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1 VERSAILLES AND COURT CULTURE IN AN AGE OF ABSOLUTISM Robert Baldwin Associate Professor of Art History Connecticut College New London, CT 06320 firstname.lastname@example.org (This essay was written in 1990 and is revised every few years.) Primary Artists at Versailles (17th Century Only) Le Vau (architect) Mansart (architect) Le Notre (landscape gardener) Le Brun (painter, designer of decorative programs for sculpture, painting, furniture) Coysevox (sculptor) Tuby (sculptor) Marsy Brothers (sculptors) Giraudon (sculptor) ABSOLUTISM AND AESTHETICS IN 17TH-CENTURY FRANCE Absolutism and Aesthetics in 17th-Century France Since absolutist politics profoundly shaped court culture in seventeenth-century Europe and especially in France, a brief discussion of absolutism sheds valuable light on Louis XIV's Versailles. Prior to the mid-seventeenth century, kings and emperors shared their power with the high nobles and had to make many compromises with them. At the local level, most power in France lay in the hands of the local lord who presided over land, laws, taxation, and the judicial system. He was, in effect, a little king. Absolutism was the new royal ideology of unshared power, reserved entirely for the king or emperor, which arose in the mid to late sixteenth century and took hold in the seventeenth century (although the English monarch shared power with a new, centralized Parliament). Absolutism was the ideology of the emerging nation state and arose only where kings were able to impose centralized political, economic, and judicial institutions on the whole of the land, usurping the traditional local power of the feudal lord. The new kings of the emerging nation states also had to combat the deeply entrenched, feudal powers of Catholic religious institutions, especially abbeys and monasteries which 2 owned huge tracts of land commanding enormous revenues along with local political and judicial power. Henry VIII of England solved this problem by creating a national Church of England headed by the monarch, breaking with the Roman Catholic church and seizing most church lands. In Catholic France, Louis worked to harmonize national and Roman Catholic institutional power while quietly usurping powers over French ecclesiastical appointments. Without breaking with Catholic Rome, he gradually took control of the church in France. Absolutism as Divine Right Reduced to its simplest claim, absolutist thinking claimed monarchs possessed a divine right to rule which descended directly from God and was beyond question or critique and, most importyantly, did . In 1652, Louis XIV himself decreed, "All authority ... belongs to us. We hold it of God alone, and no person, of whatever quality he may be, can pretend to any part of it". Expanding on this idea, one French official commented, "When Kings come to the Crown, they swear on the Holy Gospels that they will maintain the Church of God to their best ability; that they will observe the fundamental laws of the State, and that they will protect their subjects according to God and reason ... in consideration of this oath, the people are obliged to obey them as Gods on earth...". 1 Such absolutist values developed in France in the mid-seventeenth century as part of a royal effort to revive monarchical power after a period of decline amid aristocratic gains in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Among the many areas of social and cultural life effected by absolutist values, three were particularly important for Versailles. National Bureaucracy. Louis set up an extensive bureaucracy administered by a middle class elite to help him control the nobility. Bourgeois bureaucrats were inherently less powerful and thus much easier to control with offices, money, land, and titles. Their historic rivalry with the nobility also made them more sympathetic to Louis' political ambitions and even easier to control. (Bourgeois officials who became overly ambitious were also much easier to remove from power as with the case of Louis's finance minister, Fouquet.) 2 This tendency to develop national bureaucracies was all encompassing and generated national academies in many major cultural and intellectual arenas including national academies of painting, theatre, ballet, opera, science and technology. It also led to the building of royal factories manufacturing unprecedented quantities of tapestry, furniture, and ceramics. By investing so heavily in cultural and scientific production, France achieved a relative cultural and intellectual dominion in later seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe. Ceremony, Etiquette, Festivities and the Absolutism of Daily Court Life. 3 Louis also reintroduced a conservative ceremonial and etiquette at Versailles reviving old, highly formalized customs and rules from the sixteenth century. For example, all present had to bow when the royal food passed and a more formal French was required when Louis entered the room. Versailles's most important ritual was the daily levée or triumphal rise and ceremonial appearance of the monarch each morning as he rose, sun- like, in a triumphal advent or god-like epiphany witnessed and attended by all of the highest nobles assembled to assist in his dressing. Each item of clothes was ceremonially passed down the line of courtiers, in order of their rank, toward the king. His ceremonial retiring to bed was also extremely elaborate. Thus the servile work of a chamber maid or valet was elevated into the greatest honor sought after by the most important nobles. The high nobles now won status more through their submissive proximity to the king and by their enjoyment of a royal favor which would be withdrawn at any moment. By the later 1660s, with the memory of the civil war still fresh in mind, Louis began encouraging high nobles to live at Versailles (or to visit frequently) where they would be caught up in his ritual system and watched by his many informers and spies. 3 Louis himself was known for his keen scrutiny of who was present and his fine memory. (His postmaster also opened all private mail for the king or his agents to read secretly.) As the high court noble, Saint Simon, commented, "He not only required the constant attendance of the great, but was also aware of those of lower rank. He would look about him at the levée and the coucher, at meals, and while walking through the state apartments or the Versailles gardens, where none but courtiers might follow him. He saw and noticed every one of them, marked very well the absences of those usually at Court and even those who attended more rarely, and took care to discover the reason, drawing his own conclusions and losing no opportunity of acting upon them. He took it as an offence if distinguished people did not make the Court their home, or if others came but seldom. And to come never, or scarcely ever, meant certain disgrace". 4 In this way, Louis used Versailles to construct a closed, ritual arena in which he could continually scrutinize the highest nobility and subordinate them to his all-powerful presence. So too, he used ritual to divide, intimidate, and control the high nobility (even as he was himself ensnared in the make-believe world of flattering illusions). Thus commented Saint Simon. "The frequent entertainments, the private drives to Versailles, and the royal journeys, provided the King with a means of distinguishing or mortifying his courtiers by naming those who were or were not to accompany him, and thus keeping everyone eager and anxious to please him. He fully realized that the substantial gifts which he had to offer were too few to have any continuous effect and he substituted imaginary favors that appealed to men's jealous natures, small distinctions which he was able, with extraordinary ingenuity, to grant or withhold every day and almost every hour. The hopes that courtiers built upon such flimsy favors and the importance which they attached to them were really unbelievable, and no one was ever more artful than the King in devising fresh occasions for 4 them. ... Another of his contrivances was his ceremony of the candlestick, which he allowed some courtier to hold every evening at his coucher. 