A Vision of Beauty
In 1693 at the time of his retirement, Le Notre, the King's gardener,
gave a gift to the King. He invited Louis XIV to select any paintings
he wished from his art collection of 250 paintings.
It is significant and noteworthy that many of the paintings which Louis XIV
selected are now available to view at the Louvre in Paris.
Included paintings of the 20 paintings which the king initially included in his small gallery are:
Albani's “Acteon Changing into a Stag”
“Apollo and Daphne”
“Salmacis and Hermaphrodite”
Claude Lorraine's “Seaport at Sunset”
Poussin's “Woman Taken in Adultery”
“Moses Saved from the Waters”
“Saint John Baptising the People”
Significant also that the themes of the paintings selected
were of a mythological nature, beauty (“Sea Port at Sunset” is
mystical, magical, beautiful) and religion.
The king had an eye for beauty, wished to create beauty.
He had a vision of Versailles from a young age. He had
often gone hunting there in his earlier days.
Where had stood atop the hill a little windmill which
his father would sleep in at nights after hunting in the
nearby forest of St Leger. Thereafter a little pavilion
was built by Louis XIII.
Nicholas Fouquet's “Vaux-le-Vicomte” may have been the
time for change and which eventually did inspire him to
start his own building plan. Prior to this time, Louis XIV
had been confined to older style palaces in Paris or Fontainebleu.
Vaux le Vicomte may have given him a glimpse of what was
achievable with new concepts, space and light, entertainment
areas and gardens.
His new finance Minister, Colbert, would have liked to have seen
Louis XIV devote more time and energy to the Louvre. However,
over time Louis XIV became so inspired by Versailles that he actually
would oversee personally the decorating and arranging of art works
himself at Versailles, including the gardens also.
If the king was not in attendance,
as he may have been away, he would write for updates to be given of
the progress of the works, fountains, flowers.
Louise de la Valliere was at one
time an inspiration for the beautiful gardens of Versailles. Being of a serene
and peaceful nature the softer images of the flowers and parterres would have
complemented her beauty also.
The Grand Canal and gondolas which were given by the Senate of
Venice enhanced the colours and magic of the landscaped scene with
their flags and pennants and sailors in bright coloured livery.
Beautiful white swans glided gracefully along the Grand Canal.
The king enjoyed water concerts and fire-works displays but at one time
his doctor told him he should forgo these activities.
In winter the royal party enjoyed sleigh rides and ice-
skating on the Grand Canal. The king's son enjoyed
these winter sports.
The fountains were magical. It was almost as a gift that the two
Francini brothers arrived at the right time to enhance the
fountains and gardens with beautiful water works.
Wonderful arches of spray would form on a summer's day
where the courtiers and ladies could walk
under the jets of water without becoming wet.
So many fountains and jets of spray, at least fourteen hundred.
The Labyrinthe being quite magical was the place of mythological
statues, animals and stories with the figures of Cupid and Aesop
at the entrance. Unfortunately, this Labyrinthe no longer exists.
At the time it was a marvel and admired by many influential people.
There was also a Marais which had belonged to Madame de Montespan,
creating the artificial with nature, lights from a fountain and tree.
Louis XIV ordered the Marais to be
replaced later. As also, the Trianon de Porcelaine, known as a Palace of
Flora, for its beautiful and rare flowers. Flowers of every kind. This was
subsequently replaced by the Marble Trianon. Sometimes in the evenings
the king and some of his attendants and ladies would visit these flower gardens.
There is a note written by an English author: from Project Gutenburg's
“The Story of Versailles” by Francis Loring Payne:
"In the midst of all the austerities imposed upon him by the ambition of Madame de Maintenon, the King went to Trianon to inhale the breath of the flowers which he had planted there, of the rarest and most odoriferous kind. On the infrequent occasions when the Court was permitted to accompany him thither to share in his evening collation, it was a beautiful spectacle to see so many charming women wandering in the midst of the flowers on the terrace rising from the banks of the canal. The air was so rich with the mingled perfume of violets, orange flowers, jessamines, tuberoses, hyacinths and narcissuses that the King and his visitors were sometimes obliged to fly from the overpowering sweets. The flowers in the parterres were arranged in a thousand different figures, which were constantly changed, so that one might have supposed it to be the work of some fairy, who, passing over the gardens, threw upon them each time a new robe aglow with color."
The Hall of Mirrors, the “Galerie des Glaces” was a wonderful show piece.
Thousands of wax candles glimmered in chandeliers of crystal
and silver ware creating an effect of extreme beauty. Silverware, beautiful
views overlooking the gardens, the rays of the sunlight which at different times
of the day would pattern the marble floor would have created a beauteous
and peaceful image.
At sunset the rays would have shone directly into the Hall of Mirrors in all of
its gilded splendour creating a magical scene, sublime with the beauty and
colour of the sun.
The marble floor and silverware, including orange trees in silver vases,
were subsequently replaced.
Flowers, clothing, ornamentation and entertainments created a wonderful
theatre of life.
Louis XIV was a magical king who created a show piece of magnificence
and wonderful landscaped gardens which were admired
and followed by other European courts.
Tradition and ceremony, religion, were all important to him.
He was also loved by the people.
I have visited Versailles three times and each time it is with a sense of wonder
that I first see a statue of the king on a horse at the entrance gates and the grand
setting of the courtyard and buildings which housed so many people when the
court and courtiers lived at Versailles. The centre of court and government.
A scheme of things.