Behind the Hall of Mirrors, symbol of the power of the King stands the remarkable project manager Charles le Brun (1619-1690).
As “Premier peintre du Roi" first painter of the King, as director of the Gobelins (royal factory of tapestries and furniture), as a chancellor of the royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, le Brun superintended all the decoration of the palace of Versailles.
He designed the decorations, the paintings of the royal apartments, the ornaments of the woodworks, the tapestries, even the locks. He directed the many teams, and could give a unit of style to the décor.
One could say of this complete decorator that “all arts worked under him”.
From 1678 to 1684, Charles le Brun decorated 1.000 m2 of the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors with paintings illustrating the military campaigns of Louis XIV and his actions of interior policy. He upset the codes of official painting by painting for the first time in this type of compositions the face of the King.
As what concerns the 357 mirrors it is said that Venetian glassmakers were attracted in France by Colbert. These glassmakers coming from Murano were pursued in France by Venetians who tried to assassinate them to prevent the transmission of their production secrecy. A quite profitable manufacturing as Venetian mirrors did cost much more than a painting of Rubens in that time!
Recent chemical analyzes showed that the mirrors of Versailles were indeed manufactured in France, by the Saint-Gobain company created by Louis XIV, because typical components coming from Normandy were found in these mirrors.
At the time the silvering of the mirrors was done with tin and mercury what involved a high mortality among the workmen exposed to the toxic mercury vapours.
During the recent restoration of the gallery 30% of the old mirrors had to be replaced whereas silvering with mercury is prohibited since 1850.
Now, as visitors will see, the mirrors with mercury give special reflections, tonality and depth, while modern mirrors produce rather flat images.
Old mirrors were found at antique dealers and in the attics of the French Senate.
Since the silvering of these old mirrors contains approximately 19% mercury an analysis of the air of the hall of mirrors was carried out.
Be reassured the content of mercury in the air of the gallery is lower than the WHO's standards.
In the beginning the castle of the Petit Trianon was built (1768) for the marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV. But she died before the end of the works and was replaced by, Madame Du Barry, who succeeded as favourite until the death of the king Louis XV in 1774. The castle was built in a Neo-Greek style by the architect Angel-Jacques Gabriel; it is a masterpiece which breaks with the rococo style.
However today the Petit Trianon is closely associated with the person of queen Marie-Antoinette. She received the property from her husband king Louis XVI.
She made it her intimate refuge far from the protocol and the pageantry of the court of Versailles. She had the Petit Trianon refurnished, redecorated and she refitted the gardens. The whole at a high cost.
Only her friends were invited. The excluded and jealous French nobility took umbrage at the Petit Trianon and called it “Small Vienna”. Marie-Antoinette did not realize that her retirement and the committed expenses were going to crystallize all criticisms against her palace. While isolating herself from the French nobility the Queen would find herself without her natural supports when the revolution burst out.
On the first floor the Living room called "Salon de Compagnie", decorated with splendid woodworks carved by Guibert, is one of the most beautiful rooms of the castle. The pieces of furniture are contemporary of Marie-Antoinette.
I always liked malachite (hydrated copper carbonate if my mineralogy souvenirs are right) it is thus with great pleasure that I discovered this “Salon des Malachites” in the right wing (room n° 13) of the Grand Trianon.
In the beginning it was the “Cabinet of Sunset” of Louis XIV, then the bedroom of the duchess of Burgundy and finally the drawing-room of emperor Napoleon I.
The blocks of malachite, extracted of the Ural Mountains, were offered to Napoleon by the tsar Alexander I after the signature of the treaty of Tilsitt. It should be known that at the time malachite was a Russian speciality. There is at the Palace of St-Petersburg another famous malachite room.
The furniture elements with malachite were created by Percier and realised by Jacob-Desmalter in 1809. The basin, the candelabra and the pieces of furniture with malachite top were initially at the Palais des Tuileries before they were moved to decorate this room of the Grand Trianon.
The remainder of the furniture of the room is decorated with fabrics of red colour what causes a seizing contrast with the green malachite.
It was not without emotion that I pushed my head in the entry - one does not go further - of the theatre of Marie-Antoinette. This simple building located at a hundred meters of the palace of the Petit Trianon contains an oval room which was the private theatre of the Queen. It was built in 1780 by the architect Richard Mique.