5 At a deeper level, the new ceremony and etiquette at Versailles fostered a constant anxiety of the self as it continually adjusted and structured its own behavior and speech in relation to a larger social hierarchy whose members were in constant flux and intrigue. Trapped in a world of extreme formality which both concealed and revealed an unstable, uncertain social-political dynamic, the courtly self had to scrutinize the behavior of superiors for clues to the constantly shifting power relations. At the same time, one also had to scrutinize the behavior of lesser persons continually to insure compliance with the proper hierarchical orders. Since real power at court was transformed into ritual and formal etiquette while at the same time remaining distant from it, human manners and speech took on the utmost importance. By requiring the nobility to worry continually about both performing and deciphering the enigmatic mask of courtly manners and ceremony, Louis distracted the highest, most powerful nobility. So too, he undermined their attempts to organize internally by pitting them competitively against each other within a larger hierarchy which descended from him and which worked continually to suggest that all power flowed downward from his celestial-royal body. By imposing an inflexible, absolutist grid on daily behavior, dress, and speech, the new ceremony and etiquette also communicated the power and centrality of the king throughout the social and aesthetic spaces of the palace and grounds. All activity and consciousness was thus transformed into something explicitly structured by the royal presence regardless of whether or not the king was physically present. While this new formality was softened by the more relaxed rules and decoration which obtained out in the many garden pavilions and by the numerous festivals and entertainments put on by Louis, the king's powerful presence was present everywhere in the "natural" surroundings thanks to the rigid, highly geometrical gardens designed by Le Notre. The long avenues radiating out from the chateau as far as the eye could see made visible the king's godlike, "cosmic" power over the surrounding countryside and its people. One writer of the day put it thus. As the contemporary English poet, Marvell, wrote in one of his villa poems, "like a Guard on either side, / The Trees before their Lord divide". 6 The king's presence in nature was further confirmed by the overall royal scale and magnificence of the gardens and by the use of floral arrangements and topiary to represent heraldic flowers (fleur de lis), royal colors, and other royal themes. So too, the sculpture allegorized cosmic themes of a god-like nature and of hierarchical order (and the punishment of all those rebelling against "nature's" orders and higher authority.) Even the temporary, relative relaxation and social informality experienced in the gardens and their pavilions was meaningful only in relation to the royal formality of the palace grounds which it escaped. As for the many festivals, ballets, operas, plays, concerts, and balls staged on the grounds, Louis was present in at least four ways. First, these events were ceremonially 5 staged for the centrally placed royal gaze with other members of the audience arranged hierarchically around the monarch's seat. Second, Louis was present in the royal extravagance and scale of these festivals and plays and in their high quality in so far as he commanded the best writers and composers and required the most important works debut at Versailles. Thirdly, the king appeared in the festivals' and operas' endless, allegorically coded or explicit references to Louis's many heroic political and cultural accomplishments and his numerous virtues. Most musical pieces began with prologues explicitly praising Louis's achievements and virtues. As Saint Simon recalled, Louis "could often be heard in his private rooms singing the verses written in his praise in the prologues of the plays and operas. You could see that he revelled in them, and sometimes even at State dinners he hummed the words under his breath when the orchestra played these tunes". 7 Needless to say, reality was never an obstacle in this world of cultural flattery. Fourth, Louis himself appeared in some operas and festivals, invariably playing the most exalted, celestial or heroic roles. Seen as a larger "culture of absolutism," the ornate, ceremonial festivals and operas at Versailles performed the same function as the royal painting, sculpture, tapestry, coins, and prints which flourished under Louis's patronage where he played a variety of heroic roles including: Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, Alexander the Great, and the Good Shepherd. He also appeared more directly as the greatest living monarch, as World Ruler, Defender of the Faith, and Protector and Patron of the Arts and Sciences. Other images used mythological language to praise his military triumphs over the Dutch and over a coalition of high nobles and Parisian burghers (in a civil war of the 1640s known as the Fronde). The emphasis at Versailles on parties, gambling, and constantly changing fashion also served the king's political intentions by encouraging the high nobility to squander their wealth on gambling, food, and clothing. On a number of levels then, Louis used festivals and a culture of festivity to weaken the aristocracy. At the same time, Louis himself was caught up in this ritual and its illusions of power. By surrounding himself with so many flattering images, rites, ceremonies, music, plays, gardens, and other spaces, he came to believe in his own god-like omnipotence. And in the end, this made Louis very easy to manipulate from below by the very flattery which he thought guaranteed his absolute authority. Thus Louis's ritual-aesthetic system was far more complex politically than its hierarchical rhetoric of power from above ever suggested. From Saint Simon's perspective, the elaborate rituals trapped Louis in an illusory world while allowing corrupt and ambitious ministers to enrich themselves and make foolish policy decisions which brought ruin to large parts of France. "Praise, or better, adulation, pleased him so much that the most fulsome was welcome and the most servile even more delectable. They were the only road to his favor ... This is what gave his ministers so much power, for they had endless opportunities of flattering his vanity, especially by suggesting that he was the 6 source of all their ideas and had taught them all that they knew. Falseness, servility, admiring glances, combined with a dependent and cringing attitude, above all an appearance of being nothing without him, were the only means of pleasing him. ... He had a natural bent toward details and delighted in busying himself with such petty details as the uniforms, equipment, drill, and discipline of his troops. He concerned himself no less with his buildings, the conduct of his household, and his living expenses, for he always imagined that he had something to teach the experts, and they received instruction from him as if they were novices in arts which they already knew by heart. To the King, such waste of time appeared to deserve his constant attention, which enchanted his ministers, for with a little tact and experience they learned to sway him, making their own desires seem his, and managing great affairs of State in their own way and, all too often, in their own interests, whilst they congratulated themselves and watched him drowning amidst trivialities. 