Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Northern Parterre

Designed by Le Brun and carried out by Girardon while the sculptured fountains are the works of respectively Tuby and Le Hongre. Up until 1686 plants shaped as large royal crowns were removed in favour of the more mythical mermaids and tridents. When the Grotto of Thétis was still in place the Northern Parterre was called the "Parterre of the Grotto"; as such what was to become the Northern Parterre was finished in 1663.

The Northern Parterre was the background for the painting by Allegrain Etienne which showed Louis XIV promenading in with his courtiers. The parterre is connected to the Basins with a marble staircase.

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Billedresultat for versailles northern parterre
Louis XIV holding court in the northern parterre

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Parterre nord (1).jpg

Versailles, France - panoramio (19).jpg

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Lead Poisoning - the Threat from Everywhere!

An 18th century French courtier was constantly exposed to the dangers of lead poisoning. Lead was everywhere particularly in the daily-applied make-up and symptoms of lead poisoning was common. So, how did lead poisoning effect the French court?

The Fountain of Saturn is gilded with lead

Not only make-up was filled with lead, medicine too was no safer; French doctors were notorious for using lead to "cure" their patients. For example a doctor in Montpellier used lead against inflammations, stiffness in the joints and gun wounds! The strange thing is that people knew that lead was dangerous to use but it nevertheless remained in common use.

Lead is easily absorbed by the body and the usage would have led many courtiers complain of head aches, bowel problems, dizziness, nausea etc. It was also normal that the skin would become inflamed and red which the courtier would then cover up with yet more lead-based make-up. Baldness was yet another common side-effect and because the problem was so rife it became fashion to shave the hairline back. In the most extreme cases people died from the lead-exposure - the English Countess of Coventry was a said to be the most beautiful woman at the English court but her massive use of Venetian ceruse led to her death at just 27 years old.

Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin who had eye issues
due to lead poisoning

The Château de Versailles was in itself a hazardous place to be. In 1660 Louis XIV had ordered a round of alterations which included decorative lead-roofs. The gardens were no safer with the countless statues and fountains often gilded with lead or made out of lead entirely. It is a wonder that the Sun King did not succumb to lead poisoning! The artist Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin (who created the firework display for the birth of Louis XV's son and restored the frescoes in the Gallery of Francis I at Fontainebleau) was one of the men at court who suffered from lead poisoning. In 1770 he suffered from an eye affliction due to lead poisoning which he got not from make-up but from the white-pigmented oils that were favoured by painters of the time.

Friday, 22 August 2014

White - the Colour of the Upper Class

For a long time before the Ancien Regime a white complexion was considered an essential part of an aristocrat's look; compared to the peasants whose daily work outside caused a sun-burnt complexion. Actually, this was exactly what the courtiers wanted to be noticed: they - as the privileged class - did not need to work outside. So, the whiter, the better.

Parasols, hats and even masks were used by both men and women who wanted to preserve their perfect, white skin tone. But since it could be difficult to always avoid catching the sunlight especially considering the life led at court where both men and women were expected to follow the King and Queen out hunting or for walks in the vast gardens. Along came the make-up.

The Comtesse de Provence is almost
as white as her gown in this portrait

Make-up was usually divided into two categories: the blancs and the rouges or the whites and the reds. Various recipes existed to top off the ideal complexion. Some of them were quite harmless and would consist of vinegar, egg whites or bismuth and as long as you could stand the smell of vinegar all day long you were fine. Others were not so harmless. Ceruse had been around for centuries but the ingredients were pretty much the same the main ingredient being: lead - or to be more precise the white chalk of lead. Then there was "pearl powder" which was made from actual pearls and gave the skin a very shiny look.
There were cheaper alternatives to the rather expensive white lead which was aluminium sulphate or simply "alum" while bismuth was the knock-off pearl powder. It was also common to enhance the blue colour of the veins to make the skin seem even paler!

The white make-up would be applied in thick layers using a brush to wipe out all signs of wrinkles or other ageing signs. Women would also whiten their shoulders as well as their bosom. While in France the white make-up was a sign of the courtier, in England it took a little longer for the aristocracy to join in since it was considered the look of a courtesan or an actress. Eventually, though, the English followed suit.

