Monday, 21 July 2014

Grand Fête of 1674

In 1674 France had managed to capture the region of Franche-Comté and Louis XIV wanted to celebrate in true Versailles style. Fêtes were to take place between 4th July to 31st August - five great parties in all.

The King wanted especially to highlight the new alterations and additions made to the gardens so a large part of the festivities took place outside. The festival was to honour music and plays. The play "Alceste" was performed in the Marble Courtyard in the very heart of the palace on the first day of the festival. For the purpose a fountain was erected in the middle of the staged but carefully packed so that they sound of the water would not drown out the exquisite music.

"Alceste" is performed in the Marble Courtyard on 4th July

On the 11th July the court turned its' gaze to the Porcelain Trianon where "L'Eglogue de Versailles" by Lully was played out on a stage designed by Carlo Vigarani. The stage featured a small pool of water and satyrs and fauns adorned the fences. The walk back to Versailles was made pleasanter by the many flowers with their overpowering scents. By 9 o'clock that evening dinner was served in the grove "Salle de Conseil" which was illuminated by 150 candles.

Even the Grotto of Thétis was used as a background for "Du Malade Imaginaire" by Molière and Charpentier which was performed on the 19th July. That day also brought sailing on the Grand Canal. Throughout every one of the fêtes flowers played a major role; they were either displayed in expensive vases or woven into garlands.

"La Malade Imaginaire"

The 28th July was dedicated to the abundance of nature. While the guests were entertained with "Fêtes de l'Amour et Bacchus" they were treated to cascades of fruit, ices, wines, liqueurs and jams under the heavy fruit trees. Once again Carlo Vigarani had designed the stage for the play which was flanked by two pilasters of Justice and Bliss in bronze. The last act opened up the sides of the stage and choirs dressed as shepherds appeared while about fifty satyrs overran the stage. The King made his magnificent entrance and just when he appeared fireworks erupted over the skies of Versailles. This time dinner was served in the Marble Courtyard where the guests dined to the sounds of violins and oboes.

Racine's play "Iphigéne" took place in front of the Orangery on 18th August. Later that day the entire royal family went down to the newly finished Apollo Fountain where a big display of fireworks lit up the rows of lilies and statues of the King which flanked the Grand Canal. Le Brun had created an obelisk with the King's emblem of the Sun. The firework consisted of no less than 5000 rockets.

Dinner on 28th July in the Marble Courtyard

It soon became common knowledge that the fêtes had been dedicated to Madame de Montespan, the new favourite and rival of Louise de La Vallière. The entire splendid festival came at its' price; Louis XIV spent the staggering sum of 117.000 livres which amounted to 1/3 of the sum spent on the construction of Versailles that year!

On the very last evening the festival took to the waters - or more specifically the Grand Canal where the courtiers set out in their boats accompanied by boats of musicians. This night also saw the illumination of the entire Grand Canal!

The Grand Canal is illuminated

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