The Artwork of Versailles

A young Marie Antoinette.

A young Marie Antoinette. By Jean-Baptiste Charpentier le Vieux. Currently hanging in the second antechamber of the Dauphin.

I was going to write a blog post based on the pictures I’d taken of various artwork at the Chateau de Versailles. This was meant to complement the other two posts I’ve created to share the pictures I took at the palace.


I stumbled upon Google Earth Project’s collection of Versailles’ art and was shamed into submission. Google has officially taken over the world. I’m aware this (meaning Google Art not Google world dominance, which is old news) is not something brand new, which is comforting since the end of the Mayan calendar is near. (This whole Google Art Project makes me fear that the end of the Mayan calendar will lead directly into the beginning of the Age of Google. A Google-apocalypse.)

Too bad I didn’t cotton on to the Google Art Project earlier. Everyone from the National Ballet of Canada to the Latvian National Museum of Art are part of this amazing effort.

Here’s the link to the collection of the Chateau de Versailles:

And here, you can do a walk-through of the palace:

The entirety of the collection is, naturally, worth a look. You can click on the pictures to zoom in, and click details to get some in-depth information about each artwork. Many of them also have educational videos included.

I admit to being most interested in the portraits, especially the ones of people I don’t know well, such as Louis de France, Duke of Burgundy or Maria Leszczinska. But it’s good to see better-known portraits like this one of Louis XIV, or this one of Marie Antoinette and her family.

Read more . . . Continue reading

Versailles–the Details

To continue the theme of images from Versailles, I have brought out some images of the details of Versailles. These are bits and pieces of the palace on a more human scale. I may at some point get a chance to pinpoint where each photo is from. Until then, enjoy them for what they are!


Boiseries are highly-decorate wall panels, common in 18th-century decor. They were often white with gilt, but of course the design was entirely contingent on the whims of personal tastes. Rooms at the time were designed as a whole, and to-order. Furniture, upholstery, mirrors, molding–it was all custom-made for the room it was put into. Below are some examples of boiseries in Versailles. I was struck by the intricate beauty of the designs. After so many centuries they have a “shabby chic” appeal–just enough age to show character.


If you ever go to Versailles, don’t forget to look up. All the ceilings are painted–every damn inch of them. The style is decidedly rococo, of the time of Louis XIV. It’s all allegorical, and themed. The state apartments, such as the Salon de Mars and the Salon d’Hercule, are painted accordingly with images of their eponymous Greek gods. Everything that isn’t painted is gilded. It makes for a spectacular–but to my eyes, rather gaudy–display. The idea, of course, was to make a statement. These were public rooms. It’s no mistake that the king appears among the gods.

Furniture and Doorways

Of course, no one really lived in the state apartments; they were for display purposes, mostly.  Even the public rooms, however, were part of a large, working household. The more intimate sections of the palace, like the apartments of the Dauphin and Dauphine (in this case referring to Louis XVI’s parents, who died before becoming king and queen) or the apartments of Mesdames Tantes (Louis XVI’s maiden aunts), give a better idea of how life was actually lived. Below are some pictures. The two pictures on the bottom left are from the Queen’s Bedroom. On the left is an open door, through which Marie-Antoinette escaped when the palace was attacked. On the right, if you look closely you can see a doorway which led into the more private rooms beyond.

The Beauty of Versailles

I have had the good fortune to travel a bit in my life. I have been all around the United States–which is an entire world of possibilities in and of itself–and to Europe three times. On two occasions, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Chateau de Versailles. Most people think exclusively of the palace when they hear the name Versailles, but it’s actually a town as well as a palace. The chateau was a small hunting lodge before Louis XIV decided to make it his primary home, his showpiece, his stage, and the center of power. Nobles flocked here to vie for the honor of handing the king his shirt (it kept them busy and from causing trouble). The palace remained the center of power and government until the French Revolution. Indeed, the customs and etiquette that the Sun King imposed had hardly changed on the day Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette left the palace for the final time.