Both husband and wife seems to have taken up the white trend
As the 18th century progressed the knowledge of the dangers posed by continuous exposure to lead became ever greater but it had little effect upon the fashionable society (as these things never have).

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Red Hair? God no!

Throughout the entire Ancien Regime there was one thing in fashion that never changed: the aversion to red hair. Nobody wanted to have red hair and the favoured colour was brown or darker colours. When Marie Antoinette became Queen blond was all the rage. Those courtiers who were unfortunate enough to be born with the undesired hair-colours sought alternatives to remedy the situation.

This was the time when the first actual chemistry was being brought into use concerning hair colours. In Elizabethan England most women had desired to copy the Queen's red hair but never using chemistry. The recipes varied and the safest ones included roots and nuts - but then there were the more drastic methods. Quicklime, salt, sulphur and white lead could be found in numerous recipes in hair-dying. One of the recipes included boiling water, adding the ingredients and letting the hair soak for a while - the longer, the stronger colour.

No, this is not cocaine but white lead

Eye-brows were dyed too - by both men and women. Often the same recipe used for the hair was used for the eye-brows as well. Usually, a small brush or comb would be used to apply the dye to the eye-brows. During the time when dark hair was the latest trend the recipes were often named after exotic, far-off lands such as the Eau de Perse (Eau de Persia), Eau de Greque (Eau de Greece) and Vinaigre de Cypres (Cypriot oil) - they all have that dark hair so desired in common.

Dying one's hair was not very common not even among the nobility. Most people preferred to simply powder their natural hair or their wigs (which was far safer), so we can safely assume that it was only the most daring who gave chemistry a try. After all, there were more than enough issues connected with hair and hair care (lice, scalp problems, cracked skin etc.) without adding chemicals to the mixture.

Louis XV's Pistols

1750-1760 French Pistols at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London - From the curators' comments: "These pistols were probably made for Louis XV, King of France (1715-74)....Such pistols were made for Louis XV's own use or for presentation by him to a foreign royalty. The pistols are of exceptional quality. Their impact is entirely visual. They were designed to work but have never been fired and were probably never intended to be."

Pistols made for Louis XV, 1750-60. They were either made for the King's private use or for him to give to foreign royalty. However, they were not made to be used and has never been fired.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A Familiar Menage à Trois!

Although it was widely accepted at court that both men and women had numerous affairs outside of marriage, it was also essential to some wives to keep a low profile with their liaisons. At this time a husband had not only a right to his wife's fortune and estates he also had the right to punish her for adultery if he saw fit; naturally, this was not the case the other way around. The most popular form of punishment was sending a wife to a convent where - if her husband wished it - she might very well spent the rest of her life.

The wife of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lionne, was one of those wives who were sent to a convent although not permanently. The incident that sparked this severe punishment was quite enough to scandalize even the court at Versailles. Lionne (who himself had had several affairs) returned home to find his wife in bed with the Comte de Saulx which would not have been considered that bad had it not been because Lionne's daughter was also there!
Madame de Sévigné claimed that although Lionne himself was used to his wife's affairs, he thought it too much that his son-in-law should be subjected to the same treatment.

"Every day I hear innumerable calumnies with not a grain of truth in them, promises which are never kept and polite expressions which conceal thoughts of a very different nature."

Elisabeth Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orlèans 

Friday, 15 August 2014

The War of Devolution

The War of Devolution was a very short-lived war lasting from 1667-68.

France                                                                     vs.                                                                       Spain
The Dutch Republic

Louis XIV was a young King in 1667 and obsessed with proving his worth as a ruler which according to the times he lived in was done through war. The French King set his eyes on the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium today) and once again it was the missing dowry of his Spanish wife, Marie Thérèse, that sparked the conflict. The Spanish King died in 1665 which meant that as a child of his first marriage, Marie Thérèse had a claim to some of the Spanish territories since the dowry had not been paid. However, these territories went to Carlos II who was a child of the King's second marriage.