It is a charming little theatre with decorative pasteboard sculptures, with blue hangings, a gold-embroidered curtain. The stage is larger than the auditorium.
It is an interesting theatre from the technical point of view because the machinery is the original one from the period and the decoration is also original though restored. Close to the entry one can see a video explaining the lighting of this theatre by the means of candles.
It is also a moving place which reveals the personality of Marie-Antoinette always in search of entertainments and who liked to perform on scene. She was very elegant but it is known as that she sang better than she played roles.
This place is also an example of the thoughtlessness, even more, the political unconsciousness of Marie-Antoinette. By holding the representations with a public of close friends she induced jealousy among the nobility which was not invited. Moreover she played, against the will of King Louis XVI, the role of Rosine in “the Barber of Seville” of Beaumarchais, an obvious satire of the nobility whereas the spirit of the revolution was already moving in France.
The empress of Austria Maria -Theresa told her daughter Marie-Antoinette, who had in no way inherited the political cleverness of her mother, to stop performing.
The visit of the “Grands Appartments du Roi” begins with this splendid and large "Hercules drawing-room" at the junction of the central body and the northern wing.
This room built between 1712 and 1736 by Robert de Cotte occupies the site of a former chapel. It is remarkable by the decoration of the walls with marble of various colours, the many pilasters with the Corinthian style capitals of gilded bronze and especially by its marble chimney decorated with splendid bronzes of Antoine Vassé evoking Hercules. On top of the chimney hangs a painting of Veronese “Rebecca and Eliézer”.
On the wall opposite the chimney hangs another large Veronese “the Meal at Simon the Pharisee” offered to Louis XIV by the Republic of Venice in 1664.
Still more remarkable is the ceiling painted by François Moyne representing the Apotheosis of Hercules. This immense painting painted with oil on strengthened canvas was extremely admired in its time but the painter exhausted by his work committed suicide whereas he had received the title of “First Painter of the King”.
It is in this room that took place the ball given by Louis XV for the marriage of his eldest daughter Elisabeth with the Infant of Spain in 1739.
The festivities, there were many in this room, were lit by candles what fouled up the vault and the painting of Le Moyne whose restoration of 480 m2 at a height of 15 m was finished in 2001.
The Hercules Drawing-Room is one of the most remarkable parts of the Royal apartments and deserves a somewhat lengthier visit. The light is very beautiful as the "Salon d'Hercule" is exposed to the east and the west.
When visiting the drawing-rooms of Venus, Abundance, Diane and Mars one can imagine going back a few centuries and attend one of the evening receptions which Louis XIV offered to the Court in his Grand Apartments three times per week from 18 to 22 h. The festivities began with music, dances, parts of billiards in the Diane room (the king played billiards very well) and cards.
A light dinner was served in the Venus room on silver tables weighing more than 300 kg. These tables were covered with dishes, vases, candlesticks in silver like all the furniture. In the Abundance room were the dressers, also in silver, for fine liquors, wines, tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
The rooms were lit by thousands of candles. The Mars room was the ballroom.
The Venus drawing-room owes its name to the mythological painting of the ceiling by Houasse. The room is decorated with "trompe l'oeil" paintings which give the effect to be sculptures and of a statue of Louis XIV.
The rather small room known as "Abundance room" owes its name to the painting of the ceiling representing “Abundance and the Liberality” of the painter Rene-Antoine Houasse (1683). The room opened on the Cabinet of Curiosities which contained the royal collections.
I liked the walls covered with an emerald green and gold velvet (restored in 1955) what contrasts with other decorations of the Royal Apartments. As we can see it today the décor of the "Salon de l'Abondance" goes back to King Louis Philippe. In the Diane drawing-room stands a remarkable bust of the king by the Italian sculptor Le Bernin.
In that period all the rooms of the "Grands Appartements du Roi" were decorated with silver furniture. There remains nothing of it. In December 1689 the King had all the silver furniture of his Apartments melted down to finance his wars. That represented 20 tons of silver. All these beautiful artefacts in silver had cost 10 million "livres" (pounds) of that time; Louis XIV obtained only 2 million livres. An enormous destruction of art!
I read here "Versailles is mostly the creation of Louis XIV (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793)"
To avoid confusion Louis XIV was born in 1638 and died in 1715.
It was Louis XVI, born in 1754, who died on the guillotine in 1793!
