The sun was shining when we first arrived at the stunning and highly influential Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte. I had been wanting to visit this remarkable palace for a long time, and it did not disappoint. It represents an important moment in the development of Seventeenth Century palace design, and many of the elements brought here from Italy for the first time would have influences across northern Europe and America for centuries. Above is the “front” for lack of a better term, and the two photos below show the service wings that stretch out to the left and right as the visitor approaches the château.
The complex is owned by a family, and I think I remember being told that three brothers now operate the place and their parents might live in the wing below.
The château was commissioned by Nicolas Fouquet, the superintendent of the treasurer of Louis XIV, the designed by Louis Le Vau and Charles Le Brun, who of course was also a famous painter. André Le Nôtre was the designer of the vast gardens, and we’ll look at those in a second.
Unfortunately for Fouquet, he was pushed in front of the bus by the royal minister Colbert, and he was imprisoned for the rest of his life. Things went downhill after Fouquet invited Louis XIV to a giant party at Vaux-le-Vicomte and the king got jealous and/or suspicious of the wealth required to build such a lavish palace. But supposedly Louis XIV was then inspired to build Versailles, hiring the same architects as Fouquet.
The interiors were nice, showing Le Brun’s debt to Italian illusionistic ceiling paintings, but I was more interested in the exterior and the gardens.
The cellars were also impressive, and reminded me of lagering cellars here in St. Louis which were built along the same lines.
The garden side is more ornamental and it looks out over what is essentially an optical illusion created by Le Nôtre.
The central pavilion, crowned with an oval dome, possesses various statues which I suspect represent the fine arts. The roof was recently completely restored and looked beautiful.
Influenced by the Luxembourg Palace and Italian palazzo architecture, rusticated columns delineate the bays of the portico, which contain roundels above the arched doorways.
Besides Roman heroes such as Scipio Africanus, the two below represent Cleopatra and Marc Antony, two figures which would have been well known to the educated guests of Fouquet. The portraits are based off cameos and coins.
The portrait busts of emperors or other classical figures would be repeated at Versailles and other public buildings.
Large colossal order pilasters, like Michelangelo used on the Capitoline Hill, separate out the bays on the main building.
But as leave the main building, which is surprisingly small for much of France, we now focus on the gardens and their critical influence.
Looking out over the grounds, we see what looks to be two square ponds in the distance beyond a round pool.
One one side is a flower bed with a wealth of different colorful flowers.
One the other side is a pond with a fountain.
Laid out with formal lines, it is punctuated with conical trees.
Unfortunately, the fountain was not running at the time.
Large statues with themes of abundance and harvest line the paths.
Two lions or pumas carouse near the gravel path.
Leading down the paths are grottos, which are straight out of Italy, such as we have seen at the Villa d’Este.
However, the further we get away from the main building, we discover that forced perspective has given us a skewed idea of what the grounds actually look like. The two square ponds are actually rectangular, and there were actually two long ponds that were hidden from view from the main terrace.
And there is a long canal that was completely obscure except for this arcade along the shore.
Up at the top of the hill is a gilded copy of the Farnese Hercules which was not a part of the original design of the gardens.
Personally, I found it to be one of the most interesting places I visited in France, and the trio of artists that worked together here found a certain harmony in their collaboration.
This wall below reminds me of Italy, as well, and is invisible to the palace in the background.
By the way, this is residence of the villain in the James Bond movie, Moonraker.