political connections and his association with Dumont, became the driving force behind Versailles as a museum at this time. Lagarde was able to assemble a team of curators including sieur Fayolle for natural history and, Louis-Jean- Jacques Durameau, the painter responsible for the ceiling painting in the Opéra, was appointed as curator for painting (Fromageot, 1903).
Owing largely to political vicissitudes that occurred in France during the 1790s, Versailles succumbed to further degradations. Mirrors were assigned by the finance ministry for payment of debts of the Republic and draperies, upholstery, and fringes were confiscated and sent to the mint to recuperate the gold and silver used in their manufacture. Despite its designation as a museum, Versailles served as an annex to the Hôtel des Invalides pursuant to the decree of 7 frimaire an VIII (28 November 1799), which commandeered part of the palace and which had wounded soldiers being housed in the petit appartement du roi (Gatin, 1908)
In 1797, the Muséum national was reorganized and renamed Musée spécial de l’École française (Dutilleux, 1887). The grands appartements were used as galleries in which the morceaux de réception submitted by artists seeking admission to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture during the 17th and 18th centuries, the series The Life of Saint Bruno by Eustache Le Sueur and the Life of Marie de Médicis by Peter Paul Rubens were placed on display. The museum, which included the sculptures in the garden, became the finest museum of classic French art that had existed (Verlet, 1985).
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. The château continued to serve, however, as an annex of the Hôtel des Invalides (Mauguin, 1940-1942; Pradel, 1937; Verlet, 1985). Nevertheless, on 3 January 1805, Pope Pius VII, who came to France to officiate at Napoléon's coronation, visited the palace and blessed the throng of people gathered on the parterre d'eau from the balcony of the Hall of Mirrors (Mauguin, 1940-1942).
In 1833, Louis-Philippe proposed the establishment of a museum dedicated to “all the glories of France,” which included the Orléans dynasty and the Revolution of 1830 that put Louis-Philippe on the throne of France. For the next decade, under the direction of Eugène-Charles-Frédéric Nepveu and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, the château underwent irreversible alterations (Constans, 1985; 1987; Mauguin, 1937; Verlet, 1985). The museum was officially inaugurated on 10 June 1837 as part of the festivities that surrounded the marriage of the Prince royal, Ferdinand-Philippe d’Orléans with princess Hélène of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and represented one of the most ambitious and costly undertakings of Louis-Philippe’s reign. Over 3,000 paintings depicting glorious events in French history and a small army of busts of French heroes were commissioned by Louis-Philippe to decorate his new museum. Louis-Philippe’s efforts were praised and condemned by his contemporaries. Victor Hugo, who was present at the inaugural ceremonies, characterized the king’s efforts:
Later, Balzac characterized, in less laudatory terms, the effort as the “hospital of the glories of France” (Balzac, 1853).
The aile du Midi, was given over to the galerie des Batailles, which necessitated the demolition of most of the apartments of the Princes of the Blood who lived in this part of the palace during the Ancien Régime. The galerie des Batailles was an epigone of the Grande galerie of the Louvre and was intended to glorify French military history from the Battle of Tolbiac (traditionally dated, ]) to the Battle of Wagram (5-6 July 1809). While a number of the paintings displayed in the galerie des Batailles were of questionable quality, a few masterpieces, such as the Battle of Taillebourg by Eugène Delacroix, were displayed here. Part of the aile du Nord was converted for the salle des Croisades, a room dedicated to famous knights of the Crusades and decorated with their names and coats of arms. The apartments of the dauphin and the dauphine as well as those of Louis XV’s daughters on the ground floor of the corps de logis were transformed into portrait galleries. In order to accommodate the displays, some of the boiseries were removed and either put into storage or sold. During the Prussian occupation of the palace in 1871, the boiseries in storage were burned as firewood (Constans, 1985; 1987; Mauguin, 1937; Verlet,1985).