The comparison between the relatively modest room of the queen at the Petit Trianon and the royal apartments of the Palace of Versailles is striking. The small dimensions of the bed of the queen in her room at the Petit Trianon show well that here she lived as a single woman away off her royal husband.
It is known that Marie-Antoinette in her married life had known a humiliating experience. Louis XVI had been unable during 7 years to consummate the marriage. This was known in France as well as from all royal courts of Europe.
The room is entirely authentic, the furniture of origin was found, repurchased and restored. It is refined furniture signed Georges Jacob. The clock of the Queen decorated with the two eagles of the house of Austria is back on its site.
Contiguous to this room is the cabinet “of the moving mirrors” who by means of a system of sliding slopes allowed the queen to shut her windows when she wanted to isolate herself.b%
The interesting part of the northern wing - Galleries du XVIIe siècle - by which starts the visit of the castle is certainly the chapel (inaugurated in 1710) devoted to Saint Louis the patron of the French monarchy.
It comprises two vertical spaces:
1° the centre of the nave which one sees from the ground floor of the circuit of the 17th c. galleries where the courtiers would stand, the ladies of the royal court occupied the lateral galleries. They would stand with their back to the altar in order to look at the king.
2° the tribune overlooking the nave located on the same floor as the royal apartments.
It is from there that Louis XIV and his successors attended the daily mass at 10 am. The mass lasted approximately a half hour. Each day a new work composed by Lully, Lalande and others is sung by the chorus of the chapel.
The architecture is an original creation of Jules Hardouin-Mansart who combines Gothic and Baroque art characteristics. The decoration is exceptional by the extent of carved work.
There is a striking similarity with the Sainte-Chapelle in the Cité of Paris: an upper level for the king and a lower level for his subjects.
In the time of King Louis XIV till Louis XVI an 80 m length monumental gate separated the Main courtyard from the Royal Court. The gate was created by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart about 1680 and was destroyed by the revolutionaries in 1789.
The reconstitution of this Royal Gate started in 2006 and was ended in July 2008. It required 15 tons of iron and the cooperation of the best craftsmen of this art. The gilders patiently applied by hand 100.000 gold sheets. These gold leaves measure 8 X 8 cm and have only 2 microns thickness!
The courtyard of the Château de Versailles appears like it was prior to the French Revolution but there have been a number of critics in France about this reconstitution.
The bronze equestrian statue of Louis XIV set up at this spot in 1836 by king Louis-Philippe has been removed and is being restored. The famous statue, so often photographed by tourists, will not return to its original site now occupied by the restored gate but will be located on the Place d'Armes directly in the axis of the castle.
Just back from a visit to Versailles (22/07/2008) I observed that a number of information given on the official website is not actual anymore.
When you pass the exterior gate you will have on the left (photo 1) a panel indicating Billets - Tickets > where you have to buy your ticket (this is unchanged). On the right of that panel stands one with indication A > this entrance is for all individuals having a ticket or a Paris museum pass (photo 2 at 4 pm.).
There is no gate C anymore for the Paris Museum Pass in contradiction with what your will read on the Paris museum pass and previous info from Versailles website. On the extreme right is the entrance for groups.
As more and more visitors buy their ticket in advance you find already a line at 9 hour at the opening at the gate . Here visitors pass in a prefab "pavilion" with 3 detector frames (photo 3). They check your bag.
From here you can go where you want, usually the circuit of the "Château de Versailles" with the highlights "Galerie des Glaces" and "Chambre du Roi".
The crowds at the Château de Versailles attain a maximum in summer season, by nice weather (no fun to visit the kilometres of gardens in the rain), and on Tuesday when the Louvre is closed.
Don't think that there will be no lines in the late afternoon. My pic n°4 shows a 200 m line for buying tickets at 16.30 h but on an exceptional sunny day.
Versailles is a small town situated 25 km away from Paris. It’s an easy day trip by train. Go early because there are long lines. Upon our arrival we first went to the Tourist Information (across the street from the train station) and we bought our tickets there in less than 5’!
The palace opens at 9:00 but there were people already at the palace.
There are different tickets depending what you want to see (the palace, the gardens, the trianons), it was very cold so we decided to enjoy only the palace and part of the gardens so we payed €15 (but those who were under 24 didn’t pay anything, they just showed their ids at the gate!).
