|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
Wonders Of The World:
St. Mark's Church
Tower Of London
Cathedral Of Antwerp
The Taj Mahal
Cathedral Of Notre Dame
Cathedral Of York
Mosque Of Omar
Cathedral Of Burgos
Saint Peter's Cathedral
Cathedral Of Strasburg
The Shway Dagohn
Cathedral Of Siena
Town Hall Of Louvain
Cathedral Of Seville
Cathedral of Cologne
Palce Of Versailles
Cathedral Of Lincoln
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The first palace of Versailles was a hunting-lodge built by Louis XIII. at the angle of the present Rue de la Pompe and Avenue de Saint-Cloud. This he afterwards found too small, and built, in 1627, a moated castle, on the site of a windmill in which he had once taken shelter for the night: The buildings of this chateau still exist, respected, as the home of his father, in all the alterations of Louis XIV., and they form the centre of the present place. In 1632 Louis XIII. became seigneur of Versailles by purchase from Francois de Gondi, Archbishop of Paris.
The immense works which Louis XIV. undertook here, and which were carried out by the architect Mansart, were begun in 1661, and in 1682 the residence of the Court was definitely fixed at Versailles, connected by new roads with the capital. Colbert made a last effort to keep the king at Paris, and to divert the immense sums which were being swallowed up in Versailles to the completion of the Louvre. The very dulness of the site of Versailles, leaving everything to be created, was an extra attraction in the eyes of Louis XIV. The great difficulty to be contended with in the creation of Versailles was the want of water, and this, after various other attempts had failed, it was hoped to overcome by a canal which was to bring the waters of the Eure to the royal residence. In 1681 22,000 soldiers and 6,00o horses were employed in this work, with such results of sickness that the troops encamped at Maintenon, where the chief part of the work was, became unfit for any service. On October 12, 1678, Mme, de Sevigne writes to Bussy-Rabutin: -
The king wishes to go to Versailles; but it seems that God does not, to judge from the difficulty of getting the buildings ready for occupation and the dreadful mortality of the workmen who are carried away every night in waggons filled with the dead. This terrible occurrence is kept secret so as not to create alarm and not to decry the air of this favori rara merite. You know this bon mot of Versailles."
Nine millions were expended in the Aqueduct of Maintenon, of which the ruins are still to be seen, then it was interrupted by the war of 1688, and the works were never continued. Instead, all the water of the pools and the snow falling on the plain between Rambouillet and Versailles was brought to the latter by a series of subterranean watercourses.
No difficulties, however-not even pestilence, or the ruin of the country by the enormous cost-were allowed to interfere with " les plaisirs du roi." The palace rose, and its gigantic gardens were peopled with statues, its woods with villages.
Under Louis XV. Versailles was chiefly remarkable as being the scene of the extravagance of Mme, de Pompdour and the turpitude of Mme. du Barry. Mme. Campan has described for us the life, the very dull life, there of
" Mesdames," daughters of the king. Yet, till the great Revolution, since which it has been only a shadow of its former self, the town of Versailles drew all its life from the chateau.
Approaching from the town on entering the grille of the palace from the Place d' Armes we find ourselves in the vast Cour des Statues - " solennelle et morne." In the centre is an equestrian statue of Louis XIV. by Petitot and Cartellier. Many of the surrounding statues were brought from the Pont de la Concorde at Paris. Two projecting wings shut in the Cour Royale, and separate it from the Cour des Princes on the left, and the Cour de la Chapelle on the right. Beyond the Cour Royale, deeply recessed amongst later buildings is the court called, from its pavement, the Cour de Marbre, surrounded by the little old red chateau of Louis XIII.
The Cour de Marbre was sometimes used as a theatre under Louis XIV., and the opera of Alcestis was given there. It has a peculiar interest, for no stranger can look up at the balcony of the first floor without recalling Marie Antoinette presenting herself there, alone, to the fury of the people, October 6, 1789.
The palace of Versailles has never been inhabited by royalty since the chain of carriages drove into this court on October 6, to convey Louis XVI. and his family to Paris.
From the Grande Cour the gardens may be reached by passages either from the Cour des Princes on the left, or from the Cour de la Chapelle on the right. This palace has had three chapels in turn. The first, built by Louis XIIL, was close to the marble staircase. The second, built by Louis XIV., occupied the site of the existing Salon d'Hercule. The present chapel, built 1699-1710, is the last work of Mansart.
Here we may think of Bossuet, thundering before Louis XIV., " les royaumes meurent, sire, comme les rois," and of the words of Massillon, " Si Fesus-Christ paraissait dans ce temple, au milieu de cette assemblee, la plus auguste de 1'univers, pour vous juger, pour faire le terrible discernement," etc. Here we may imagine Louis XIV. daily assisting at the Mass, and his courtiers, especially the ladies, attending also to flatter him, but gladly escaping, if they thought he would not be there...
All the furniture of Versailles was sold during the Revolution (in 1793), and, though a few pieces have been recovered, the palace is for the most part unfurnished, and little more than a vast picture-gallery. From the ante-chamber of the chapel open two galleries on the ground floor of the north wing. One is the Galerie des Sculptures; the other, divided by different rooms looking on the garden, is the Galerie de l'Histaire de France. The first six rooms of the latter formed the apartments of the Due de Maine, the much indulged son of Louis XIV. and Mme. de Maintenon.
At the end of the gallery (but only to be entered now from the Rue des Reservoirs) is the Salle de 1' Opera. In spite of the passion of Louis XIV. for dramatic representations, no theatre was built in the palace during his reign. Some of the plays of Moliere and Racine were acted in improvised theatres in the park; others, in the halls of the palace, without scenery or costumes; the Athalie of Racine, before the King and Mme. de Maintenon, by the young ladies of Saint-Cyr. The present Opera House was begun by Jacques Ange-Gabriel under Louis XV. for Mme. de Pompadour and finished for Mme. du Barry.
The Opera House was inaugurated on the marriage of the Dauphin with Marie Antoinette, and nineteen years after was the scene of that banquet, the incidents of which were represented in a manner so fatal to the monarchy, given by the body-guard of the king to the officers of a regiment which had arrived from Flanders...
The garden front of the palace has not yet experienced the soothing power of age: it looks almost new; two hundred years hence it will be magnificent. The long lines of the building, with its two vast wings, are only broken by the top of the chapel rising above the wing on the left.
The rich masses of green formed by the clipped yews at the sides of the gardens have the happiest effect, and contrast vividly with the dark background of chestnuts, of which the lower part is trimmed, but the upper falls in masses of heavy shade, above the brilliant gardens with their population of statues. These grounds are the masterpiece of Lenotre, and of geometrical gardening, decorated with vases, fountains, and orange-trees. Lovers of the natural may find great fault with these artificial gardens, but there is much that is grandiose and noble in them; and, as Voltaire says: " II est plus facile de critiquer Versailles que de le refaire."
The gardens need the enlivenment of the figures, for which they were intended as a background, in the gay Courts of Louis XIV. and Louis XV. as represented in the pictures of Watteau; but the Memoirs of the time enable us to repeople them with a thousand forms which have long been dust, centring around the great king, "Se promenant dans ses jardins de Versailles, dans son fauteuil a roues."
The sight of the magnificent terraces in front of the palace will recall the nocturnal promenades of the Court, so much misrepresented by the enemies of Marie Antoinette.
Very stately is the view down the main avenue- great fountains of many figures in the foreground; then the brilliant Tapis Ilert, between masses of rich wood; then the Bassin d' Alpollon, and the great canal extending to distant meadows and lines of natural poplars.