Under the aegis of Gérald van der Kemp, chief conservator of the museum from 1952 to 1980, the museum witnessed some of its most ambitious conservation and restoration projects: new roofing for the galerie des glaces; restoration of the chambre de la reine; restoration of the chambre de Louis XIV; restoration of the Opéra (Lemoine, 1976). At this time, the ground floor of the aile du Nord was converted into a gallery of French history from the 17th century to the 19th century. Additionally, at this time, policy was established in which the French government would aggressively seek to acquire as much of original furniture and artwork that had been dispersed at the time of the Revolution of 1789 as possible (Kemp, 1976; Meyer, 1985).
|“View of Versailles from the Avenue de Paris”, ca. 1662 by Pierre Patel. This was how Versailles looked before Louis XIV began enlarging the château.||“Garden façade of the Palace of Versailles”, ca. 1675. Shown is the terrace that was later to become part of the Hall of Mirrors.||Louis XIV's third building campaign resulted in the construction of the Hall of Mirrors.||“View of the château de Versailles as seen from the Place d’Armes, 1722”, ca. 1722, by Pierre-Denis Martin. This was how Versailles looked at the end of Louis XIV’s fourth building campaign.|
Grand appartement du roi
Le Vau’s plan called for an enfilade of seven rooms, each dedicated to one of the then known planets and their associated titular Roman deity. Le Vau’s plan was bold as he designed a heliocentric system that centered on the Salon of Apollo. The salon d’Apollon originally was designed as the king’s bedchamber, but served as a throne room. During the reign of Louis XIV (until 1689), a solid silver throne stood on a Persian carpet covered dais on the south wall of this room (Berger, 1986; Dangeau, 1854-1860; Josephson, 1926; 1930; Verlet, 1985).
The original arrangement of the enfilade of rooms was thus:
The configuration of the grand appartement du roi conformed to contemporary conventions in palace design (Baillie, 1967). However, owing to Louis XIV’s personal taste and with the apartment’s northern exposure, Louis XIV found the rooms too cold and opted to live in the rooms previously occupied by his father. The grand appartement du roi was reserved for court functions — such as the thrice-weekly appartement evenings given by Louis XIV for members of the court (Berger, 1986; La Varende, 1959; Marie, 1968, 1972; Nolhac, 1911; Verlet, 1985).
The rooms were decorated by Charles Le Brun and demonstrated Italian influences, the particularly that of Pietro da Cortona, with whom Le Brun studied while he was in Florence. Le Brun was influenced by the decorative style the da Cortona devised for the decoration of the Pitti Palace in Florence, which influenced his style Louis XIV at Versailles. The quadratura style of the ceilings evoke Pietro Cortona’s Sale dei Planeti at the Pitti, but Le Brun’s decorative schema is more complex (Blunt, 1980; Campbell, 1977). In his 1674 publication about the grand appartement du roi, André Félibien described the scenes depicted in the coves of the ceilings of the rooms as allegories depicting the “heroic actions of the king” (Félibien, 1674). Accordingly, one finds scenes of the exploits of Augustus, Alexander the Great, and Cyrus alluding to the deeds of Louis XIV (Lighthart, 1997; Sabatier, 1999). For example, in the salon d’Apollon, the cove painting “Augustus building the port of Misenum” alludes to the construction of the port at La Rochelle; or, depicted in the south cove of the salon de Mercure is “Ptolemy II Philadelphus in his Library”, which alludes to Ptolemy’s construction of the Great Library of Alexandria and which accordingly serves as an allegory to Louis XIV’s expansion of the Bibliothèque du roi. Complementing the rooms’ decors were pieces of massive silver furniture. Regrettably, owing to the War of the League of Augsburg, in 1689 Louis XIV ordered all of this silver furniture to be sent to the mint, to be melted down to help defray the cost of the war (Berger, 1986; Dangeau, 1854-1860; Josephson, 1926; 1930;Marie, 1968, 1972, 1976; Nolhac, 1911; Verlet, 1985).
Le Vau’s original plan for the grand appartement du roi was short-lived. With the inauguration of the third building campaign, which suppressed the terrace linking the apartments of the king and queen, the salon de Jupiter, the salon de Saturne, and the salon de Vénus for the construction of the Hall of Mirrors, the configuration of the grand appartement du roi was altered. The decorative elements of the salon de Jupiter was removed and reused in the decoration of the salle des gardes de la reine; and elements of the decoration of the first salon de Vénus, which opened onto the terrace, were reused in the salon de Vénus that we see today (Marie, 1972, 1976; Nolhac, 1925; Verlet, 1985).