8 The Arts: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Tapestry, Decorative Arts, Ornament Absolutism also comprehensively transformed the arts in France. This transformation encompassed everything from the larger institutions which governed its practices and large-scale production, lofty theoretical discourse, stylistic and thematic preferences, and working methods. Institutionally, the arts came under large royal bureaucracies and the highly organized patronage under Ministers of Culture such as Colbert. Mass-production was initiated or expanded in new royal factories for tapestry and furniture at Gobelin and ceramic at Scèvres. Purchases from foreign sources was curtailed sharply. Royal societies of painting and sculpture were also organized with single artists like Le Brun appointed to absolutist positions within the individual arts. Such societies published theoretical treatises and formulated official rules for the arts. By publishing an illustrated book on physiognomy and expression, Le Brun even tried to systemize and standardize the Italian Renaissance notion of history painting as a grand rhetorical mode representing the "passions of the soul". Absolutism in Louis XIV's France also favored a distinct classicizing Baroque aesthetic of unprecedented grandeur and ornateness combined with a strict and severe geometry, the latter especially visible in architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design. This highly structured classicism expressed the hierarchical order and harmony of court life under Louis while its sumptuousness captured a uniquely royal magnificence beyond anything a high noble could afford. Finally, absolutism required certain kinds of subject matter for the arts. Under Louis, the subject matter was invariably mythological or from 7 classical history (especially imperial subjects) and was used transparently to celebrate the monarch on many levels. While medieval subjects were less common, they were also selected for their potential as political flattery. HISTORY OF VERSAILLES: FROM HUNTING LODGE TO VILLA TO PALACE Versailles was originally a "small" chateau and hunting lodge built outside Paris in 1624 for Louis XIII where he could periodically escape the crowded, busy, public, ceremonial life of the Parisian court. Its appeal as a country residence continued for Louis XIV who also found it convenient for private escapes with his mistresses. Louis XIV made Versailles more his own chateau by hiring Le Vau to add two wings projecting east toward Paris. The Example of Vaux-le-Vicomte In 1661, Louis attended a magnificent festival held to celebrate the completion of a sumptuous chateau built by his corrupt and ambitious finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet. Over four years, Fouquet spent over 18 million francs on one of the most lavishly decorated chateaux in all France. (At that time, the total annual revenue of the French treasure was 30 million francs.) The whole project had been assigned to a trio of highly talented artists who Louis soon snapped up for Versailles: the architect, Mansart, his childhood friend, the painter, Le Brun, and the landscape architect, Le Notre. Under the overall direction of Le Brun, some 18,000 workers, craftsmen, and artists worked to create Vaux-le-Vicomte. Le Brun orchestrated the opening festival to which the French court was invited. It included hundreds of fountains, magnificent gardens lit by torches, a banquet served on gold and silver plates, and entertainment including music, a play by Molière specially written for the occasion, a ballet, and a fireworks display writing numerous royal Ls in the sky. It was only at this festival that the graft and ambition of the common-born Fouquet was fully revealed. Louis had him arrested a few weeks later and he spent his last nineteen years in prison as an example of all those rash enough to steal from the king or challenge royal authority in the noble arena of cultural patronage. 9 Vaux-le-Vicomte was also important in giving Louis an example of what he could achieve on a much greater scale, using the same trio of French artists. Le Brun, Mansart, and Le Notre were quickly hired and put to work on Versailles, a chateau (villa) built to outdo all earlier chateaux and a place which soon became the permanent residence of the court. Louis XIV never liked the Louvre, the traditional palace for French kings since the sixteenth century, in part because it was built by his predecessors. Versailles would be largely a creation of Louis and serve as a kind of temple to his greatness and glory. 10 Versailles Under Louis XIV The chateau of Versailles and its endless expansion became Louis's passion only after 1661. As early as 1662, he spent 500,000 livres on renovations in a single year. Major projects included the following. Mansart's new east wings (1662), the Orangerie and Menagerie (1663), the lavish festival, "Pleasures of the Enchanted Isle" (1664), the Grand 8 Canal (1667-), and the most sumptuous festival ever held in Europe, "The Great Royal Entertainment" (1668). In the same year, after the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, further additions were made by Le Vau when he added a new building to the western garden side completely hiding that side of the old chateau. Le Vau's severely classical west facade used a rustic order on the ground floor, an order of Ionic pilasters on the second floor, and a Doric order on the third floor. It is impossible to judge this facade today because the Hall of Mirrors was added later, filling in the ground floor terrace. Mansart later added vast wings stretching to the North and South which permanently changed the scale of Le Vau's villa. Additional projects followed: the Porcelain Trianon (1670), the Great Commission in 1674 (described below), the Hall of Mirrors (1678-1684). In 1682 Louis decreed that Versailles would be the new court, making another round of new building necessary. Mansart replaced the Porcelain Trianon with the Marble Trianon in 1687. And in 1699, Mansart began the Royal Chapel. By the 1670s, Versailles has gone from an impressive hunting lodge to a large villa. And by later 1680s, it had become a gigantic palace surrounded by other large villas and chateaux. Eventually, some ten thousand members of the court lived there after 1682 when Louis moved the center of the court to Versailles from Paris. What had once been a retreat from the court center eventually became in 1682 the new court center itself. In the end, the continual rebuilding and demolition ruined any architectural consistency and order at Versailles and made it a disjointed, cumbersome, perpetually incomplete jumble of buildings even if its overall effect of unsurpassed grandeur was achieved. In his later years, much of Louis's time and energy went into planning and building Versailles and acting out his royal part there. By the time of his death in 1715, Louis had created a hybrid structure, what one might call the "absolutist villa". Combining the Renaissance villa and the urban palace, Versailles ended up transforming both types in a unique structure all the more interesting for its many contradictions. (discussed below.) After Louis died, his successor, Louis XV, his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, continued expanding and remaking Versailles and its gardens into a very different eighteenth-century structure. In the process, Louis XV spent up to one quarter of the French national budget on Versailles. LE