A visit to Versailles

6 May 2011

On this day, the 6th May 1682, Louis XIV moved his court to Versailles. To mark this momentous occasion and also that of my humble blog passing 400,000 page views (thank you!), I thought I would post some of the photographs that I took during my last visit to Versailles.

Marie Antoinette and countless others got married beneath this beautiful ceiling! Imagine kneeling beneath this vivid display while saying your prayers – it really must have felt like you were sending them directly up to Heaven itself…

A young, heroic Louis XIV, looking very different to (reality?) how he would appear in later portraits. He was a handsome fellow though, by all accounts. I still prefer his first cousin, Charles II of England though…

The beautiful, witty and rather sinister Madame de Montespan surrounded by her children by Louis XIV. I love how Louise peeps through the artfully placed hedgerow. One of the things that always intrigues me about Madame de Montespan is that we are told that she and her circle of intimates had their own idiom that they used when talking to each other (like the Duchess Georgiana of Devonshire and her chums) and I’d love to know what that actually sounded like!

Marie Leczinska, Louis XV’s pious Polish wife. The angle that I took this from makes her dress looks all the more ballooning and her head absolutely pin like in comparison. I love the jaunty little spaniel at her feet. Poor Marie – she complained that Louis was always pestering her for sex (‘always in bed, always pregnant, always giving birth’ she is said to have complained) and used to make up random and increasingly obscure saint’s days so that she could turf him out of her bedroom. She also kept the grotesquely decorated skull of the seventeenth century courtesan Ninon de Lenclos at her side, calling it her ‘Mignonne’. How very goth.

One of the many thousands of beautiful chandeliers in the château. It wasn’t very busy when we were there last but there were enough people for me to realise that if I wanted to get reasonable shots then lifting my camera towards the ceiling was definitely the best bet! Can you see the famous portrait of Louis XIV on the wall? According to tradition this room always had this portrait of the original King of Versailles on one wall and one of whoever the current King was on the other – this space is currently inhabited by a large full length picture of Louis XVI, the last King of Versailles.

A throne in what would have been used as the throne room on state occasions. This hasn’t always been in here so must have been added as part of the most recent round of improvements. It looks good though, and gives visitors an idea of how the château would have been used in its heyday. When I first visited in 1989, it was still relatively empty in comparison to how it is now.

The ante chamber before you enter the legendary Hall of Mirrors. This one is ‘war’ themed, while the one next to the Queen’s bedroom at the very end is ‘peace’ themed.

A view across the parterre from the window of the Hall of Mirrors. I keep meaning to photoshop courtiers over the tourists!

Another view from the window. In the corner you can see the mad little bus that takes people down to the Trianons.

Another view of the ante chamber, this time showing the marble warlike Louis XIV on the wall.

Self portrait reflected in the famous mirrors. They aren’t the originals, but who cares? I have bare feet as we foolhardedly decided to walk from the Opéra to the Louvre then down the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe and THEN on to the Eiffel Tower the night before and my feet were killing me! We went to the Louvre for the evening opening after leaving Versailles and I got told off for having bare feet in front of the Mona Lisa! Speaking of the Mona Lisa – did you know that the painting used to hang at Versailles?

View towards the ceiling in the Hall of Mirrors.

Beautiful gilt statues that line the gallery. In the times of Kings, the royal family and their attendants would walk in a procession down the Hall of Mirrors to get to the chapel for morning Mass and all the court and anyone dressed well enough to be admitted to Versailles would gather to watch them go past, making it the most opulent corridor in all the world.

More of the Hall of Mirrors.

The chubby little cherubs that ornament one of the chandelier plinths in the gallery.

The end wall of the gallery and my husband looking totally fed up!

The ceiling of the ‘peace’ ante chamber at the other end.

Louis XIV had himself depicted in a warlike state, while Louis XV prefered to be painted in a state of peace, with his twin baby daughters beside him.

Some photographs of Marie Antoinette’s bedroom at Versailles. It’s a bit over the top isn’t it? It’s funny really though that technically this is simply the ‘Queen’s’ bedroom but the other residents don’t really get a mention, it is and always will be the bedroom of Marie Antoinette. Can you see the portrait of Marie Antoinette’s mother, the Empress Maria Theresa above the mirror?

View of the mantelpiece, where a beautiful bust of Marie Antoinette stands, looking out haughtily over the millions of visitors who pass by every year.

The hidden door beside the bed, which Marie Antoinette used to make her escape from the mob in October 1789. I have actually been through the door and down the very corridor, thanks to a cunning ploy of pretending to have a headache on one of my visits. The very kindly guard took me past the balustrade and within touching distance of the royal bed then through the door and down the corridor to the Oeuil de Boeuf room that lies at the other end. It was amazing.

The bed, complete with reconstructions of the beautiful fabric that Marie Antoinette used in summer (the decor of this room was regularly updated and would be changed every year with the seasons). It has flowers, ribbons and peacock feathers intertwined.

Another view of the bedroom. Never mind the Hall of Mirrors or even the King’s bedroom on the other side of the château, this was the very heart of Versailles and the place that everyone wanted to be admitted to. Although Marie Antoinette actually prefered to sleep in a smaller, cosier room elsewhere in the palace, this was the room that was used for her official levée and coucher, the ceremonies of getting up and going to bed. It was also where the Queen was required to give birth: we know that Marie Antoinette had her children on a pallet bed that was set up more or less where I was standing when I took his photograph.