From 1678 to the end of Louis XIV’s reign, the grand appartement du roi served as the venue for the king’s thrice-weekly evening receptions, known as les soirées de l’appartement. For these parties, the rooms assumed specific functions:
In the 18th century during the reign of Louis XV, the grand appartement du roi was expanded to include the salon de l’Abondance (Hall of Plenty) — formerly the entry vestibule of the petit appartement du roi — and the salon d'Hercule — occupying the tribune level of the former chapel of the palace (Verlet, 1985).
|The Salon of Venus is the second room to have this name in the grand appartement du roi. On appartement evenings, buffet tables would be dressed in this room.||The Salon of Diana was designed as the first room of the grand appartement du roi. On appartement evenings during the reign of Louis XIV, a billiard table would be installed in this room.||Originally, the Salon of Mars was designed as a guardroom. For the better part of Louis XIV's reign, this room served as a ballroom. Tribunes for musicians were once located on either side of the fireplace.||Lit de parade, Salon of Mercury. The clock, by Antoine Morand, was offered to Louis XIV in 1706. It is the only piece of furniture from the Grand appartement that has survived, however the original Boulle marquetry case has been replaced.||The Salon of Apollo was originally designed to serve as the king’s bed chamber. It was transformed and used as a throne room; the rings that originally supported the canopy that was suspended over the throne are clearly visible in the photo.|
Grand appartement de la reine
Forming a parallel enfilade with that of the grand appartement du roi, the grand appartement de la reine served as the residence of three queens of France — Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche, wife of Louis XIV, Marie Leczinska, wife of Louis XV, and Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. Additionally, Louis XIV's granddaughter-in-law, Princess Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy, as duchesse de Bourgogne, occupied these rooms from 1697 (the year of her marriage) to her death in 1712.
When Le Vau’s enveloppe of the château vieux was completed, the grand appartement de la reine came to include a suite of seven enfilade rooms with an arrangement that mirrored almost exactly the grand appartement du roi. The configuration was:
As with the decoration of the ceiling in the grand appartement du roi, which depicted the heroic actions of Louis XIV as allegories from events taken from the antique past, the decoration of the grand appartement de la reine likewise depicted heroines from the antique past and harmonized with the general theme of a particular room’s decor.
With the construction of the Hall of Mirrors, which began in 1678, the configuration of the grand appartement de la reine changed. The chapel was transformed into the salle des gardes de la reine and it was in this room that the decorations from the salon de Jupiter were reused. The salle des gardes de la reine communicates with a loggia that issues from the escalier de la reine, which formed a parallel pendant (albeit a smaller, though similarly-decorated example) with the escalier des ambassadeurs in the grand appartement du roi. The loggia also provided access to the appartement du roi, the suite of rooms in which Louis XIV lived, and to the apartment of Madame de Maintenon. Toward the end of Louis XIV's reign, the escalier de la reine became the principal entrance to the château, with the escalier des ambassadeurs used on rare state occasions. After the demolition of the escalier des ambassadeurs in 1752, the escalier de la reine became the main entrance to the château (Verlet, 1985).
From 1682, the grand appartement de la reine included:
With the death of Louis XIV in 1715, the court moved to Vincennes and later to Paris. In 1722, Louis XV reinstalled the court at Versailles and began modifications to the château’s interior. Among the most noteworthy of the building projects during Louis XV’s reign, the redecoration of the chamber de la reine must be cited.
To commemorate the birth of his only son and heir, Louis-Ferdinand, in 1729, Louis XV ordered a complete redecoration of the room. Elements of the chamber de la reine as it had been used by Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche and Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie were removed and a new, more modern decor was installed (Marie, 1984; Reynaud and Villain, 1970; Verlet, 1985).