NOTRE'S FORMAL GARDENS The elaborate gardens, which included 1,4000 fountains and 286 sculptures, were designed by Le Notre. He came from a family of royal gardeners and had training both in architecture and in painting, the latter from the court painter, Simon Vouet. Le Notre played down the small, complexly patterned floral areas common in 16th-century French court gardens. Instead he introduced a much larger compositional patterning typical of the Baroque by using long avenues and canals. Le Notre also gave water and dramatic fountains a more important role, thereby adding drama, luminosity, and poetic reflection to his otherwise rather severe grids. For all its various artificial hills, grottos, terraces, avenues, canals, rows of hedges, flower beds, sculptural fountains, and statuary, Le 9 Notre's garden was subordinated to a strictly geometrical plan as with Renaissance court gardens. His garden thus represented a nature which was identical with "divine reason". This abstract schema found striking parallels elsewhere in Louis XIV's more centralized France and cultural life in the highly rational economic policies of Colbert, the drama of Racine, the poetry of Boileau, and the theology of Bossuet. One garden set just below the main palace, The Orangerie, boasted 2000 orange trees and 1000 oleander plants, pomegranate trees, and other tropical trees, all replanted each summer. In this way, Louis's gardens asserted his global claims while defying the laws of nature. There was never enough water to run the 1,400 fountains. Enormous sums were spent and workers' lives lost on a failed engineering project to divert an entire river just to feed Versailles' fountains. To sustain the royal illusion that all the fountains worked at once, gardeners had to turn them on and off as the king strolled ceremonially through his gardens, often followed by the highest nobles. In a larger sense, Versailles and its gardens was a giant court theatre and the main play was Louis's performance of royalty and absolutist power. Great Commission of 1674 (garden sculptures, completed 1684) The "Great Commission" consisted of twenty-four large statues: four continents, four seasons, four humors, four times of day, four elements, four types of poetry, and four colossal rapes (Persephone, Oreithyia, Cybele, Coronis - never executed). Originally planned for Le Notre's curved pool, these statues blocked the view and were moved to the North Parterre after 1683. The greatest significance of this commission was in the totality of the works, their all-encompassing universal, mythological, and cultural themes, and the way they interwove absolutist geography, cosmology, science (the humors), culture, history, and politics (national and sexual). By making political flattery as obvious as the many mythological frescoes painted by Le Brun on the ceilings of the rooms in Versailles, the "Great Commission" makes it easy to move beyond the reluctance of traditional art history to read mythological and aesthetic elements at Versailles in terms of Louis's absolutist political agenda. Contemporary political history was even more obvious in two of the large, complex sculpture-fountains designed for the gardens: the Fountain of Encephalus and the Fountain of Latona. Marsy Brothers, Fountain of Encephalus, 1676 The story comes from the ancient court poet, Ovid (Metamorphoses 1: 152-158; Fasti 5: 33-44). Encephalus was a leader of the giants, an earthbound race who erected a giant mountain of boulders to lay siege to Mt. Olympus and destroy the kingdom of Jupiter. For this reckless and foolish ambition, he and his fellow giants was destroyed by the thunderbolts of Jupiter and crushed beneath their boulders. The subject had already been painted in the sixteenth century by Giulio Romano in the ducal palace of Federigo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, where it had explicit ties to local ducal politics. Recreated as a fountain at Versailles twenty-five years after Louis crushed the high nobles in the 10 Fronde, the work made clear reference to Louis's absolutist, Jupiter-like power over all lesser pretenders to royal authority. Marsy Brothers, Fountain of Latona, 1678 As told in Ovid's Metamorphoses 6: 317-381, Latona was the mother of Apollo who was taunted by the Lycian peasants. Zeus punished them for their lack of respect by transforming them into lowly, croaking frogs. So too, Louis triumphed over insubordinate inferiors - nobles and bourgeois allies. Once again, Louis used mythology to stage his own divine triumph. The Fountain of Latona also allegorized the birth of :Louis-Apollo. The Fountain of Apollo depicted his triumphant passage across the heavens. And the Grotto of Tethys depicted his rest in a sacred cave, after the labors of the day. Placed along the great axis to the west of the palace, these three sculptures allegorized the life of Louis as Apollo.11 Solar Imagery in the Gardens at Versailles The analogy between sun and monarch was a commonplace of classical panegyric often repeated by medieval, renaissance and baroque writers and artists. In late medieval art, it appeared in the Limbourg Brothers's Très Riches Heures. And it was common in political imagery for the Hapsburg rulers in the sixteenth century, Charles V and especially Philip II. What Louis XIV did was to develop the analogy to a new extreme and use it everywhere in the painting, sculpture, ornament, and clothing of Versailles. In one portrait, publicized through an engraving, the king appeared as Apollo with the Muses. The analogy is clarified by the following seventeenth-century comment. "Beyond a doubt, this heavenly body [the sun] represents the most vivid and beautiful image of a monarch because of its unique nature; its brilliance, the light it sheds on the planets surrounding it like courtiers, the just and impartial distribution of its light to all regions of the earth, the good it produces, creating joy and activity in all areas of life, its relentless yet calm movement and the constant yet unchanging path from which it never deviates or strays". Such texts make it easier to understand the two most important Apollonian sculptures in the gardens at Versailles. Giraudon, Grotto of Thetis with Apollo and the Muses, 1666 Louis’s Grotto as Absolutist Monarchy, Villa, Harem, and Male Dressing Room, Apollo and the Muses as Royal Cultural Patronage and Absolutism Giraudon's Grotto of Thetis was destroyed during eighteenth-century renovations and the sculptures moved to a new grotto designed by Hubert Robert in 1774. The original Grotto of Thetis was in a garden building decorated on the exterior with reliefs of Apollo driving his chariot into the sea at the end of the day. Inside, Giraudon installed sculptures of the 11 resting Apollo attended in his leisure by the nine muses. Placed nearby were life-size sculptures of Apollo's untethered horses, watched by sea deities (tritons). The muses were traditionally shown in compositional subservience to Apollo, as in Raphael’s Parnassus made for the library of Julius II. Giraudon went much further by turning the muses into maidservants for the first time, attending devotedly to Apollo. In this way Giradudon used the old theme of Apollo and the Muses to dramatize new absolutist ideas of hierarchy and masculine authority. At the same time, he allegorized Louis’s god-like mind and cultural patronage in setting up new Royal Academies of Science, Letters, Dance, and the Arts, new Royal factories of tapestry and ceramics, and a new, bi-annual national art exhibition – the Salon - presided over by juries of professional artists. Furthermore he took away their books and instruments and left them as little more than attendants, almost like maids or ladies in waiting. Grottto