The Palace of Versailles , or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. In French, it is known as the Château de Versailles.
When the château was built, Versailles was a country village; today, however, it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 20 kilometres southwest of the French capital. The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.
The earliest mention of the name of Versailles is in a document dated 1038, that is related to the village of Versailles. In 1575, the seigneury of Versailles was bought by Albert de Gondi, a naturalized Florentine, who 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. Eight years later, Louis obtained the seigneury of Versailles from the Gondi family and began to make enlargements to the château. This structure would become the core of the new palace. Louis XIII's successor, Louis XIV, had it expanded into one of the largest palaces in the world. Following the Treaties of Nijmegen in 1678, he began to gradually move the court to Versailles. The court was officially established there on 6 May 1682.
After the disgrace of Nicolas Fouquet in 1661, Louis confiscated Fouquet's estate and employed the talents of Le Vau, Le Nôtre, and Le Brun, who all had worked on Fouquet's grand château Vaux-le-Vicomte, for his building campaigns at Versailles and elsewhere. For Versailles, there were four distinct building campaigns.
The four building campaigns (1664–1710)
The first building campaign (1664–1668) commenced with the Plaisirs de l'Île enchantée (Pleasures of the Enchanted Island) of 1664, a fête that was held between 7 and 13 May 1664. The campaign involved alterations in the château and gardens to accommodate the 600 guests invited to the party.
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. Significant to the design and construction of the grands apartments is that the rooms of both apartments are of the same configuration and dimensions—a hitherto unprecedented feature in French palace design. Both the grand apartment du roi and the grand apartment de la reine formed a suite of seven enfilade rooms. 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.).
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 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's in landscaping the palace gardens.
Soon after the defeat of the War of the League of Augsburg (1688–1697), 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. 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 one years later during the reign of Louis XV.
Louis XV–Louis XVI (1722–1789)
During the reign of Louis XV, Versailles underwent transformation, designed by Louis Le Vau and his assistant Monsieur Paul Chatal, but not on the scale that had been seen during the reign of Louis XIV. The first project in 1722 was the completion of the Salon d'Hercule. 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. Equally significant was the destruction of the Escalier des Ambassadeurs (Ambassadors' Stair), the only fitting approach to the State Apartments, which Louis XV undertook to make way for apartments for his daughters.
The gardens remained largely unchanged from the time of Louis XIV; the completion of the Bassin de Neptune between 1738 and 1741 was the only important legacy Louis XV made to the gardens. Towards the end of his reign, Louis XV, under the advice of Ange-Jacques Gabriel, began to remodel the courtyard facades of the palace. With the objective revetting the entrance of the palace with classical facades, Louis XV began a project that was continued during the reign of Louis XVI, but which did not see completion until the 20th century.
Much of Louis XVI's contributions to Versailles were largely dictated by the unfinished projects left to him by his grandfather. Shortly after his ascension, Louis XVI ordered a complete replanting of the gardens with the intention of transforming the jardins français to an English-style garden, which had become popular during the late 18th century. In the palace, the library and the salon des jeux in the petit appartement du roi and the decoration of the petit appartement de la reine for Marie-Antoinette are among the finest examples of the style Louis XVI.
French Revolution (1789–1799)
On 6 October 1789, the royal family had to leave Versailles and move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, as a result of the Women's March on Versailles. During the early years of the French Revolution, preservation of the palace was largely in the hands of the citizens of Versailles. In October 1790, Louis XVI ordered the palace to be emptied of its furniture, requesting that most be sent to the Tuileries Palace. In response to the order, the mayor of Versailles and the municipal council met to draft a letter to Louis XVI in which they stated that if the furniture was removed, it would certainly precipitate economic ruin on the city. A deputation from Versailles met with the king on 12 October after which Louis XVI, touched by the sentiments of the residents of Versailles, rescinded the order. However, eight months later, the fate of Versailles was sealed.
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. To 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. 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. Following this decree, the château became a repository for art work confiscated from churches and princely homes. As a result collections were amassed at Versailles that eventually became part of the proposed museum.
Among the items found at Versailles at this time were 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 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 responsibilities for the château and assembled a team of conservators to oversee the various collections of the museum.
One of Dumont's first appointments was that of Huges Lagarde as bibliographer of the museum, on 10 messier an III (28 June 1795). Lagarde was a wealthy soap merchant from Marseille with strong political connections, With the abandonment of the palace, there remained no less than 104 libraries which contained in excess of 200,000 printed volumes and manuscripts. Lagarde, with his influential contacts 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.
Owing largely to the political vicissitudes that occurred in France during the 1790s, Versailles succumbed to further degradations. Mirrors were assigned by the finance ministry for the payment of debts incurred by the Republic; and draperies, upholstery, and fringes were confiscated and sent to the mint to recover 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 for use as a military hospital. Wounded soldiers were housed in the petit apartment du roi.
In 1797, the Muséum national was reorganised and renamed Musée spécial de l'École française. 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 in existence.
First Empire to July Monarchy (1800–1850)
With the advent of Napoléon and the First Empire, the status of Versailles changed again. Paintings and other art work that had previously been assigned to the Muséum national and the Musée spécial de l'École française were systematically dispersed to other locations and eventually the museum was closed. In accordance with the provisions of the 1804 Constitution, Versailles was designated as the Imperial palace located in the Department of the Seine-et-Oise.
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.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.
The Bourbon Restoration saw little activity at Versailles. Areas of the gardens were replanted but no significant restoration or modifications of the interiors were undertaken, despite the fact that Louis XVIII would often visit the palace and walk through the vacant rooms.Charles X chose the Tuileries Palace over Versailles and rarely visited his former home.
With the Revolution of 1830 and the establishment of the July Monarchy, the status of Versailles changed. In March 1832, the Loi de la Liste civile was promulgated, which designated Versailles as a crown dependency. Like Napoléon before him, Louis-Philippe chose to live at the Grand Trianon; however, unlike Napoléon, Louis-Philippe did have a grand design for Versailles.
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 had put him 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 major alterations.[ 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, the emperor at the king's home—Napoléon at Louis XIV's; in a word, it is having given to this magnificent book that is called French history this magnificent binding that is called Versailles (Victor Hugo).
The aile du Midi, was given over to the galerie des Balles, 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 Palace and was intended to glorify French military history from the Battle of Tolbiac (traditionally dated 495) 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. 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.
From the Second Empire (1850–present)
Gardens and palace of Versailles in the 1920s
Pierre de Nolhac arrived at the Palace of Versailles in 1887 and was appointed curator of the museum in 1892.Nolhac began to restore the palace to its appearance before the Revolution.Nolhac also organized events aimed at raising the awareness of potential donors to the Palace. The development of private donations led to the creation of the Friends of Versailles in June 1907.
Under the aegis of Gérald van der Kemp, of the museum from 1952 to 1980, the palace 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.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.
The Fifth Republic has enthusiastically promoted the museum as one of France's foremost tourist attractions. The palace, however, still serves political functions. Heads of state are regaled in the Hall of Mirrors; the Sénat and the Assemblée nationale meet in congress in Versailles to revise or otherwise amend the French Constitution, a tradition that came into effect with the promulgation of the 1875 Constitution.Public establishment of the museum and Château de Versailles Spectacles recently organized the Jeff Koons Versailles exhibition.