England and the Dutch Republic were involved in a war of trade but they halted their hostilities since France would be too powerful if she succeeded in integrating the Spanish Netherlands into France. The two countries were joined by Sweden which made up the Triple Alliance in support of Spain.

Louis XIV visits the trenches

Trivia - The French court and the War of Devolution:
  • Louis XIV assembled an army of 72.000 men 
  • He appointed the Prince de Condé, Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne and the Viscount Turenne as commanders of his armies - two of them had fought in the Thirty Years' War
  • Louis XIV led the siege of Lille in person
  • The entire court travelled with the King to the front causing a massive logistical issue
  • Queen Marie Thérèse was forced to travel in the same carriage as her husband's two mistresses, Louise de La Valliére and Athénaïs de Montespan
  • The King had arranged for several artists to accompany the court to document his efforts at the front, including Lully, Molière and Charles le Brun
Louis XIV by Charles le Brun, painted during this period

Louis XIV soon realised that despite his reason for the war actually was legal the coalition against him was getting too grand (Spain had recently made peace with Portugal). So, he agreed to a secret treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I; this treaty meant that the Emperor would allow France to gain parts of the Spanish Netherlands on the death of the sickly Carlos II. This gave Louis XIV the confidence to settle the war with the - from French point of view - very generous Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in which France got to keep several strongholds on the border to the Empire as well as towns within Flanders. However, she had to give up Franche-Comté.   

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Italian Vice Strikes Versailles

"In France the nobility, in Spain the clergy and in Italy everyone!"
That is how a contemporary quote described what was then known as sodomy but is now known as homosexuality. Indeed, most Frenchmen agreed with the idea that homosexuality had originated in Italy and consequently it was referred to as "the Italian vice" (in Italy they retorted by promptly naming it "the French disease"). So, let's take a look at how the "vice" struck the core of French power.

Philippe, Duc d'Orlèans

Philippe, Duc d'Orlèans - brother of Louis XIV - is probably the most famous homosexual man at the court of Versailles. Knowing that his almighty brother highly disapproved of homosexuality Philippe used it as the only weapon he had to show his displeasure of the King's choices. Consequently, whenever the King made a decision concerning his brother (for example his marriage) Philippe would openly flaunt his sexuality much to the annoyance of his brother. It should be said that Louis never acted against his brother's sexuality but the reason therefore is not out of brotherly compassion; Louis knew that Philippe could never pose a threat to the throne when it was publicly known that he was a so-called sodomite. So, Louis let Philippe continue his outburst knowing that his brother truly had no other weapon.
Over time an entourage would gather around Philippe whose members would often be in some way connected with homosexuality. Thus the King's brother created a safe haven for those whose tastes were not approved of elsewhere.

Sadly, common people were not so fortunate to escape persecution. The penalty for "sodomy" was death and quite a few went to their deaths on this account. In this respect the courtiers were far safer than their subjects since they would hardly ever be executed but rather exiled if things got too far. The common point of view throughout the Ancien Regime was that homosexuality was something best kept in the dark.

Duc de Boufflers

In the beginning of the 1720's (around 1722) a scandal arose at court involving homosexuality. The Duc de Boufflers and the Marquis d'Alincourt were both exiled from court following "sexual escapades" - not necessarily with each other - and when the young Louis XV asked where these gentlemen had gone, he was informed that they had been sent away for destroying some fences in the garden. Still, despite the increased measures taken to contain the spreading of the "vice" more and more courtiers and people of note were becoming involved with the subject. Louis XV's governor, the Marècal de Villeroy, was found out to be in a relationship with the First Gentleman of the King's Bedchamber named La Trémoille. An even larger scandal erupted when the son of a man of state (Benjamin Deschauffours) was discovered to have run a brothel of male prostitutes particularly for the court's use! He was later burned at the stake.