as Villa The grotto or artificial cave with mythological, scientific, philosophical, or musical sculptures and interior decorations, was an element of landscape architecture developed in the most splendid Italian Renaissance villas. It was adopted along with that villa culture in sixteenth-century Northern Europe as seen in the grottos built at the Chateau de Saint Germain-en-Laye (where Louis XIV was later born). Since all references to Apollo at Versailles also worked to figure the monarch, the Grotto of Thetis was from the start seen as a metaphor for Versailles as a whole. Just as Apollo relaxed by visiting the grotto of Thetis at the end of the day, so Louis relaxed from his court duties in Paris by riding out for a short stay at Versailles. (The Grotto of Thetis itself thus doubled as a retreat for both Apollo and Louis.) As one contemporary observer put it, "[the king] goes [to Versailles] from time to time to relax - put aside for a moment his great and illustrious [but] tiring duties. [It does not prevent] his prompt return to work with the same fervor as that with which the sun begins to illumine the world when he rises from the waters where he has rested himself". 12 In a more general sense, the grotto also contributed to the larger cult of Louis as a sun- king as put nicely in a contemporary poem by La Fontaine. After the sun brings the day to a close It is with Thetis he seeks his repose Like the sun, Louis, too, must rest his soul To fulfill each day His regal role. Grotto as Harem and Nature’s Erotic Delight By stressing the sensual beauty of the half-naked muses attending to Louis’s royal body, Giraudon also heightened the king’s royal sexual prowess and discreetly evoked the royal 12 brothel, or more properly, harem, which Louis maintained at Versailles. If the Renaissance villa had traditionally offered noblemen a private place to retire for amorous relaxation with courtesans and mistresses, Louis took this to a new level at Versailles by maintaining a royal harem stocked with the most beautiful teenage girls available in France and carefully selected by his agents. Grotto as Dressing Room and the New Courtly Masculinity Finally, we might note the extremely refined, delicate, even “effeminate” beauty of Giraudon’s Apollo. One might argue that the beauty of the figure comes simply from the presence of the same qualities in the principal source for this Apollo, namely the Apollo Belvedere, a sculpture present at Versailles in one of the many copies of famous classical sculptures. There was also a long tradition in classical sculpture of effeminate depictions of Apollo, a god known for his lover affairs with young men as well as women. We have already seen such an effeminized Apollo in Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. But just as Bernini developed the feminine beauty of Apollo further in his innovative sculptural group, so Giraudon also reinterpreted Apollo’s traditional beauty by surrounding him with muses transformed into maids attending to Apollo-Louis’s royal body. While there was no precedent for this in scenes of Apollo and the Muses, Giraudon’s group emulates a well-established artistic tradition since the mid-sixteenth century of Venus attended by her maids. Any implication that Apollo-Louis is being feminized needs to be handled carefully as Louis’s heterosexual power to command the bodies of half-naked young women is clear on display here. Rather, we need to see here the courtly theme of beauty as refinement, elegance, polish, manners, comportment, and exterior cultivation including fashion (even if that doesn’t appear). In the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century, France set the European standard for a growing sense of courtly elegance and refinement among men. This is very clear in the portraits of Van Dyck vs. the earlier, more traditional armored portraits of Rubens, or the works of Vermeer vs. the earlier Dutch genre painters and portraitists. This growing refinement in masculine court identity is abundantly clear in the difference between the portrait of the Henry IV as Mars, executed around 1600 and the portrait of Louis XIV in his dancing tights executed slightly more than a century later. The traditional masculine rhetoric of warfare and power for the earlier French king has given way to a royal image of extreme refinement and grace. Perhaps because his own masculinity was never in question, Louis XIV was able to serve as a trail-blazing example of this new masculine ideal. I suspect his most powerful mistresses or leading noblewomen at court also exerted great influence in spreading more “feminine” manners and modes, just as Louix XIV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, did in the mid- eighteenth century. Lacking any real background in seventeenth-century French history, literature, and art, I can only make an intelligent guess for now. Tuby, Fountain of Apollo, c. 1675 A few hundred yards away from the west facade, along an east-west axis running through the king's bedroom, Tuby designed a fountain with a sculpture of Apollo riding his 13 chariot. As the sun rose, so Apollo drove up out of the water (ocean) in a cosmic motion keyed to the levée of Louis, le Roi Soleil, in his bedroom on the east. Thus the king's movements took on cosmic significance as if the very heavens were following his lead and he theirs. Here we see a perfect example of absolutist ideas celebrating the monarch as a quasi-divine surrogate of God. And because Le Notre's designed a long canal stretching out on an East-West axis just west of the Basin of Apollo, he used landscape architecture to capture the reflection of the setting sun itself, crowning Tuby's Louis- Apollo with a sanctifying, cosmic light and extending Louis’ absolutist power into the heavens. Here, the sun itself was subordinated to the glory of the king and compelled to play a theatrical role in paying homage to the monarch. Since Le Notre’s canal was designed to align perfectly with the sunset on the feast day of the St. Louis, the medieval French king known for his exemplary piety, the harnessing of sunlight in this nexus of landscape architecture and sculpture interwove French political history, Christian virtue, divine providence, cosmic law, absolutist mythology, and pastoral loveliness into a single location. (A similar use of real sunlight informed the zoological garden planned for the Roman villa of Pope Innocent X in 1644. Designed in the shape of Noah’s Ark, the garden was crowned by a statue of the pope placed so that the sun “with its rays on Sept 15 may kiss the foot of the statue at the hour he was made Pope”. 13 ) The solar imagery in Tuby’s Fountain of Apollo also helps us see the landscape architecture of Versailles in the broadest cultural and political context. If Le Notre's gardens made visible nature's divine order and godlike reason, it also served as the perfect landscape expression of absolutism by imbedding Louis's god-like, ordering mind into a larger hierarchical cosmos ruled by the sun. Indeed, in so far as the cosmic range of Versailles's extensive grounds seemed to transform all of nature by displaying the shaping power of Louis's royal mind as far as the eye could see, Le Notre's landscape architecture installed Louis's mind at the very center of the cosmos. In this way, Le Notre flatteringly reversed absolutism's hierarchical rhetoric making Louis not just a terrestrial representative of divine authority but the very sovereign of the cosmos itself. INTERIOR ROOMS As seen in the diagram shown in class, one journeyed west from Paris, arriving at the east end of the old chateau, passed through a door, journeyed up the "Stairway of the Ambassadors" towards the king's bedroom on the second floor, walked north or south through a series of rooms each decorated with scenes of the various planets, "revolving", as it were, around the sun-king (like the text quoted above). Arriving at either the north or south end of the west facade, one passed through the thematically paired rooms, the "Salon of War" or the "Salon of Peace". These rooms celebrated Louis's exploits as victorious general and as bringer of peace, themes which were interwoven in so far as peace was a euphemism for French military conquest. Between these two rooms stretched the "Hall of Mirrors" looking out westward from the second floor over Le Notre's gardens. The king could directly enter the "Hall of Mirrors" by walking west from his bedroom. 