A close up view of the beautiful fabric used in the room.

The headboard, where you can see Marie Antoinette’s insignia: a combined M and A.

The amazing canopy, topped with an Imperial eagle, a reminder of her faraway home along with the portraits of her mother Maria Theresa and brother Joseph, which hang on the walls.

The sofa tucked in next to the door and covered with the same beautiful fabric.

The delicate green and gold room next to Marie Antoinette’s bedroom. The colours always remind me of Quality Street wrappers! It was in this room that her waiting women were dozing when they first heard the cry of alarm that warned them that the mob had broken into the palace and were on their way to the Queen’s rooms. The big portrait is of Louis XV, Marie Antoinette’s grandfather in law.

Posthumous portrait by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard of Louis XV’s favourite daughter, Louise-Élisabeth, who was also the only one of his eight daughters to ever marry and leave Versailles. She married the Duke of Parma and became mother to Isabella, who married Marie Antoinette’s brother Joseph; Ferdinand, who married Marie Antoinette’s sister Maria Amalia and finally Marie Louise, who became Queen of Spain and was infamously depicted in later life by Goya as a decrepit, dissolute harridan.

A closer view of the painting. The child is Ferdinand, who later succeeded his father as Duke of Parma and was the husband of the Archduchess Maria Amalia, sister to Marie Antoinette. It’s been suggested to me that the portrait is actually of Madame Elisabeth with Madame Royale – what do you think?

Madame Adélaïde by Labille-Guiard. At the time of Marie Antoinette’s arrival at Versailles, Adélaïde was the oldest of Louis XV’s remaining daughters and very much ruled the roost while exerting a negative and unwise influence over her young nephew, the Dauphin Louis.

Marie Antoinette as a young queen, painted shortly after her accession by Vigée-Leburn in what was to be one of her first royal commissions.

Madame Victoire by Labille-Guiard. Victoire was another of Louis XV’s daughters, who remained at Versailles as middle aged spinsters.

The iconic portrait of Marie Antoinette with her children, painted by Vigée-Lebrun in 1787, just two years before their world was ripped apart.

A closer view of the painting. The empty cradle originally held the youngest child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, the Princesse Sophie-Béatrix, who died as a baby. The Dauphin Louis-Joseph who holds aside the fabric covering the cradle was to die in 1789, the baby Louis-Charles (later Dauphin and then Louis XVII) died in prison in 1795. Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte (Madame Royale) was the only one to survive the Revolution.

A view from the palace. So beautiful.

I  think this may be my favourite shot of Versailles. I love the way that the mellow September sunshine dapples against the old gilt paintwork.

Another view of the same room, showing the beautiful clash of gilt, crystal and crimson silk.

Many of the rooms at Versailles have this amazing marble decoration with different coloured marbles arranged geometrically. It is a very masculine style, I think, and was probably Louis XIV’s own taste.

A view of David’s copy of his monumental ‘Sacrée de Napoléon’, which depicts the coronation of Napoleon or rather the coronation of his wife, the amazing Joséphine. Legend has it that she persuaded David to depict the moment that she was the centre of attention, probably to fling it in the teeth of Napoléon’s family who hated her and truly were the in laws from hell, who never stopped scheming to bring about her divorce.

A closer view of Joséphine.

Madame de Ségur and Madame de la Rochefoucauld holding up Joséphine’s enormously heavy train, which her spiteful sisters in law deliberately dropped on the way into the cathedral in the hopes that she would fall over.

Looking like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths: Julie Clary, wife of Napoléon’s brother, Joseph; Hortense, the daughter of Joséphine and wife of Napoléon’s brother, Louis and next to them the trio of Napoléon’s ill wishing sisters: Elisa, Pauline and Caroline.

A portrait of Joséphine.

Hortense gazing out of another canvas, with her brother Eugène beside her, as usual making the Bonaparte in laws look like a very vulgar and unattractive rabble.

A staircase that is ornamented like a very sumptuous wedding cake!

A beautiful marble vestibule.

A view from a window at the side of the château.

A view of the famous ‘bull’s eye’ in the Oeuil de Boeuf. This was the main waiting room to the King’s bedchamber, where the gentlemen of the court would gather before trying to gain admittance to the monarch’s presence. It was one of the main hubs of the palace.

A triumphant Louis XIV in the Oeuil de Boeuf. Nice shoes!

Another self portrait.

I always feel that Louis XVI is a bit under represented at Versailles. Everyone is interested in Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette and poor old Louis XV and Louis XVI barely get a look in.

The young Louis XIV surrounded by his family.

The adorable Minette, Henriette-Anne, Duchesse d’Orléans: an English princess at the court of France and the subject of my very next book!

Another view of the Oeuil de Boeuf. This room was the antechamber to the king’s bedchamber, which lay at the very centre of the château. It was into this room that Marie Antoinette stumbled after her terrifying escape down the secret passage beside her bed in October 1789.

The King’s bedroom.

A close look at the sumptuous and rather masculine fabric that hangs in the king’s bedroom.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed that little tour of some of the rooms of Versailles and here’s to the next 400,000 views! x

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