During her life at Versailles, Marie Leczinska lived in the grand appartement de la reine, to which she annexed the Salon of Peace to serve as a music room. In 1770, when the Austrian archduchess Maria Antonia married the dauphin, later king Louis XVI, she took up residence in these rooms. Upon Louis XVI’s ascension to the throne in 1774, Marie-Antoinette ordered major redecoration of the grand appartement de la reine. At this time, the queen’s apartment achieved the arrangement that we see today (Verlet, 1985).
|Salon of the Queen’s Guard. The decoration of this room was originally found in the Salon of Jupiter in the grand appartement du roi.||Antichamber of the Queen. During the 18th century, the king and queen would dine in public – au grand couvert – in this room||Salon of Nobles. Traditionally, the queen would receive foreign ambassadors in this room. The present restoration of the decor dates from the time of Marie-Antoinette.||The Queen's bedchamber. There is a barely discernible hidden door in the corner near the jewel cabinet by Schwerdfeger (1787) through which Marie Antoinette escaped the night of 5/6 October 1789 when the Paris mob stormed Versailles.|
Once Louis XIV embarked on his building campaigns, expenses for Versailles became more of a matter for public record, especially after Jean-Baptiste Colbert assumed the post of finance minister. Expenditures on Versailles have been recorded in the compendium known as the Comptes des bâtiments du roi sous le règne de Louis XIV and which was edited and published in five volumes by Jules Guiffrey in the 19th century. These volumes provide valuable archival material pursuant to the financial expenditures of all aspects of Versailles from the payments dispursed to artists to mole catchers (Guiffrey, 1880–1890).
To counter the costs of Versailles during the early years of Louis XIV's personal reign, Colbert decided that Versailles should be the "showcase" of France (Bluche, 1991). Accordingly, all materials that went into the construction and decoration of Versailles were manufactured in France. Even the mirrors used in the decoration of the Hall of Mirrors were made in France. While Venice in the 17th century had the monopoly on the manufacture of mirrors, Colbert succeeded in enticing a number of artisans from Venice to make the mirrors for Versailles. However, owing to Venetian proprietary claims on the technology of mirror manufacture, the Venetian government ordered the assassination of the artisans to keep the secrets proprietary to the Venetian Republic (Bluche, 1991). To meet the demands for decorating and furnishing Versailles, Colbert nationalized the tapestry factory owned by the Gobelin family, to become the Manufature royale des Gobelins (Bluche, 1991). In 1667, the name of the enterprise was changed to the Manufacture royale des Meubles de la Couronne. The Gobelins were charged with all decoration needs of the palace, which was under the direction of Charles Le Brun (Bluche, 1991).
One of the most costly elements in the furnishing of the Grands appartements during the early years of the personal reign of Louis XIV was the silver furniture, which can be taken as a standard – with other criteria – for determining a plausible cost for Versailles. The Comptes meticulously list the expenditures on the silver furniture – disbursements to artists, final payments, delivery – as well as descriptions and weight of items purchased. Entries for 1681 and 1682 concerning the silver balustrade used in the salon de Mercure serve as an example:
II. 5 In anticipation: For the silver balustrade for the king's bedroom: 90,000 livres II. 7 18 November to Sieur du Metz, 43,475 livres 5 sols for delivery to Sr. Lois and to Sr. de Villers for payment of 142,196 livres for the silver balustrade that they are making for the king's bedroom and 404 livres for tax: 48,861 livres 5 sol. II. 15 16 June 1681 – 23 January 1682 to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths on account for the sliver balustrade that they are making for the king's use (four payments): 88,457 livres 5 sols. II. 111 25 March – 18 April to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths who are working on a silver balustrade for the king, for continued work (two payments): 40,000 livres
II. 129 21 March to Sr. Jehannot de Bartillay 4,970 livres 12 sols for the delivery to Sr. Lois and de Villers silversmiths for, with 136,457 livres 5 sol to one and 25,739 livres 10 sols to another, making the 38 balusters, 17 pilasters, the base and the cornice for the balustrade for the château of Versailles weighing 4,076 marc at the rate of 41 livres the marc including 41 livres 2 sols for tax: 4,970 livres 12 sols (Guiffrey, 1880–1890).