14 Coysevox, Louis XIV as Mars, begun 1678, Salon de la Guerre In the Salon de Guerre (War), Louis appears as Mars, alluding to his role as military commander and his recent victories in the Dutch Wars of the 1670s. In Coysevox's relief, Louis rides forth in equestrian triumph like a Roman general, the vanquished enemies trampled beneath his horse while further bound captives in the lesser medium of bronzed stucco flank the base of the oval relief. A wreath-bearing Victory crowns Louis from above while gilded stucco victories still higher trumpet his fame and hold additional wreaths of victory. In the ceiling frescoes by Le Brun, mythological battles amplify and exalt Louis's martial exploits. Mythology is used continually at Versailles (and other courts) for historical and cosmological flattery: i.e. the gods are the heroic ancestors of the king, the forces of nature which the king commands, the personification of royal virtues, of the embodiment of vices and political enemies over which the king triumphs. It is easy to see how this extreme politicization of myth devalued it as a major vocabulary of art in the eyes of the middle class. Nonetheless, Louis XIV's use of myth retained a certain seriousness compared to the deliberately unreal, insubstantial, and highly erotic approach to myth developed in eighteenth-century Rococo art. However "corrupted" by political flattery, however bombastic, history painting at Versailles remained vigorous, imposing, and powerful. It offered little to suggest its imminent collapse. Mansart and Le Brun, Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 1678- Seventy-five meters long, ten wide, one and two/thirds stories tall, the Hall of Mirrors features ceiling frescoes by Le Brun mythologically celebrating the recent military victories of Louis against the Dutch. Below this, seventeen large mirrors reflect seventeen large windows which look west onto Le Notre's gardens. Along with its brilliantly dressed throngs of courtiers, one must imagine the original furnishings destroyed during the French Revolution, the gold and silver sculptures, tables, candelabra, crystal chandeliers, flowering trees, all multiplied illusionistically by the large mirrors into a still more vast and radiant interior space. The extensive use of mirrors in decoration, newly popular in French and English palaces, is better understood with the following description of a party given in 1651 in a different palace by the Archbishop of Sens. "Fifty of the richest and most beautiful Venetian mirrors serve as delightful pictures displaying the faces, the expressions and poses, the smiles, the graces, the charms, the bosom, the hands and arms of all the fine company that is entertained in this room." 14 On a deeper level, this text helps us see the enormous narcissism of court life at Versailles and its increasing remove from the social and political realities of Paris and France as a whole. This absorption in illusions piled on illusions, these festivals, balls, plays, mock battles, firework displays and other courtly entertainments, this self- aggrandizing use of myth, this transformation of life into art through courtly ceremony, 15 of all this seems to be summed up by the mirrors in the Hall of Mirrors. Seen from the perspective of Molière's death, these mirrors, and Versailles as a whole, takes on a more sober meaning. A great playwright and actor, Molière was acting in the debut of his play, The Hypochondriac at Versailles when he suffered a terrible stroke. Rather than disturb the illusion of the play for king and court, Molière continued to play his part, and died later that day. The multiple ironies of a stricken man pretending to be a healthy actor playing a healthy man pretending to be sick serve as a comment on life at Versailles and how all-important the maintenance of various illusions for king and court had become, more important than life itself. 15All of Versailles can be seen as a kind of hall of mirrors, infinite with illusions of space and grandeur, an endless series of "delightful pictures displaying ... all the fine company" of the court, pictures formed by landscape, sculpture, painting, furniture, clothing, and ceremony, a vast, dazzling, panoramic reflection of royal power, yet increasingly flat, shimmering, and insubstantial, increasingly cut off from reality, a narcissistic spectacle for the royal eye lost in the contemplation of itself. THE CONTRADICTIONS OF VERSAILLES AS AN "ABSOLUTIST VILLA" As a "small" chateau, Versailles was originally a villa or rural retreat where Louis XIII could temporarily escape from the demands of politics and the formality of court life for the freedom and privacy of the villa. The relaxation of villa life included both a more sensual side, with banqueting, dancing, and love nests, and a somewhat more intellectual side, with recitals of poetry and music, and learned conversation with friends. One could say that the villa culture of leisure balanced off the natural and the artificial, the simple and the complex, the informal and the formal, the modest and the sumptuous, the rustic and the courtly/urban. Even the most sumptuous of Renaissance villas usually made some pretense of rustic simplicity and flight from things courtly and urban. While the villa's function as a rustic retreat was never fully believable even to its own inhabitants, it nonetheless went to some lengths to naturalize, disguise, or play down courtly artifice. In that sense, the traditional villa was, at least, a relative retreat. All this was in accordance with classical Roman ideas on villas and villa culture as revived in the Italian Renaissance and taken up by rulers and other elites across Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By transforming Versailles into a theater of absolutist power and by moving the center of the court from the Louvre in Paris to the country retreat itself in 1682, Louis erased any pretense to traditional villa culture at Versailles. For the Versailles after 1682 was devoted to the very court culture of artifice, government business, and formal ceremony which the traditional villa claimed to flee. In its heyday after 1682, Versailles housed 1000 high lords and ladies; 5,000 servants; 9,000 soldiers, and 1,000 visiting courtiers. Bathing was rare, there were no toilets and only a few chamber pots for the highest nobility. People used the grounds and hallways as toilets. One logical consequence of this transformation of the villa into an absolutist palace and the center of court life was the eventual need to construct retreats from the retreat at 16 Versailles. In such smaller villas, Louis could escape the courtly formality and politics he had built up at his renovated villa and once again find nature's supposed simplicity, peace, and solitude. From the start, the need for retreat at Versailles was served by the gardens and its many little pavilions and grottos. One of these at the northern tip of the canal crossing the western end of the grand canal, more than a mile from the main