Versailles on the death of Louis XIV
In May 1682, Louis XIV announced his decision to install the court and the government in Versailles. The extension programme included numerous annexes and two large wings to accommodate the princes.
In 1710, the construction of the Royal Chapel was the last major project of the reign of Louis XIV, five years before his death.
On the death of Louis XIV, the Palace greatly resembled the one we know today.
Yet you can still admire the pavilions on either side of the Royal Railings that were destroyed in the 18th and 19th century.
The Royal Chapel is also visible with its small steeple and gilt lead decorations on the roofs.
In May 1682, Louis XIV announced his decision to install the court and the government definitively in Versailles. This caused a revolution in the way of life of the royal family and the court who for centuries had lived a itinerant life between different palaces all year long, depending on the seasons, the hunting possibilities and the political situation.
To prepare for this installation, the king instructed his first architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, to draw up an extension plan for Versailles which required a significant enlargement of the Palace to be able to accommodate the full royal family and all the courtiers responsible for the court’s business, as well as the construction of many annexes to house the departments of the government and all the sections and domestic divisions of the court.
In 1678-1682 Hardouin-Mansart supervised the construction of a wing south of the central section of the Palace, the South Wing, to accommodate the Enfants de France (the royal couple’s children). Then in 1684-1689 he built the apartments of the other princes. In the forecourt of the Palace were built the two Ministers Wings for the four Secretaries of State (Foreign Affairs, War, King’s Household and Navy), and behind it, in the north, a water tower, and in the south, the Grand Commun, for all the catering services. Facing them, between the avenues leading to the Palace, the Large Stables (Grande Écurie) for saddle horses and the Small Stables (Petite Écurie) for carthorses. Other annexes were built around the town. The buildings of the Palace itself could only accommodate up to 4,000 people, while it is estimated that altogether 6,000 people in the service of the court lived in Versailles.
The construction of the South Wing involved the transformation of the adjoining parterre for the creation of earthworks for the building of a new orangerie with monumental proportions. It was flanked by two staircases, the Hundred Steps, shown by Martin in the foreground of his painting.
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Louis XIV is known today throughout the world by this portrait which depicts him at the end of his reign, aged and preoccupied with political difficulties of all kinds, particularly with the other kingdoms and republics of Europe.
Yet it is an impressive image of majesty, a symbol of the absolute monarchy set up since the early 1660s, that Hyacinthe Rigaud painted in 1701. The portrait was commissioned from the artist by the old king for his grandson, the Duc d’Anjou, who became king of Spain with the name of Philippe V, shortly after he ascended the throne. But Louis XIV was so pleased with this portrait – an image of royal majesty that he had never yet obtained – that he kept the portrait for himself and sent to Spain another and more martial portrait.
The portrait shows a compromise between the sumptuous costume of the coronation and that of the first ceremony of the Order of the Holy Spirit, presided over by the king just after his coronation. The great velvet cloak with the fleur-de-lys pattern and ermine lining, and the “regalia” – the crown, the sceptre, the hand of justice, and “Charlemagne’s” sword – are indeed those given to the king at his coronation in Reims on 7 June 1654, but his clothing under the cloak – the jerkin, breeches and hose – are those of the Order of the Holy Spirit, received the day after the coronation.
Unanimously hailed when first shown, the portrait by Rigaud has been an unrivalled model for all the portraits of rulers in Europe and elsewhere since 1701.
Françoise d’Aubigné, raised by the king to the rank of Marquise de Maintenon, had an eventful life from her childhood in the Poitou region and in Martinique. Marrying the poet Scarron, she settled down in Paris. Later, she became the governess of the children born from the liaison of the Marquise de Montespan with Louis XIV. Raised by the king to the rank of Marquise de Maintenon, she wedded secretly Louis XIV in 1683. After some years of passionate love, her relationship with the king evolved into that of a settled couple in which she played the role of adviser whose point of view was not always adopted.
After the death of queen Marie-Thérèse in 1683, the king provided for Madame de Maintenon a small apartment looking out on the courtyard of the Palace close to and on the same floor as his, where he spent some time with her every day.
Madame de Maintenon had close links with the religious circles and led the king back to religion. Among the manifestations of her influence was the construction of a new and sumptuous palatial chapel between 1698 and 1710 in the North Wing of Versailles.
The portrait by Pierre Mignard painted around 1694 is one of the finest likenesses of Madame de Maintenon. The artist has depicted her as her patroness, Saint Frances of Rome. The open book is the one written by the saint, and her hand on her breast testifies to her religious commitment and her devotion to the saint.
Shortly before the death of the king in 1715, Madame de Maintenon retired to Saint-Cyr, where she had founded a school for the education of penniless noble girls and where she died in 1719.
The wedding of the Duc de Bourgogne, heir to the throne, and Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie on 7 December 1697 was one of the numerous family ceremonies celebrated in Versailles in the last part of the reign of Louis XIV. It did not take place in the large royal chapel that we now know but in the one that preceded it, built by Hardouin-Mansart in 1684, between the central section of the Palace and the Thetys Grotto, now occupied by the Hercules Salon and the vestibule underneath.