Accordingly, the silver balustrade, which contained in excess of one ton of silver, cost in excess of 560,000 livres. It is difficult – if not impossible – to give an accurate rate of exchange between 1682/82 and today.However, Frances Buckland provides valuable information that provides an idea of the true cost of the expenditures at Versailles during the time of Louis XIV. In 1679, Mme de Maintenon stated that the cost of providing light and food for twelve people for one day amounted to slightly more than 14 livres (Buckland, 1983). In 1689, in order to defray the cost of the War of the League of Augsburg, Louis XIV, in December of that year, ordered all the silver furniture and all articles of silver at Versailles – this included chamber pots – to the mint to be melted (Dangeau, 1854–1860).
Clearly, the silver furniture alone represented a significant outlay in the finances of Versailles. While the decoration of the palace was costly, certain other costs were minimized. For example, labor for construction was often low, due largely to the fact that the army during times of peace and during the winter, when wars were not waged, was pressed into action at Versailles. Additionally, given the quality and uniqueness of the items produced at the Gobelins for use and display at Versailles, the palace served as a venue in which to showcase not only the success of Colbert's mercantilism but also to display the finest that France could produce (Bluche, 1986, 1991).
Restoration Programs: The Costs
The restoration initiatives launched by the Fifth Republic, have proven to be perhaps more costly than the expenditures of the palace in the Ancien Régime. Staring in the 1950s, when the museum of Versailles was under the directorship of Gérald van der Kemp, the objective was to restore the palace to its state – or as close to it as possible – in 1789 when the royal family left the palace. Among the early projects was the repair of the roof over the Hall of Mirrors; the publicity campaign brought international attention to the plight of post-war Versailles and garnered much foreign money including a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Concurrently, in Russia, the restoration of the palace of Pavlovsk located outside of Leningrad – today's Saint Petersburg – brought the attention of French museum authorities, including the curators of Versailles (Massie, 1990).
Pavlovsk was built by Catherine the Great’s son Paul. The czarevitch and his wife, Marie Feodorovna, were avid francophiles, who, on a visit to France and Versailles in the 1780s, purchased great quantities of silk, which they later used to upholster furniture in Pavlosk. The palace survived the Russian Revolution intact – descendants of Paul I were living in the palace at the time the communists evicted them – however, during the Second World War, the furniture and artifacts housed in the palace, which had been transformed into a museum, were removed. In the process of evacuation the museum collections, remnants of the silks purchased by Paul I of Russia and Marie Feodorovna were found and conserved. After the war when Soviet authorities were restoring the palace, which had been gutted by the retreating Nazi forces, they recreated the silk fabrics by using the conserved 18th century remnants (Massie, 1990).
When the French authorities saw the results of Russian efforts and the high quality they were able to achieve, the French revived 18th weaving techniques so as to reproduce the silks used in the decoration of Versailles (Massie, 1990). The two greatest achievements of this initiative are seen today in wall hangings used in the restoration of the chambre de la reine in the grand appartement de reine and the chambre du roi in the appartement du roi. While the design used for the chambre du roi was, in fact, from a design that had been used during the Ancien Régime to decorate the chambre de la reine, it nevertheless represents a great achievement in the on-going restoration at Versailles. Additionally, this project, which took over seven years to achieve, required several hundred kilograms of silver and gold to complete (Meyer, 1989). One of the more costly endeavors for the museum and the government of France's Fifth Republic has been to repurchase as much of the original furnishings as possible. However, because furniture with a royal provenance – and especially furniture that was made for Versailles – is a highly sought after commodity on the international market, the museum has spent considerable funds on retrieving much of the palace's original furnishings (Kemp, 1976).
In 2003, a new restoration initiative – the "Grand Versailles" project – was launched. Initiated shortly after the storms that devastated the gardens on December 26, 1999, which necessitated unexpected repair and replantation, the project, which will be on-going for the next seventeen years; and with a state endowment of €135 million allocated for the first seven years, the project will address such concerns as security for the palace, continued restorations, and the creation of new public spaces for tourists. In addition to state subsidization, the museum also profits from private and corporate patronage. Foundations such as the American Friends of Versailles, which has recently donated US$4 million for the restoration of thebosquet des trois fontaines – representing 2/3 of the total cost of the restoration, completed in June 2004 – and VINCI, which underwrote the €12 million restoration project for the Hall of Mirrors, which has been recently completed (Leloup, 2006).