palace, was Louis's love nest, the tiny "Trianon de Porcelaine" built in the 1670s. It consisted of two bedrooms where Louis "relaxed" with his various mistresses. In 1687-8, it was torn down and replaced with Mansart's Grand Trianon. While this was much smaller than the ever-larger main palace and thus preserved a relative modesty, intimacy, and informality, the Grand Trianon was nonetheless a much larger, grander replacement for the "Trianon de Porcelaine". It was also surrounded by extensive and elaborate gardens which were increasingly the preferred location for many festivities held for the king and a smaller audience of high nobility. Four hundred gardeners eventually worked in the formal gardens around the Grand Trianon changing the tulips up to three times a day for the different festivities. In many ways, the replacement of the Porcelain Trianon with the Grand Trianon reproduced the contradictory impulses at the heart of Versailles as an "absolutist villa" by repeating on a smaller scale Louis's original transformation of the original chateau. Though the renovation of the villa made it more effective as a tool in Louis's absolutist political agenda, it weakened it as a retreat for the king himself and fueled the need for new structures of retreat on the grounds itself. This is the origin of smaller villas like the first Porcelain Trianon. Yet these smaller sub-villas were always potentially out of sync with the rest of the villa and its grounds precisely because they were so much more modest. As renovations continued on the larger grounds and palace, the potential disjunction with anything modest and simple increased. The increased presence of the monarch also tended to displace festivity, ceremony, and high audiences increasingly to the new site. As such, the little retreats within the larger retreat were always vulnerable to enlargement or replacement with more magnificent structures. All this is visible in the eventual decision in 1687 to tear down the Porcelain Trianon and replace it with the Grand Trianon and in the increasing importance of this site as the location for operas and other festivities. The same dynamic is also visible in the hermitage known as Marly, a "rustic" hamlet [actually a neoclassical chateau] built by Mansart in the 1670s as another rustic escape for the king. Initially, it was designed to bring some real (or, at least, relative) solitude as if the king were a medieval or Counter-Reformation hermit saint retreating to the wilderness for monastic prayer and isolation. Thus the hermitage was built in an isolated and rather desolate valley outside Paris. According to Saint Simon, the king's ministers tried to get him to build his hermitage in one grand spot "for the view there is bewitching, but he [Louis] answered that a site so full of capabilities would be the ruin of him. He wanted a mere nothing, and must therefore choose the kind of site that would give him no ideas. 17 ... In the end, he [Louis] lit on a narrow valley with steep and rocky sides ... it was difficult to approach because of the marshes, had no view, was hemmed in by hills on every side, and was exceedingly constricted ... The fact that this little valley was so much enclosed, without any vista or means of making one, was its chief merit in the King's eyes. The narrowness, which would also not allow for spreading, was also greatly in its favor. ... It turned out to be an enormous labor to dry up this sewer of a valley, into which all the surrounding country drained itself, and to train the earth to form a new kind of soil. But the king's hermitage was made nonetheless. It was originally intended for visits of three nights two or three times a year, with, at the very most, a dozen courtiers to perform the necessary offices. Gradually, the retreat was enlarged. Piece by piece, the hills were cut away to allow room for building, and a hill at the end of the valley was almost completely leveled so as to give at least one very moderate vista. Finally, with all the buildings, fountains, gardens, aqueducts, so famous, so fascinating under the name of "La Machine de Marly," with its forests improved and enclosed, its parklands and statues, its precious ornaments of all kinds, there arose Marly as we now see it... To provide the forests, many were the tall trees brought from Compiègne and from even greater distances. More than three-quarters of them died and were immediately replaced by others. Great stretches of thick woodland and dark alleyways were transformed with lightning speed into broad lakes, where people rowed about in gondolas, and were then changed back into forests so dense that daylight was banished as soon as the trees were planted. I speak of what I saw myself in six weeks, during which time fountains were altered a hundred times and waterfalls redesigned in countless different ways. Goldfish ponds, decorated with gilding and delightful paintings, were scarcely finished before they were unmade and rebuilt differently by the same artists. ... It is a modest estimate to say that Versailles, such as we see it, did not cost as much as Marly. If you reckon the expense of continual journeys backwards and forwards, for Marly excursions became quite as frequent and almost as crowded as those to Versailles, until at the end of the King's life, it was his usual residence, it would not be too much to say that Marly alone cost several thousand million. Marly eventually featured a large palace at the end of a grand rectangle whose two sides were defined by rows of smaller, separate palaces for the most important nobility. Louis's search for nature's simplicity was obviously at odds with his need to use nature to stage absolutist political ideology. Thus his construction of villas and formal gardens pushed him repeatedly to build new smaller villas and hermitages, only to flee in retreat from these as they got bigger into still new "retreats" which were then build up grandly in turn. Here we see very clearly the peculiar dilemmas and contradictions of the "absolutist villa" and its landscape architecture. 18 Versailles and the Myth of Nature's Solitude It is said Louis liked to walk in the Orangerie (or in the Marly hermitage) to find nature's solitude and peace. Yet one wonders how much "solitude" he found in this 2,000 orange- tree formal garden a stone's throw from the main palace at Versailles. If "solitude" has traditionally been attributed to "nature," its meaning has changed according to the particular social group finding the "solitude" and the larger historical-cultural moment. Classical philosophers, medieval Christian hermit saints and monks, late medieval humanists like Petrarch, Renaissance humanists like Erasmus (Godly Feast), and Counter-Reformation bishops like Borromeo all found very different kinds of "solitude" in nature. To put it another way, they used the flexible topic of "solitude in nature" to define very different kinds of nature and, conversely, to naturalize very different kinds of social, moral, religious, economic, and political values. Louis XV, for example, found yet another form of "solitude" in a "nature" which was profoundly shaped by the very political culture he imagined he was fleeing. The absolutist "solitude" found by Louis in the absolutist "nature" of the Orangerie (and the gardens of Versailles as a whole) are a good reminder that "nature" is continually redefined and reconstructed by each period and by the different social groups operating within a given historical-cultural moment. Louis may have believed he was experiencing a timeless, transcendent nature as he strolled through the Orangerie in his splendid solitude, free of his usual trail of high nobles. Seen from a more critical, modern perspective, we know