But above all, the Chateau de Versailles is a work of immense architectural and landscape beauty. It has been maintained in the 17th– and 18th-century traditions it was built in. Roaming through the palace, even while surrounded by fellow tourists, one gets a real taste for how the palace must have felt two hundred fifty years ago. In fact, the crowds of sight-seers are period-appropriate, though there were fewer digital cameras and blue jeans in the 1700s. Anyone who was decently dressed was admitted to the palace and could freely roam the public rooms (the Hall of Mirrors, the Salon d’Hercule, etc). They didn’t necessarily have access to the monarchs, but they could see the king and/or queen pass by.

Since I’m sure the readers of this blog would be interested in the photos, I’ve included some beauty shots of Versailles below. I will add more posts later with images of the details of Versailles and the artwork of Versailles.

On a related programming note: I will attempt to update this blog more regularly, but at the moment I’m pretty well wrapped up in my current research project (the Antebellum South). If I go off on a tangent now and then, please forgive me and enjoy it for what it’s worth!

The Splendor of Painting on Porcelain (Chateau de Versailles)

The Chateau de Versailles is hosting what sounds to be a fantastic exhibition of painting on porcelain. Good porcelain in the 18th century was painted by hand, often with idealized, almost saccharine scenes like something from Watteau (which isn’t to denigrate either the porcelain or Watteau). Young women in Europe and the American colonies would often paint porcelain themselves as a folk art. Many were extremely talented artists, though of course there were professionals who painted porcelain as well.

Versailles was filled with various types of porcelain, from teapots to chamber pots (legend has it that there was a chamber pot with Ben Franklin’s face painted on the bottom!). This particular exhibition is of the porcelain of Charles Nicolas Dodin, whose work came from the Vincennes-Sèvres factory. Sèvres porcelain was well-known and sought after in its day. It was considered the height of good (and expensive) taste. Today, I’m sure it’s equally as impressive.

If you hurry–and I mean hurry–you can see the exhibition at the Chateaus de Versailles. It’s only on until September 9th (see what I mean about hurrying?).

Here is a link to the page on the Chateau’s official site:

Annie Leibowitz Shoots Marie Antoinette

Although this is only tangentially related to the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, I thought some of the readers of this blog might enjoy the following video. It’s Annie Leibowitz shooting the 2007 film Marie Antoinette. I am a fan of history, and historical accuracy in particular, but I’ll forgive the fact that the costumes weren’t a hundred percent accurate. Why? Because the costumes are just so damn beautiful. The photo shoot was done at Versailles.

Versailles: The Dream of a King

Here’s a treat for everyone. This was one of BBC’s wonderful documentaries. I miss a lot of things about the UK, but I think I miss the fantastic nonfiction programming the most. They put on shows with–shocker–real history instead of fluff or stuff that isn’t in the least bit historical (I’m looking at you, History Channel).

The Chateau de Versailles

This program focuses largely on Louis XIV, the Sun King, who of course built Versailles. Louis was extraordinarily important to ancien regime France. He essentially created the court culture, which was the culture of the ruling elite of the country. He chose to bring his nobility to him, to have them wait on him, and to have them squabble with one another over who got to hand him his shirt. In the meantime, they weren’t causing Louis any trouble. When he was very young, those pesky nobles had been causing all kinds of trouble. They called it the Fronde.

A hundred years later or so, at the time of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Louis’s rules were still being strictly enforced. The king and queen were put on very public display and their every bodily function was accompanied by a list of rules and precedents. Marie-Antoinette hated the stuffy rules. She wanted to do things her way, meaning less formally. That got her in trouble all around, but that is another story altogether. The point is that even in the time of Jeanne de La Motte, Marie-Antoinette, and all our favorite characters, Louis’s presence was still very much felt.

This documentary is a very nice overview of Louis and his palace, which were intertwined  both during his life and after his death.