The announcement of Deschauffours' death punishment. As you
can see his execution was scheduled for 24 May 1726

Despite that Deschauffours' fate was meant to be a warning, it had little effect on the courtiers. By the standards of the time nothing was really done to the noblemen who practised this "vice". In 1726 the Marèchal d'Uxelles was openly displaying his sexuality without evoking a single punishment. Again in 1729 a Marquis who last name is lost to history was returned to his offices after a short "break" on account of his sexuality. Another unknown Marquis made open advances to a guard on the terraces of Versailles itself!

This tendency to cover up is exactly why Louis XVI refrained from passing a statue against homosexuals in 1784, it was better not to bring attention to it. The list of courtiers who indulged in their same-sex passions continued to grow throughout Louis XVI's reign. The Ancien Regime's homosexual courtiers were married nonetheless in order to improve the line's standing, mostly to women who would themselves found other lovers.
While the view of homosexuality from the three Kings' point of views were different from one another they were all opposed these tastes. Louis XIV had openly disliked it, Louis XV seemed rather indifferent to it and probably only had the aversion common at the time and Louis XVI was just as prudish about homosexuality as he was about his own heterosexuality.

These are some courtiers who connected with the "Italian tastes":

Philippe, Duc d'Orlèans
Duc de Boufflers
Marèchal de Mouchy
Marquis de Crénolles
Marquis d'Alincourt
Comte de Besenval
Marèchal de Villeroy
Marquis de Chambonas
Baron de Milleville
Marèchal d'Uxelles
Prince de Bouillon
Marquis de Villette

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Armand de Gramont, Comte de Guiche

Armand de Gramond was born to Antoine de Gramont and Françoise Marguerite de Plessis on 25 November 1637. His first direct touch with royalty came through his sister, Catherine Charlotte, who became the short-time mistress of Louis XIV. His father was a Marèchal de France and his mother was a niece of Cardinal Richelieu.

When Armand made his début at Versailles he joined the entourage of Philippe, Duc d'Orlèans (brother of Louis XIV). The thing that probably attracted Armand to the set of the notorious homosexual Philuppe was that he himself was bisexual and might have found others whose sexuality was not quite accepted by his contemporaries. Armand was considered the handsomest man at court for quite some time but was also known to be vain, occasionally superficial and contemptuous. A handsome man at court was almost obliged to take lovers and so he did - both male and female. Among his mistresses he counted the wife of Philippe, Henrietta of England, which caused quite a scandal at court since it was thought that he later became involved with Philippe as well!
Generally, Armand was quite the source of scandal at court. Once when Philippe, Duc d'Orlèans pretended not to know him at a ball, Armand retorted by kicking him in the playfully rear in front of everyone! And those were just a few of the things he was known for...

Armand even courted Louise de La Vallière but was smart enough to never be too passionately in love and as such managed to keep on Louis XIV's good side. After all the King wanted his mistress to be desired by others but expected his courtiers to know where the line lay. On 23 January 1658 he married Marguerite-Louise-Suzanne de Bethune Sully; the marriage does not appear to have been a good match - hardly surprising considering Armand's tendency to be unfaithful. Actually, he was known to be one of the greatest libertines at court.

Like all young noblemen of his time, he was expected to serve time in the military. Consequently, he travelled to Poland where he fought the advancing Turkish army - later on he would also fight the English and the Dutch. Armand even managed to get wounded in a way that was sure to win him sympathy back home when he lost two fingers in the siege of Dunes. He made a name for himself when he swam across the river Rhine and his regiments followed suit after which they fell on the baffled enemy. Now, with his glory secured, he returned to Versailles in 1669. Sadly, for him he did not get to bask long in the light of his glory because he died on 29 November 1673 - just 36 years old.

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Orangery

Originally, Le Vau had built a smaller Orangery in 1663 but Hardouin-Mansart was put in charge of constructing a larger Orangery which were finished in 1684-86. Besides the actual garden there is a large vaulted gallery (13 metres tall) of 155 metres lighted by the many windows and doors leading out into the ornamental garden - the trees that are not capable of surviving the temperatures of winter is moved in here. This transfer usually takes place in mid-October. The Orangery is massive with its 3 hectares; Louis XIV wanted only the best sculptures in his Orangery but most of them have since been moved to the Louvre.