better. The trick in this course is to try to jump beyond our own, equally time-bound, modern assumptions about "timeless nature" to understand earlier representations from their own, distinct perspectives. Versailles's Concealed Violence The darker, invisible side of the gardens at Versailles and Marly was the quasi-slave labor required to built, continually modify, and maintain them. The Versailles gardens were constructed from malaria-infested swamps by 36,000 peasants, laborers, and soldiers who died by the thousands. Unsightly bodies were removed by the cartload every night. One sketch (used in the video) even shows a group of elegant aristocrats promenading and conversing peacefully in the half-constructed gardens as a cartload of worker's corpses passes in the distance. With some exceptions such as Saint Simon, little of the human costs of Versailles (and of absolutism as a whole) were problematic at the highest levels of the court. Louis's Minister of State, Richelieu, himself dismissed the peasantry as the "packhorses of the state" and insisted suffering was their "natural" condition. Ironically, Richelieu's economic and political policies led to severe disruptions in the French rural economy and in living conditions. French rural poverty and famine increased substantially in the seventeenth century. Yet it was the French court's larger, centralized capital, labor, and absolutist political culture which allowed Louis and his court to enjoy nature's simplicity, truth, beauty, refinement, peace, and solitude at 19 Versailles, far from the "corruptions" of city and court. So too, that ability to command and squander resources allowed Louis to use "nature" to mask out larger political and economic realities, costs, and destruction (including that wrought by the garden projects themselves) by confirming French absolutism's solar wisdom, benevolence, nobility, reason, virtue, and above all, its rightful ruling place in "nature". Versailles and Modern Culture: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous The modern, quasi-religious view of art as something timeless and pure coupled with the gawking admiration which ordinary people take in aristocratic luxury has led to a silly, uncritical enchantment with the splendors of all country homes and Versailles in particular. Fueled by the lusciously photographed coffee table books and by blockbuster exhibitions and catalogues like the recent show, "Treasures from the English Country Home," many modern viewers end up seeing Versailles from the mindless perspective of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". Such enchantment makes it impossible to see all the material defects and squalor originally visible at Versailles and the terrible human costs which such high culture inflicted on a lower humanity. Although the account of the admittedly hostile court insider, Saint Simon, has its own obvious prejudices, it reveals historical realities which mainstream museum, television, and art book culture tends to pass over in silence. "It diverted him [Louis] to ride roughshod over nature and to use his money and ingenuity to subdue it to his will. At Versailles he set up building after building according to no scheme of planning. Beauty and ugliness, spaciousness and meanness were roughly tacked together. The royal apartments at Versailles are beyond everything inconvenient, with back views over the privies and other dark and evil-smelling places. Truly the magnificence of the gardens is amazing, but to make the smallest use of them is disagreeable, and they are in equally bad taste. To reach any shade, one is forced to cross a vast, scorching expanse ... Who could help being repelled and disgusted at the violences done to Nature? Numerous springs have been forced to flow into the gardens from every side making them lush, overgrown, and boggy; they are perceptibly damp and unhealthy and their smell is even more so. The fountains and other effects are indeed incomparably fine ... but the net result is that one admires and flees. ... The Versailles of Louis XIV, that masterpiece wherein countless sums of money were thrown away merely in alterations to ponds and thickets, was so ruinously costly, no monstrously ill-planned, that it was never finished. ... The avenues and plantations, all laid out artificially, cannot mature and must be continually restocked with game. I quote Saint Simon here not to "bash" Versailles since that would be all too easy and pointless. Instead, I use him as an example of a more critical seventeenth-century perspective which can help expand our reading of Versailles past its own enchanting 20 glitter. If one purpose of a history course is to look critically at events, texts, and representations, a fully historical understanding of Versailles and absolutist landscape architecture requires that we go beyond its remarkable magnificence and see how it worked, what messages it conveyed, what audiences it targeted, and what purposes it served. THE RISE OF THE ROCOCO AESTHETIC AND THE ENGLISH GARDEN It was partly to escape the painfully visibility of those contradictions that the next generation of French kings and queens moved away from the rigid, orderly, neoclassical style favored by seventeenth-century monarchs to a new more relaxed, "natural", disorderly, English style of landscape gardening. And this took place within a larger aesthetic shift away from all rigidity and severe, neoclassical rationality. Thus the dilemmas faced by Louis XIV were largely resolved at Versailles in the eighteenth century in so far as royal architectural, painting, and decoration embraced the highly organic, "natural" style of the Rococo. While royal patrons continued to build new retreats at Versailles to escape the ceremony of court life, the new retreats like Marie Antoinette's Belvedere, and Madame de Pompadour's Petit Trianon were much less susceptible to the same pressure to increasing grandeur and formality. Their sumptuous interiors favored the "natural", organic courtly look of the Rococo. Marie Antoinette's favorite retreat at Versailles was the Hamlet, a mock-up peasant village complete with stables, buttery, and water mill, where she churned butter and played shepherdess with her ladies in waiting. (Of course, it also had a ball room.) This eighteenth-century villa culture and gardening outwardly eschewed most classical qualities and artifice in ways unimaginable in the days of Louis XIV. Not surprisingly, eighteenth-century French monarchs ignored Louis XIV's Grand Trianon as stiff and "unnatural". 123456 Pierre de Nolhac, La Création de Versailles, 1901, quoted in Stéphane Pincas, Versailles. The History of the Gardens and Their Sculpture, Thames and Hudson, 1995, p. 38. Around the royal residence nature is entirely enslaved, everything has been organized to ensure that only the works of man are visible … The terraces are made almost entirely of earth brought in from elsewhere; the original modest hillock has been expanded to enormous proportions to accommodate the chateau and its setting … the building is surrounded by a vast platform in which all of the decoration has been kept low and as it were squashed down, in order to give greater prominence to the majestic construction which dominates it, and to conceal no detail of it.” 7 89 Michael Gareau, Charles Le Brun, New York: Abrams, 1992, pp. 27-31. 10 Gareau, op. cit., p. 43. 11 See Pincas, op. cit., p. 119. 1213 Maurizio Calvesi, ed., Rejoice. 700 Years of Art for the Papal Jubilee, Rizzoli, 1999, p. 156 1415 This incident, and its larger implications for court culture at Versailles, came to my attention in Simon Schama’s course, Art and Politics, given at Harvard in the early 1980s.
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