Note: This is part one. You’ll have to click on part two when this video ends.

Acquisitions of the Palace of Versailles

I found this on the official site of the Chateau de Versailles, and was interested in the items recently acquired by the palace.

Click here to get more info on the acquisitions and see pictures.

As the page will probably be updated in the future, I’m going to quote a few of the items I found most interesting.

These elegant folding stools form part of a series of sixty-four ordered for the Games Room of Queen Marie-Antoinette in the royal residence of Compiègne, delivered in two groups to the Queen by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Sené (1748 – 1803). Twenty-four of these folding stools were immediately placed in the throne room of the Château de Fontainebleau where they can still be seen. These folding stools will be installed in the bedchamber of Louis XV.

I find this interesting because it’s indicative of what has been lost from the Chateau. During the Revolution, the contents of the Chateau were destroyed or sold off. These stools, for example, are from another palace entirely, but have been used to recreate part of the Chateau de Versailles. The downside of this is that 18th-century design was customized to the room. Furnishings, wall panels, and drapery were all custom designed to fit together in that particular space. When the elements are taken apart and then put together with other pieces, some of the effect will be lost. I’m not criticizing what’s been done at the Chateau in any way, I’m just commenting that over time some things are–sadly–lost and can’t be put back together.

A commode bearing the marks of the Palace of Versailles was acquired during a public sale in Lyon. These items of furniture used on a daily basis, provided in large quantities and regularly replaced, were sold during the French Revolution. This toilet seat presents itself as a rectangular chest sitting on spindle-shaped legs. The solid mahogany was chosen with care and set-off by the decorative moulding-free surfaces. The marks of the palace are found on the back board, made of oak, the W painted simply in black ink and the hot branding of a W with a crown above it. On the other hand, there is no Garde-Meuble registration number on the commode: was it on the toilet rim, which has disappeared, or did someone forget to inscribe it on the commode as it was delivered with other pieces of furniture? Paradoxically, the most basic items of furniture are those which are lacking the most today in the palace’s collections.

I found this item interesting because, well, it’s a toilet and because it’s also mentioned that the most common items are sometimes the most difficult to find centuries later. Think about it. Will they be looking in vain for rolling desk chairs in two hundred fifty years when they try to reconstruct 21st century offices?

Marked Louis Delanois, these were the first medallion back chairs, a style that enjoyed much success in the history of French furniture. Thanks to the sponsorship of companies like Ponthieu Rabelais, Financière de Tournon and Financière du Bac, the historical items which are recognised as “National Treasures”, will be returned to the collections of the Palace of Versailles. The chairs belong to a series of thirteen, including a higher one for the King, delivered at the end of 1769 by joiner Louis Delanois for the living room of Madame Du Barry at Versailles. The living room was also decorated with thirteen armchairs, a large settee and a screen. All covered with white satin, trimmed with green satin and embroidered with silk for the summer and velvet for the winter. Madame Du Barry, who was Louis XV’s mistress after Madame de Pompadour, lived at Versailles from 1769 until the king’s death (1774). An art lover,she supported painters and craftsmen and cultivated the neo-classical style at Versailles.

Madame du Barry was one of the more interesting personages of her time, at least to me. She must have been smart and tenacious to put herself into the position of royal mistress. It’s fairly clear she had some failings, like vanity, greed, pride, and (maybe?) lust. She clearly didn’t mind committing adultery openly, but then again it seems she and Louis XV had a genuine liking for one another. The Du Barry also has a connection to our story of the fateful diamond necklace. The necklace was originally designed with her in mind. Its gaudiness would have fit her tastes. But by the time the jewelers had assembled the diamonds to make the necklace, Louis XV had died and Madame his mistress had been exiled from Court. She had no royal lover to buy the necklace for her, so the jewelers tried to convince their new queen, Marie-Antoinette, to buy it. The rest, as they say, is history.