The Orangery is by far one of the most exotic parts of the entire Versailles Garden. Orange trees were a great favourite of Louis XIV and of course they are strongly represented here. Also oleander, lemon, pomegranate, eugenias and palm trees can be found here - a total of 1055 trees planted in decorative boxes. When the court lived here it must have been a refreshing breeze of sweet scents coming from the Orangery. The Hundred Step Staircase is framing the Orangery and leads up to the South Parterre. The Orangery looks out onto the large Swiss Lake. The very centre of the Orangery is a circular pond from which six lawns extends in every direction in the most intricate patterns.

From the Queen's Grand Apartment you can just spot the Orangery and most apartments of the South Wing looks out onto it - the Princes of the Blood lived in this wing.

Within this building the King's hundreds of orange trees were kept during winter

Portrait of the orangerie by Etienne Allegrain

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Apollo Baths

The Apollo Baths are a truly gorgeous piece of work which was created between 1670-73 - on the request of Madame de Montespan whom the King was only too happy to oblige. Sadly, the original one no longer exists since Louis XVI had the garden re-decorated in 1778 by Hubert Robert (who received the post of designer of the king's gardens for his efforts); the style we see know is a mix of English and Chinese influences. The three groups of statues has given the new construction it's name since they all depict Apollo in different scenarios. The statues were originally built for the Thétis Grotto but when this was demolished it was moved to different parts of the garden before ending at the Apollo Baths.

The grotto that surrounds the statues has clearly been exposed to wind and weather which has left its' mark on the beige marble.The "baths" is made rather obvious when the many pumps are activated and water cascades down from between the statues.

Billedresultat for versailles apollo grove

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Billedresultat for versailles apollo grove

The Royal Walk

In 1680 le Nôtre was done adding to the plain and had grass planted there which gave it it's other name of "Tapis Vert" or the Green Carpet. The massive lawn measures 335 metres in length and is 40 meters wide. It is the very centre of the entire garden; from this long stretch of land paths lead to each grove. Actually, the "Tapis Vert" was already a part of the château when it was a mere hunting lodge during Louis XIII but le Nôtre had it considerable widened. Also, twelve sculptures and twelve vases lines the path, each a work by the French art academy in Rome and they were imported in the latter part of the 17th century.

Queen's Grove

The Queen's grove was once the labyrinth of Louis XIV, therefore archaeological work was recently carried out in this part of the garden in the search for clues. Le Nôtre began working on the then labyrinth in 1665 who based the décor of the fountains and garden on the fables of Aesop; the 39 fountains depicted various animals painted in realistic colours. However, this had already fallen out of style at the time of Louis XIV's death in 1715. Since it was considered out of date the lead-fountains and surrounding gardens deteriorated and it was not until 1775 that it was finally remodelled into the Queen's grove. The new style meant that it was a so-called English Garden and as such is far less modelled than a French garden would be.

There are plenty of rare trees in the Queen's grove: Lebanese cedar, tulip tree, Corsican pine and sweetgum. Most of the sculptures were added in the late 19th century.

Later on the grove would play a key role in the infamous Affair of the Diamond Necklace since it was here that the imposter "Marie Antoinette" met with the seller. Sadly, the storm of 1999 destroyed most of the trees here which meant that the grove has been re-done.


Saturday, 9 August 2014

Southern Parterre

The Southern Parterre is easily recognizable by the massive array of flowers; actually le Nôtre was not that fond of flowers and often complained to the King of what he saw as an unnecessary display of them but he was overruled. It is connects the Orangery with the two Basins; however, the ground level of the Orangery is slightly lower than that of the Southern Parterre and as such is reached by a few steps.
The entrance into the Parterre is flanked by two of the oldest statues in the park: that of Eros and a Sphinx. The statues were created by Louis Lerambert who worked together with Jacques Sazzarin.

