Versailles: Treasures from the Palace – Summer Show at NGA

Jean Warin (1604-1672). Versailles, chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Jean Warin (1604-1672). Versailles, chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Louis XIV, roi de France et de Navarre (1638-1715), reprÈsentÈ en armure en 1666

Detail: Jean Varin, Bust of Louis XIV 1665–66, marble, On loan from the Palace of Versailles, Photo © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Franck Raux

Details are now emerging about the Treasures from the Palace of Versailles coming to the National Gallery of Australia this summer from France. On show will be stunning display of 130 or so wonderful works, well worth us taking a round trip to our national capital to view.

Louis XIV, roi de France et de Navarre (1638-1715), reprÈsentÈ en armure en 1666

Jean Varin, Bust of Louis XIV 1665–66, marble, On loan from the Palace of Versailles, Photo © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Franck Raux

This stunning marble bust of Louis XIV created by Jean Varin, a renowned French sculptor and engraver who became a ‘Master of Medals’, was made in 1665-1666 and will be in Australia soon.

Varin made important innovations, introducing the use of the screw press for minting coins at the Paris mint during his age. He provided medals that combined portraiture with design, commemorate his subjects’ principal deeds.

His sculpture of King Louis reveals him like a great Roman general wearing the symbol of Apollo the Sun King on his breastplate.

Popularly known as The Sun King, Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) fully understood the power of the Italian Baroque style of architecture, practiced by the Popes at Rome, where it stood for the absolute authority and overwhelming majesty of the Catholic Church.

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Palace of Versailles © lapas77 / Shutterstock.com

His use of it via his architects Louis le Vau (1612-1670) and Jules-Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708) at the Chateau, was tempered by his own infallible French taste.

The contribution of design history, the decorative arts and music is an important and powerful expression of culture, especially when examined in the context of historical events, intellectual and spiritual ideas as well as social change.

Lantona (1)

Latona Fountain, Palace of Versailles © Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com

Louis XIV promoted his reign by controlling the arts and his nobles, forcing the aristocracy to reside with him at Versailles so they would not plot against him as they had done in his youth (the Fronde). In order to keep them amused he created a giant playground for them at Versailles, where elaborate rituals; ceremonies and entertainments were played out against a backdrop of landscapes.

The impeccably kept grounds contain many wonderful water displays, including the Latona Fountain, which features the statue of the goddess Latona, Apollo the Sun King’s mother at its centre. She was revered by the Romans as the goddess of motherhood and modesty.

Lantona Fountain (1)

Latona Fountain, Palace of Versailles © Paolo Airenti / Shutterstock.com

Latona is taking the journey to Australia, leaving the setting where she is an integral part of a solar symphony behind.

Having had a number of incarnations, today she usually stands on a pinnacle looking out towards the simply splendid fountain of Apollo her son, depicted riding his chariot at the dawning and setting of every new day.

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Detail: Fountain of Apollo, Palace of Versailles

The fountain of Apollo existed in a much simpler form after 1636 during the reign of Louis XIII. His son added the celebrated group in gilded lead representing Apollo on his chariot.

The work of the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Tuby (Tubby) after a drawing by Le Brun, it is inspired by the legend of Apollo, the golden sun being an emblem of the king. He produced the monumental group between 1668 and 1670 at the Manufacture des Gobelins, and it was then transported to Versailles to be installed and gilded the following year.

During his lifetime Louis XIV completely re-organised the arts in France. He founded the Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648 and bought the Gobelins tapestry factory in 1662. In 1664 he founded the Royal Academy of Architecture and the original Academy of Painting and Sculpture became the Royal Academy of the Arts.

It was 1661 when Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) became First Painter to Louis XIV, although he did not officially receive the title until 1664. In 1662 the king made him a titled nobleman and named him General Custodian of Paintings and Drawings in charge of enriching the royal collections.

Charles le Brun

Nicolas de Largilliére (1656-1746), Portrait of Charles Le Brun, 1683-86, Oil on canvas, 232 x 187 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris

Lebrun had the ability to inspire and control a team of artists and he also had untiring energy and patience in the face of a changeable and very difficult patron.

His range of knowledge was vast; he could design a painting, a piece of garden sculpture, a tapestry all with equal ease, all in a style which made them suit their function, harmonising one with the other.

Under his guidance the Manufactory employed 250 workmen, who all worked to designs supplied by him, producing superb fabrics such as linen, lace, silk, with tapestries at Gobelins, wonderful silver objects, furniture and furnishings.

The French took tapestry making to a high art form and a tapestry from the Gobelins series produced for Louis XIV will be a highlight of the summer show.

It’s from ‘The Life of Louis XIV’ series, which consisted of fourteen panels originally. This one concludes the story of a diplomatic incident that took place in 1661 when a page of the Duke de Créqui, French ambassador to Rome, was assassinated by one of the Pope’s Corsican guards.

Gobelins Tapestry Cardinal Chigi

Manufacture des Gobelins, after Charles Le Brun, The audience with Cardinal Chigi, 28 July 1664 1665–80, from the series Life of the King, wool, silk and gold thread, On loan from the Palace of Versailles, Photo © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Christophe Fouin

The audience with Cardinal Chigi, 28 July 1664 1665–80 is documented evidence of grand interiors and art works that no longer exist.

The inventory of the king’s furniture, at the death of Louis XIV in 1715, contained no less than 2155 Gobelins tapestries, woven under the auspicious direction of Charles Le Brun who had each artist specialize in that for which he had an affinity and gift.

This is why it is not unusual to find cartoons signed by several artists. In this century, the perfection of the tapestry weavers reached its pinnacle; a maturity of both design and technique never before attained.

The Treaty of Pisa required the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Flavio Chigi should come and publically present the apologies of the Holy See at Rome to the King of France.

This audience took place on July 29,1664 and the King is depicted sitting in his armchair in his state bedchamber at the Palace of Fontainebleau, listening to the Cardinal read a letter of apology from the Pope.

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King Louis XIV’s Bedchamber, Chateau de Versailles, France

The public area of the room is defined by the barrier of a balustrade as only those either serving the King or those invited into his private realm, were allowed inside.

There are a number of other historical figures recorded including Monsieur, the King’s Brother Philippe Duc d’Orleans and the Duke d’Harcourt a foreign prince, who was entitled to remain wearing his hat.

Except for the paintings, almost all of the room’s furnishings have been identified. Quite faithfully reproduced are major pieces from the Crown Collection: the large cabinet, the bed “à la Française,” the alcove wall covering, the balustrade, the large pedestal table, and the two very large silver sconces.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

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