The Palace of Versailles

Visiting Versailles just about drove me crazy. It’s an exhausting day, taking a commuter railroad out from central Paris. But you have to take the right train, from the right station to the correct destination because there are multiple depots in the town of Versailles. It was a beautiful day for the start, and it was appropriate because the palace was built to receive the morning rays of the sun from the east.

As many people know, the central portion around what is known as the Marble Court was built by Louis XIV’s father, Louis XIII, but the whole cult of the Sun King is really wrapped up in Early Modern Humanism and its attention to Greek and Roman mythology, particularly the god Apollo.

The god Apollo was one of only a few gods that the Romans borrowed directly from the Greeks, and did not syncretize from their old Latin gods to their eastern neighbors. It is a fallacy that the Romans borrowed all their gods from the Greeks–they merely matched them up after realizing they all probably acquired them from Middle Eastern gods. The Roman goddess Venus and the Greek Aphrodite are descendants of the Semitic Astarte and the Assyrian Ishtar, for example. All the same gods, and the ancient world knew that, by the way. Anyway, I digress. Louis XIV used the guise of Apollo, the sun god and the patron of the arts as the perfect allegorical figure for his reign. The sun rises in the east, and approaching dignitaries would see the palace bathed in the golden light of the morning.

It’s maybe heard to convey in my photos, but the gilding was absolutely aflame in the morning sun. According to myth, Apollo rose in the morning, oriens in Latin, and drove his chariot across the sky led by Aurora, the goddess of the dawn. We get our word Oriental for east from this myth.

The palace is the work of multiple architects, such as Charles Le Brun and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, two of the most influential architects during Louis XIV’s reign. It was inspired by Vaux-le-Vicomte, which the king had visited before commissioning Versailles, using many of the same architects.

The chapel, viewed to the right of the main entrance, was added later.

There are massive service wings, as well, including two huge pie-shaped buildings to the east that if I remember correctly housed servants.

Visitors are herded through a security checkpoint and then are greeted with a very nice display explaining the history of the palace and its growth from a very large hunting lodge into a gigantic royal headquarters for the kingdom of France.

There are some very nice rooms, including the chapel above and this room below, complete with a macro Sixteenth Century Venetian canvas. The ceiling painting and its illusionism is straight out of Italy.

Louis XIV appears in an alcove in the guise of the Roman god of war, Mars, inspired straight from a statue of the god that I have seen in the Capitoline Museums in Rome that once stood in the Temple of Mars Ultor. The significance is obvious.

Here is the vestibule of the famous Hall of Mirrors, which I think just about everyone has heard of before. Images of war appear in this room.

Here’s a low relief sculpture of Louis XIV trotting across the battlefield. Obviously, by the Seventeenth Century monarchs would remain far from danger in warfare.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the Hall of Mirrors is a grand copy of the Galleria Farnese in Rome, in a palazzo that had become the embassy of the kingdom in the Eternal City. Annibale Carracci quite frankly did a better job in the original.

On the ceiling are various victories of the French army.

On the far end is a French iteration of a famous Roman copy of the Goddess Diana, who was the sister of Apollo. She was also the goddess of the moon (ever wonder why the sun and the moon were used on outhouses?). Note the porphyry jars on the table; the Romans imported the hard purple stone from Egypt and the French obviously got a hold of some spolia in Rome.

Here’s a nice ceiling I spotted later.

Oh God, and then comes the giant propaganda room with the huge paintings from French history. They knocked down a bunch of walls in the Nineteenth Century to build what was going to be a museum of French history, and luckily only got this much done.

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