During Louis XIV's time the South Parterre was filled with citrus-plants which filled the air with a delightful scent. Actually, these citruses were a part of a scheme to show the world that France no longer stood in the shadow of Italy when it came to exotic plants and their maintenance. In 1674 Colbert had tuberoses, jasmine and jonquils imported from Marseilles. Besides citruses quite a lot of palms could be seen in this part of the garden. This is also why the garden is called the Parterre du Midi (and surprisingly not from the Aisle du Midi or Southern Wing) since "the Midi" is referring to that southern part of France where such exotic flowers. Thus the Southern Parterre became symbol of the King's wide-reaching power and wealth.


The Gardens of Versailles

Louis XIV employed André le Nôtre as his royal gardener in 1661 and the work began immediately - it would be 40 years before they were complete. Le Nôtre was assisted by the men who created the palace: Charles le Brun designed most of the fountains and statues, Jean-Baptiste Colbert directed the project from 1664-83 and Jules Hardouin-Mansart designed the Orangery.

The work was not easy. To accommodate the plans insisted on by the King tons of earth had to be moved and the ground levelled out. What was formerly mushy marshland was transformed into flowerbeds, fountains, canals etc. It took thousands of men to complete the project and remember that all that dirt had to be moved by wheelbarrows! For the King's dream to come true trees of all sorts were imported from all over France and planted in a carefully designed pattern. Since it would be too long a post if I were to list all of the features of each park - anyone who has been there knows how enormous it is - I have chosen the same pattern as used for the château.

Today the garden covers 800 ha. and boasts 200.000 trees as well as 210.000 flowers. Sadly, there are only 620 water jets (and 50 fountains) left of the c. 1500 that were around from the beginning - the water jets are fed by 35 km piping.

The garden is usually divided into two categories: that of the Gardens of Versailles and that of the Domain of Versailles. The difference is that the domain counts all the land connected to the palace whereas the gardens only cover the immediate ground behind the castle (the figure beneath is just the gardens).

The turquoise circles represents the mayor fountains and the red marks the gardens:

The Gardens

  1. The Orangery / La Orangerie 
  2. The Southern Parterre / Parterre du Midi
  3. The Northern Parterre / Parterre de Nord
  4. Arc de Triomphe Grove /  Bosquet de l'Arc de Triomphe 
  5. The Water Theatre Grove / Bosquet d'eau
  6. The Apollo Baths / Les Bains de Apollo
  7. The Ballroom / Salle de Ball
  8. The Queen's Grove / Bosquet de la Reine
  9. Girandole Grove / Bosquet de la Girandole
  10. The Dauphin's Grove / Bosquet du Dauphin
  11. The Star / Bosquet d'Etoile
  12. The Encelade / L'Encelade 
  13. The Domes / Les Dômes
  14. The Colonnade / La Colonnade
  15. The Chestnut Tree Salon 
  16. The King's Garden / Le Jardin du Roi
  17. The Royal Walk / Le Tapis Vert
The Fountains 

  1. The Swiss Lake / Lac du Suisse
  2. Fountain of the Orangery / Fontaine de l'Orangerie
  3. The Basins  / Les Bassins
  4. The Pyramid Basin & Basin of the Nymphs / Bassin de Pyramide & Bassin des Nymphes
  5. The Three Fountains / Les Trois Fontaines
  6. The Basin of the Dragon & The Basin of Neptune / Bassin de Dragone & Bassin de Neptune
  7. The Latone Basin / Bassin de Latone
  8. Lake of Ceres / Bassin de Ceres
  9. Lake of Bacchus / Bassin de Bacchus
  10. The Mirror Lake / Bassin de Miroir
  11. Lake of Saturn / Bassin de Saturne
  12. Fountain of the Girandole Grove / Fontaine de Grove de la Girandole
  13. Fountain of the Dauphin's Grove / Fontaine de Grove du Dauphin
  14. Lake of Flora / Bassin du Flore
  15. The Obelisk / L'Obélisque
  16. Fountain of the Domes / Fontaine des Dômes
  17. Fountain of Apollo / Fontaine d'Apollo
  18. The Grand Canal / Le Grand Canal

Friday, 1 August 2014