Sunday, April 21, 2013


The buildup to Versailles is extreme. The grandest palace, built specifically to overawe the world (and nobles!) with the magnificence of monarchy. The descriptions in Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle --- a work which forms much of my knowledge of world history, 1660 to 1750 --- made it seem the pinnacle of palace architecture.

The approaching walk does not disappoint. On the weekend, everyone in the area is walking to the palace, which contributes to the general feeling of grand power.
Approaching Versailles from the front
The entire front courtyard here --- large enough to encompass many castles of my experience --- was where the carriages would line up to discharge the nobility into this lair of Louis' power.
The front parking lot is large. N.B.: most of the castle is not even visible from here.
The in-home chapel rivals many cathedrals. Here we see the first hint of the overarching decorating schemes (pun intentional): firstly, that heaven descends to earth at Versailles, and secondly, that which can be gilt in gold shall be gilt in gold.
Just a little family chapel.

Serious ceiling fresco.
The gold-and-fresco theme continues in every room. An interesting visual trick is played whereby the 3D corner detailing is blended into trompe-l'oeil 2D painting. I fantasy that this was to spare the expense of having to dust the intricate details of so much plasterwork.

In addition, most of the frescoes are painted with perspective. The point-of-view of we plebian viewers on the ground is taken into account: the soles of feet, bottoms of carriages, etc. are visible as if to continuously remind us how far below the Sun King we stand.
The chandeliers and other fixtures aren't unintimidating, either. More gold! More!
I ran out of time to explore the full gardens (and outlying sub-palaces) behind Versailles proper. Here is one wing --- the queen's, I believe --- taken from a distant enough vantage point that the entire wing could be in-frame.
Our shadows in the evening, rising to meet us.
The visit was fantastic, intimidating, exhausting. Overawing. Even several centuries dead, I am impressed by Louis' power.

This post's theme word is stentorian, "loud and powerful." Versailles makes a stentorian statement about the monarchy; the absence of modern monarchy from France makes a quiet but persistent retort.

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