It was just 5’ walk from the Info until we saw the statue of Louis XIV (pic1), 2’ later we crossed the golden gate and went to the right and started exploring the palace. One of the first rooms was one of the most impressive too. It’s the Chapelle Royale (pic 2) where the king used to visit every morning at 10.00.
The palace is huge, it has about 700 rooms but you can see only some of them. Most of the rooms/halls are filled with paintings, sculptures, tapestries, amazing murals, rare furniture etc Famous Italian and French artists made great job in here, it seems the kings had a lot of money to pay for all these great pieces of art :) The palace was built in 17th century, expanded many times and has more than 2000 windows and 1250 fireplaces!
I had a feeling everyone was running to see the Hall of Mirrors which is the highlight in the palace but in the way you will miss a lot of great corners (pic 3).
That’s why you have to read a guide book or use the audio guide, some paintings in the palace have long stories behind them, so we went slowly and enjoyed our tour and when we finally reached the Hall Of Mirrors we just stayed for some minutes because it was full of people (pic 4) and you cant really admire the 17 mirrors that face 17 windows. The rooms of King and Queen (pic 5) weren’t as impressive as we thought but as I said what I really loved were the details here and there.
The palace is open Tuesday-Sunday 9.00-18.30(until 17.30 october-april)
By itself this small artificial cave located between the "Belvedere" and the "Orangerie" (N° 9 on the tourist map of the “Field of Marie-Antoinette”) has nowadays nothing charming but the Queen liked to take refuge there near the small pond which is overlooked by the "Belvedere".
She was indeed in the cave on this afternoon of October 5th, 1789 when a page brought a message announcing that the Parisian rioters, mainly women and some revolutionary leaders disguised as women, were marching on Versailles and that she was requested at the castle.
King Louis XVI had been meanwhile found in the woods where he was hunting as usual.
Some members of the royal council advised them to flee Versailles but the King, as always, hesitated.
It was the last day in Versailles of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The beginning of their tragic end.
Louis XIV particularly liked the Trianon and would stay there in the summer for short “holidays” close to the castle of Versailles but away from the strict obligations of the royal court. He occupied there successively three apartments.
The room in the left wing is particularly elegant. It is preceded by a large cabinet called Mirror Room.
After Louis XIV the room was occupied by the Grand Dauphin. With the Revolution the pieces of furniture of the Trianon were dispersed. It is the emperor Napoleon I who restored and arranged this palace. The former room of King Louis XIV became the room of the empress Marie-Louise. The bed was ordered by Napoleon for the Palace des Tuileries.
Later king Louis Philippe (1830 - 1848) had this bed widened and transferred to the Grand Trianon for him and queen Marie-Amélie. The back of the bed carries the letters LP topped by a crown.
This room is often called "Room of the Empress"; furniture is from the Empire and Louis Philippe period but the mural decoration is generally that of the time of Louis XIV.
The family living room of king Louis-Philippe is one of my preferred rooms of the right wing of the Grand Trianon. In the beginning there were two rooms, a bedroom and an anteroom of the first apartment of Louis XIV. Under Napoleon I these were the Officers room and the Princes room.
King Louis-Philippe joined the two rooms into a living room intended for the meetings of the royal family and their guests.
Paintings on mythological subjects date from the end of the 17th century.
The furniture was made by Brion and Jacob-Desmalter. The princesses could arrange their needlework in numbered drawers of the family work-tables.
It is a very beautiful, very clear living room with beautiful harmonies of colours.
This very beautiful gallery, 52 m long and 7 m broad, ends the right wing of the Grand Trianon palace and leads towards Trianon-sous-Bois (not visited).
The building shelters the flower beds from the northern wind.
The gallery contains the collection of 21 paintings of the painter Jean Cotelle carried out about 1690 at the request of the King Louis XIV. These paintings describe the gardens of Trianon and Versailles such as they were at the time of the king.
They are historical documents which served for the recent restoration of the gardens of Versailles.
They were replaced by other paintings under Napoleon but found again their place in the gallery in 1913.
Remarkable are also the 5 Empire crystal chandeliers with 24 lights which came from the crystal manufacture of Montcenis.
In the niches there are sculptures of Lespingola representing children.
Louis-Philippe transformed the gallery into dining room.
This use of this beautiful gallery is still actual. The Cotelle Gallery can be rented for private events and can contain 200 people.
This would be a fine place for a next international VT meeting on condition of finding a very generous sponsor!