CHAPTER III. THE LUXURY OF VERSAILLES

The Splendors of the Chateau - its Apartments and Gardens, the Hall of Mirrors

In planning the interior decorations at Versailles, the numerous company of artists employed by the sovereign devised a scheme of ornamentation inspired by the arts of ancient Rome. Mythological and historical subjects were utilized for the glorification of the Grand Monarch. A Description of the chateau, officially printed in 1674, gives us the key to the interpretation of the allegories. "As the Sun is the device of the King, and poets represent the Sun and Apollo as one, nothing exists in this superb dwelling that does not bear relation to the Sun divinity."

The emblem of Apollo was in evidence everywhere; signs of the month ornamented facades and walls; and inside the palace and out were symbols of the seasons and the hours of the day. The King's apartment bore on its ceiling and walls paintings depicting deeds of seven heroes of Antiquity, supported by Louis' planet emblem. All the interior decoration was Italian in style - marble wainscoting in window embrasures, floors of marble, panels of marble, doors of repousse bronze. The apartments of Anne of Austria and the Gallery of Apollo at the Louvre offered the first examples in France of this decorative style, and guided the artists at Versailles in making their plans.

Upon the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen alone, a dozen painters were engaged between the years 1671 and 1680. Charles Lebrun directed the artists, most of whom, be it said, were poor colorists. He himself worked on the vault above the Stairway of the Ambassadors and in the Hall of Mirrors. To imitate Italian works of art was at that time the avowed ideal of French decorators. At Rome the King's purse paid the expenses of a group of young artists who were allotted the task of copying designs that were later evolved at Versailles. To some was assigned the copying of ornaments made of metal, mosaic and inlay. Others specialized on bronze and wood-carving designs. There were painters who made only sketches of battle scenes and sieges. There were sculptors on the King's staff of copyists, and goldsmiths, and enamel workers. Flemish, Dutch, French, but principally Italian, craftsmen were recruited from the art centers of Europe, "for the glory of the King." At the Gobelin Tapestry Factory - a royal establishment - the workers were directed by Charles Lebrun, who for many years had been head of the "Royal Manufactory of Crown Furniture."

It was in the year 1677 that Louis XIV formally proclaimed Versailles his residence and the seat of Government. It was for the purpose of providing quarters for the Court and its attendants that Mansard was commanded to enlarge the chateau. Versailles now became, in truth, the temple of royalty. The newly appointed architect gave to the chateau its final aspect; the stamp of his genius rests upon the exterior design and interior embellishment of the most remarkable dwelling in the history of French architecture.

When the Court came to live at Versailles in May, 1682, Mansard and his builders were still feverishly occupied in the work of construction and reconstruction. The year 1684 saw the end of the ornamentation of the interior in the completion of the Hall of Mirrors. Mansard's style is particularly impressed upon the Marble Stairway, and the adjacent Hall of the Queen's Guards, and, above all, on the Grand Gallery of the Mirrors and the Salons (Peace and War) that flank it - works truly impressive in their proportions, adornment and arrangement.

Disposed about three sides of the main court, the red chateau was set low on a slight rise of land. The main entrance was flanked by the North Wing and the South Wing, interrupted throughout their length by lesser courts. The domed chapel upreared to the right of the gate was the fourth one to serve the palace. After a period of building lasting ten years it was consecrated in the year 1710. The exquisite white stone edifice is still regarded as an architectural gem. Its interior embellishments were carried out by some of the best artists of the Sun King's epoch. Here during the last years of his long and spectacular reign, Louis the Great worshiped. Here Marie Antoinette was married to the Sixteenth Louis.

Arrivals at the palace were admitted from the Place d'Armes to the court designated for their reception. Only the King and his family might enter by the central gate. Nobles passed through the gates at the side. Privileged persons were permitted to alight in the Royal Court; those of inferior prestige in the Court of the Ministers, which gave entrance to the offices and living quarters of the palace executives and the hundreds of minions composing the King's retinue. On the left of the enclosure called the Marble Court was the vestibule to the Marble Stairway; opposite was the doorway leading to the renowned Stairway of the Ambassadors, later removed by command of Louis XV. The royal suites, except those of the Dauphin and his attendants, were on the second floor. These rooms beneath the ornate Mansard attic were the scene of all the potent events and ceremonies that have distinguished Versailles above the palaces of the world.