A week in France: The palace at Versailles

It is hard to believe that one of the crowning achievements of French architecture started as a hunting lodge. From its some what humble beginning the palace at Versailles evolved into a symbol of French power and excess. It served as the seat of government from 1682-1789 and housed the monarchs from Louis XIII to Louis XV.

Our tour started in the King's state apartment, a lavish group of rooms overlooking the courtyard of black and white marble. In the time of the monarchs the King and Queen did not share the same chambers. To better serve their roles as host and hostess of the French court they had separate apartments where they could entertain dignitaries and important visitors to the court. Luckily for a visitor like me this means there are endless rooms that needed decorative arts including furniture, metal work, and ceramics. Wandering from room to room I was amazed that the royal treasury wasn't completely drained in the building and decoration of Versailles.

After a short time in the main palace we ventured out into the gardens. Equally as famous as the architecture the gardens where intricately designed, and redesigned, by each monarch. The gardens give way to the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon. Both of these structures where later additions to the palace compound. They show the evolution of French architecture and style over the centuries that Versailles was constructed. While the palace compound expanded, ornament lessoned from the Baroque to Roccoco to Neo classical periods. One thing that did not change was the love of gold. (Gilded bronze was often used in place of actual gold.) No building was short on this important symbol of power. 

Seeing the gold lined walls of the Kings apartment helped me understand why gold lustre was used so heavily in ceramics made in the Sevres factory. Above you can see part of a table service that fit perfectly in a room full of gold trim. My next post will be on the Sevres museum and the ceramics that have been produced in the factory since the late 1730's.

The pink marble of the Grand Trianon was one of the high lights of the palace compound.

Versailles boasts more than five million visitors a year. In addition to the plethora of photographs taken every year the compound has appeared on the silver screen. In Marie Antoinette Kirsten Dunst is cast as the most famous French queen. The movie is filled with the pomp and circumstance of the French court. There are many great shots of the palace and the compound. Click here to view the trailer for Marie Antoionette.

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