The Palace of Versailles is an opulent palace built by Louis XIV that contains seven hundred rooms, extensive gardens, and lavish decoration. Initially a small hunting lodge built by his father, Louis XIV transformed Versailles with four intensive building campaigns over his reign. The formal aesthetic of the palace was meant to glorify France and show the power and greatness of the self- proclaimed ‘Sun King,' Louis XIV. The architect for the palace was Louis Le Vau, the interior decorator was Charles Le Brun, and the landscape designer was Andre Le Notre. These three artists had worked together previously on the private Chateau Vaux le Vicomte for the king’s minister of finance, before he was imprisoned. In 1682 Versailles was transformed into the official residence of the king, and such notable features of the palace as the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ and the ‘Grande Canal’ were built.
The Palace of Versailles was executed in the French Baroque style by architect Louis Le Vau, a French Classical architect who worked for King Louis XIV. French Baroque architectural style is characterized by its large curved forms, twisted columns, high domes, and complicated shapes. In comparison to the Baroque architecture of the rest of Europe, it is commonly thought to be more restrained and characterized by its mixture of lavish details on symmetrical and orderly buildings.
Charles le Brun was the interior decorator for the Palace of Versailles as well as “first painter to his majesty." Louis XIV declared him the “greatest painter of all time,” and Le Brun worked on such notable features of the palace as the ‘Halls of War and Peace,' the ‘Ambassadors’ Staircase,’ and the ‘Great Hall of Mirrors.' Interior design from this period is known as ‘Louis XIV-style,' originated by Le Brun, and characterized by red and gold richly-woven fabrics or brocades, heavy gilded plaster molding, large sculpted side boards, and heavy marbling (Figure 2). The Hall of Mirrors is the central gallery of the Palace of Versailles and is one of the most famous rooms in the world (Figure 3). The main feature of this room is a series of seventeen mirrored arches that reflect seventeen arcaded windows overlooking the gardens. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors. The arches are fixed between marble pilasters upon which bronze symbols of France are embedded.
The landscape design at the Palace of Versailles is one of the most extravagant in history (Figure 1). Headed by Andre Le Notre, the gardens at Versailles cover eight hundred hectares of land and were executed in the French formal garden style, or ‘jardin a la francaise.' This style is characterized by its meticulously manicured lawns, ‘parterres’ of flowers, numerous fountains, and sculptures. ‘The Bassin de Latone’ was designed by Le Notre and sculpted by Gaspard and Balthazar Marsy between 1668-1670. This fountain depicts scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses,’ chosen as allegories to revolts during the king’s reign. ‘The Bassin d’Apollon’ is another fountain, which depicts the sun god driving his chariot to light the sky. ‘The Grotte de Thetys’ is a freestanding structure with an interior decorated in elaborate shell-work to represent the myth of Apollo. A common feature of sculpture and decoration at Versailles is the use of classical mythology as allegory.
The ‘Grande Canal’ is a notable feature of the gardens, with an impressive length of 1500 by 62 metres. King Louis XIV ordered the construction of ‘little Venice’ on the Grand Canal, which housed yachts, gondolas and gondoliers received from Venice. It also served a functional purpose by gathering the water that drained from the fountains and redistributing it to the gardens by horse-powered pump. The ‘Grande Commande’ is a series of twenty-four statues that were commissioned by Louis XIV to decorate the gardens. The statues illustrate the classic quaternities of the Four Humors, the Four Parts of the Day, the Four Parts of the World, The Four Forms of Poetry, the Four Elements and the Four Seasons. Four additional sculptures depict abductions from classical mythology.