The young Duc de Bourgogne (born in 1682) is shown wedding a young girl surrounded by the full royal family. Louis XIV is in the centre, with his son the Grand Dauphin, father of the groom. On the right, Monsieur, the king’s brother, the Duc d’Orléans, is accompanied by his second wife, Élisabeth-Charlotte de Bavière, known as “the Palatine”, surrounded by her children, notably Philippe d’Orléans, the future Regent, in the foreground.
The painting celebrates a happy family and dynastic event by a royal family of three generations in good health. It was to be decimated in the early 18th century with the death of the Grand Dauphin in 1711, that of the married couple within a few days of each other in 1712, and that of the king himself in 1715. At that time, the only survivor of the older branch was the son of the young couple, the great-grandson of Louis XIV, the five-year-old boy who was to become Louis XV. Firstly taken by his uncle the Regent to Vincennes and then to Paris, he returned to Versailles only when he came of age as king of France in 1722.
The talents of Jules Hardouin-Mansart were manifold, notably as architect and courtier. He came to the notice of Louis XIV in 1675 as the architect of the palace of Clagny, the residence of Madame de Montespan. Ordinary architect to the king and member of the Royal Academy of Architecture in 1675, then first architect to the king in 1681, he was appointed inspector in 1691 and then superintendant of the King’s Buildings in 1699, which gave him complete authority for all the constructions and refurbishments of the buildings belonging to the Crown.
He began working on Versailles in 1678 and directed all the construction programmes for thirty years. He was entrusted by the king with the extension of the Palace which he directed masterfully. His achievements include the Hall of Mirrors, the South and North Wings, the Ministers Wings, the Small and Large Stables, the Grand Commun, the water tower and the Royal Chapel, the Orangerie and the Grand Trianon as well as numerous developments in the gardens and the Park.
It was in the recently completed Hall of Mirrors on 15 May 1685 that Louis XIV, in the presence of the entire court, received the Doge of Genoa, Francesco Maria Imperiale Lercari, who came to make reparations to him for a diplomatic incident between this Italian republic and the kingdom of France which had led to the bombardment of the city by the royal fleet. As the Doge was not allowed to leave Genoa under pain of being deposed, the king had obtained a dispensation from the city for this visit. He wanted to set an example by receiving compensation from the Doge in the most prestigious room in Versailles.
The Hall of Mirrors provided the court with a vast reception area which had been lacking until then in the State Apartment, but Louis XIV used it to receive the representatives of foreign courts only exceptionally, to impress them.
The painting by Hallé is a tapestry cartoon for one of the matching tapestries of The History of the King, commissioned by the Great King but woven after his death between 1716 and 1725. The painter had obviously not known the silver furniture shown here, assembled by Louis XIV in the State Apartment of Versailles but melted down in 1689. Nevertheless, however fancifully depicted here, the throne, the occasional tables, the ornamental vases and the incense-burner testify to the lasting fascination this extraordinary collection – as costly as it was ephemeral – had on the king’s contemporaries.
The visit of the ambassadors of the king of Siam, Phra Narai, in 1686, was the first embassy from a remote country that Louis XIV received in Versailles. It was an exceptional event that called for a highly ceremonial and sumptuous reception in a unique setting: the Grand Gallery or Hall of Mirrors, just recently completed.
The king was to continue having receptions of this kind for delegates from remote kingdoms to impress them. The highly martial decor of the Hall made it difficult to receive here the representatives of the European powers humiliated by the king during the Dutch War (1672-1678). So they were received in the Apollo Salon with its more neutral mythological decor, or in the Council Room.
The visit of the Siamese embassy set the court’s protocol for this type of ceremony. When they entered the palace, accompanied by the introducer of ambassadors, the diplomats climbed the Grand Degré staircase – thereafter called the Ambassadors Staircase – crossed through the State Apartment and entered the Hall of Mirrors which they had to walk across – pausing to make the three ceremonial bows – before presenting the king with the letter from their sovereign. Louis XIV welcomed them on his throne placed at the end of the Hall on a platform. The princes stood on either side of the throne, while the entire court stood along the walls of the Hall to attend the audience, all in full court dress.
The Order of Saint-Louis was founded in 1693 by Louis XIV to reward his bravest officers. It was not reserved only for the nobility like the Order of the Holy Spirit or other old Orders.
Marot depicts the first award of the Order by Louis XIV in his bedchamber at Versailles, not the one he occupied in 1693, but his last one fitted out in 1701 in the central room of the Palace, adjoining the Hall of Mirrors, and whose doors leading into the Hall were walled up to create an alcove for the bed. This painting from 1710 is particularly precious in that it shows the former furniture of the room and is the only complete image of it to have survived. The king’s bed is flanked by two famous paintings of the royal collection that are still in Versailles, on the left Saint John on Patmos, by Innocenzo da Imola, formerly attributed to Raphael, and on the right King David Playing the Harp by Domenico Zampieri. These two paintings always accompanied Louis XIV, from his youth at the Tuileries palace to the end of his reign in Versailles.