We may never know the true amount spent on the creation of Versailles, and most current estimates are speculative. A recent estimate has placed the amount spent on Versailles during the Ancien Régime as US$2 billion (Littell, 2000). This figure in all probability is an under evaluation of the monies spent on Versailles. France's Fifth Republic expenditures alone that have been directed to restoration and maintenance at Versailles undoubtedly surpass those of the Sun King.
After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, with the Siege of Paris dragging on, the palace was the main headquarters of the Prussian army from 5 October 1870 until 13 March 1871. On 18 January 1871, Prussian King Wilhelm I was proclaimed German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors, and the German Empire was founded.
After the First World War, it hosted the opening of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, also on 18 January. Germany was blamed for causing the First World War in the Treaty of Versailles which had to be signed in the same room on 28 June 1919.
The ravages of war and neglect over the centuries left their mark on the palace and its huge park. Modern French governments of the post-World War II era have sought to repair these damages. They have on the whole been successful, but some of the more costly items, such as the vast array of fountains, have yet to be put back completely in service. As spectacular as they might seem now, they were even more extensive in the 18th century. The 18th-century waterworks at Marly— the machine de Marly that fed the fountains— was probably the biggest mechanical system of its time. The water came in from afar on monumental stone aqueducts, which have long ago fallen in disrepair or been torn down. Some aqueducts were never completed for want of resources or due to the exigencies of war. The search for sufficient supplies of water was in fact never fully realized even during the apogee of Versailles' glory as the seat of government, as the fountains could not be operated together satisfactorily for any significant periods of time.
|”The Hall of Mirrors as a military hospital during the Franco-Prussian War”, 1871 by Victor Bachereau-Reverchon.||”Proclamation of the German Empire, 18 January 1871”, 1877 by Anton von Werner.||“The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28 June 1919” by Sir William Orpen, KBE.|
Versailles became the home of the French nobility and the location of the royal court - thus becoming the center of French government. Louis XIV himself lived there, and symbolically the central room of the long extensive symmetrical range of buildings was the King's Bedchamber (La Chambre du Roi), which itself was centered on the lavish and symbolic state bed, set behind a rich railing not unlike a communion rail. Indeed, even the principle axis of the gardens themselves was conceived to radiate from this fulcrum. All the power of France emanated from this centre: there were government offices here; as well as the homes of thousands of courtiers, their retinues and all the attendant functionaries of court. By requiring that nobles of a certain rank and position spend time each year at Versailles, Louis prevented them from developing their own regional power at the expense of his own, and kept them from countering his efforts to centralize the French government in an absolute monarchy.
At various periods before Louis XIV established absolute rule, France, like the Holy Roman Empire lacked central authority and was not the unified state it was to become during subsequent centuries. During the Middle Ages some local nobles were at times more powerful than the French King and, although technically loyal to the King, they possessed their own provincial seats of power and government, culturally influential courts and armies loyal to them and not the King, and the right to levy their own taxes on their subjects. Some families were so powerful, they achieved international prominence and contracted marriage alliances with foreign royal houses to further their own political ambitions. Although nominally Kings of France, de facto royal power had at times been limited purely to the region around Paris.
Louis XIV’s elaborate rules of etiquette included the following:
In addition, etiquette ordained the order of prominence at court, limited or extended access based on rank or favor, rigidly maintained complex customs of address, and even who could sit or stand under what circumstances in the royal presence or that of the great nobles.
On record, Versailles has held two musical events in modern times.
In 1988 on 21 June and 22 June its courtyard played host to Pink Floyd during their "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" European tour, which was filmed. Footage from the show was used on the Delicate Sound of Thunder video.
In 2006, the French Government gave permission to American director Sofia Coppola to film her movie, Marie Antoinette, in the Palace of Versailles. This included the Hall of Mirrors for the wedding ball scenes, even though it was being renovated at the time.
Singer-songwriter Al Stewart released a song entitled "The Palace of Versailles", a song detailing the French Revolution, The Terror, and the military coup of Napoléon Bonaparte, from the perspective of "the lonely Palace of Versailles".
Rapper Jay-Z refers to the Hall of Mirrors in the song titled "Sweet," from his album American Gangster. "I can walk down the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, and be so satisfied when I look myself in the eyes."