The installation of the last bedchamber of the king in the centre of the Palace in 1701 marked the apogee of the court system centred on the person of the king and the unfolding of his day. The bedchamber became the symbolic place of the monarchical absolutism of the close of the Ancien Régime. Apart from the usual ceremonial of the morning “small levee” and “grand levee”, and then in the evening for the “small” and “grand coucher”, which caused great excitement noted by all contemporary diarists, it was also used for special ceremonies requiring a grander setting.
The painting of Marot was very useful for the restoration of the room in 1980.
The bedchamber of the King was the centre of the court’s life from 1682 on, so its restoration was an obvious choice. When transforming Versailles into a history museum in 1833, king Louis-Philippe took care to preserve the core of the apartment of Louis XIV around the royal bedchamber, and began a restoration of it in a state that came as close as possible to what he himself had known as a young man at the court of Louis XVI, notably for his presentation to the king in 1784. After assembling different elements, he managed to create a room more evocative than historically exact, and it remained like this up to the eve of World War II.
Its true restoration began only after the war, with the help of generous sponsors led by the Chilean billionaire Arturo Lopez-Willshaw. A passionate admirer of Versailles, which inspired the decor of several of his residences, he offered to the Director of Versailles, Gérald van der Kemp, to restore the room to its full splendour by re-weaving the red brocade decorated with gold thread of the bedchamber of the king, as it was at the end of the reign of Louis XIV.
Charles Arquinet, the Palace’s senior cabinet-maker, made this scale model which sustained the dreams of the project sponsors and the patience of visitors to the Palace when it was presented from 1960-1970 in the bedchamber of the King. The restored bedchamber was officially opened in 1980.
Five chapels were built in Versailles since its reconstruction by Philibert Le Roy in the reign of Louis XIII in 1631-1634. The fourth, the one most used by Louis XIV , was built by –Hardouin-Mansart in 1684 to the north of the central section of the Palace, close to the Thetys Grotto. During the construction of the North Wing it was due to be moved but the projects were delayed and it remained at the junction of these two parts of the Palace for many years. It was not until 1698 that work began on a new chapel – a Royal Chapel worthy of the name – not far from there, but away from the circulation axis. Adjoining the North Wing, this Chapel had at last the correct orientation.
The entire project had been designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, but it was completed after his death in 1708 by his brother-in-law and successor as first architect to the king, Robert de Cotte, and officially opened in 1710.
The colossal architecture and cut stone facing of the new chapel contrasted with the old brick and stone façades of the Palace facing the town. Hardouin-Mansart wanted to show here the new scale that was desired for their long-awaited reconstruction.
With its two floors, including a gallery for the king on the same level as his apartments, the new chapel adopted the style of medieval Palatine chapels in its plan: with a nave, side aisles and galleries, the choir in a loft, an ambulatory and its spectacular height it marked a return to classic Gothic architecture.
Its very rich decor, carved in the lower parts and painted on the ceilings and the vault, celebrated the mystery of the Redemption and the Holy Trinity.
From 1710 à 1789, most of the major royal ceremonies – christenings, weddings, ceremonies of the Orders, Te Deum, etc. – were held in this chapel.
King David Playing the Harp by Domenico Zampieri was in its time one of the most important and celebrated paintings of the collection of Louis XIV. Since its acquisition by the king in 1661 it had always been displayed in one of the most important rooms of the King’s Apartment, the Throne room (Apollo Salon) or the King’s bedchamber, generally in tandem with another famous painting, the Saint John on Patmos<.i> attributed then to Raphael (now attributed to Innocenzo da Imola).
From the start of his personal reign in 1661, Louis XIV sought to rebuild the royal collections that had been dispersed during the disorders affecting the kingdom since the mid-16th century. He bought paintings and antique sculptures, bronzes and other hardstone objects, coins and medals, books and manuscripts, all that traditionally formed the collections of enlightened rulers. The two paintings by Domenico Zampieri and Raphael exemplified the major movements in European painting that were well represented in his collections: the former from the classical Italian school of the early 17th century in Bologna and Rome, and the latter from the Italian Renaissance in Florence and Rome. These two schools were the principal models of the new school of French painting being established in Paris around the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, and in Rome around the Academy of France.
The great Biblical figure of the repented sinner king David was traditionally presented as one of the models of the Christian monarch. In the case of Louis XIV, who turned back to religion in the second part of his reign, the choice of the painting seems particularly appropriate.
Portrait of Louis XIV in royal costume, by Hyacinthe Rigaud
Madame de Maintenon, by Pierre Mignard
Buffet for the apartment evening entertainments in 1696
Portrait of the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, by François de Troy
Audience of the Doge of Genoa in the Hall of Mirrors in 1685, by Claude Guy Hallé.
The Ambassadors of Siam received by Louis XIV in 1684, by Sébastien Le Clerc
Ceremony awarding the sash of the Order of Saint-Louis by the king in his bedchamber, by François Marrot
Scale model of the bedchamber of Louis XIV at Versailles before its restoration.
Elevation of the Chapel of Versailles
Longitudinal section of the Chapel of Versailles
King David Playing the Harp, by Domenico Zampieri