Author: Ian McConnell

This lesson will explore the architecture and landscaping at Versailles.

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An overview of the art and architecture at Versailles, France.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about Versailles. As you watch the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

The objectives for today are listed below. By the end the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the stylistic characteristics of the art and architecture from the Palace at Versailles, and explain the influence of Louis the XIV on the construction of the Palace at Versailles.

The key terms, as always, are listed in yellow. First key term, pavilion-- an opened building used for shelter. It can be separate or attached; in architecture, a projecting element of a facade suggesting a tower.

Sun King-- Louis the XIV, or Louis the Great, the longest reigning King of France.

The big idea for today is that the Palace of Versailles was a renovated royal hunting lodge that developed into a sprawling palace park in town, and is one of the most important examples of 17th century French architecture and art.

We'll be looking at the time period from 1666 to 1710. Now that's just a short period during the time of Louis the XIV's reign, which was a little over-- well, not a little over, but 100 days past 72 years. So he reigned for quite awhile.

Today we'll be focusing in on the city of Versailles, which is just southwest of Paris. It's very close.

So this period of time in France is dominated by the personality, politics, and propaganda of King Louis the XIV, also known as the Sun King, as in the world revolves around him. Now his reign of over 72 years is the longest of any French King, and was ensured by rigorous control using art and architecture as propaganda, as well as his belief in divine right or authority-- basically that his rule was bestowed by God himself. Now, he was considered a brilliant politician, but an authoritarian ruler, and sought to establish this rule and his legacy through the commission of numerous works of art and architectural projects. He's considered the most important art patron of 17th-century France.

Now in this painting, the artist conveys a powerful image of the monarch. The king looks out at the viewer elaborately dressed in his coronation robes, gilded sword and scabbard, wig, nice leggings, and red-heeled shoes, an invention of the King himself to compensate for his rather short stature of only 5 feet 4 inches. Now the shoes can be seen worn by the subsequent kings, Louis XV and Louis XVI, in their own portraits. Now the overall effect of the painting is impressive, however, and creates an image of the absolute authority of the King, which is what he was going for.

Now as renovations to the current palace, called the Louvre-- it's east wing-- were being carried out, the renovation of a royal hunting lodge at Versailles began, as well. The construction of the Versailles palace was an enormous project. It was the biggest French construction project of the 17th century by far. Now it began with the King's desire to renovate the hunting lodge at Versailles to turn it into a magnificent palace. The result was a tremendous palace in the French baroque style, a park in an adjacent city, all of which serve to symbolize the power of the King.

Now this is an aerial painting of the palace from the front. But the palace is just part of a massive complex. Here's a view of the complete complex from with an overhead view. The palace is in the lower section, just on top of the pinkish section, which represents the city, at the convergence of three main roads. But notice how the accompanying park occupies roughly 2/3 of the whole plan. The enormous palace is itself dwarfed by the sheer scale of the entire Versailles complex.

Here's another view of Versailles, showing the plan horizontally. The palace is on the right. And this is a close-up of the park and the Grand Canal in the shape of a cross, and this is a close-up of the new city of Versailles, which became the capital of France in a sense, as this became the primary residence of the King. Paris actually remained the actual capital. And here is the palace within the complex.

The sheer scale of this entire place is hard to imagine, as is the opulence and extravagance on display in the interior design. One of the most impressive examples is in the so-called Hall of Mirrors. It's a brilliant example of the elaborate French baroque style. It's a vaulted hallway filled with ceiling paintings by Charles Le Brun, which depict the 17 most important events in the King's reign. The arches of the windows has the head of Apollo's, a bunch of different little Apollos, who was a sun god. Decorations also include busts of eight Roman emperors and eight statues of classical gods and goddesses, which are all references to classical Rome.

The dimensions of the hall are quite enormous. It's roughly 240 feet long, which is about 60 feet shy of an American football field. It's 35 feet wide and about 42 feet tall. The entire hall is lined with mirrors that give the illusionistic impression that the hall is actually much larger than it already is. Every single element, down to the doorknobs, was designed specifically for the palace at Versailles, in order to make it the most glorious example of French art and architecture in existence.

References to classical design and themes can be seen in this statue, located in the gardens at Versailles, of Apollo the sun god, an overt reference to the Sun King of France. It's no coincidence there. He's being attended to by nymphs. And it's an example of the classical influence of the artist, as well as an example of royal symbolism.

Speaking of royalty, the Royal Chapel at Versailles was added in 1698, and designed to emulate the Italian baroque style of church design. Now although it's rather small compared to the larger churches that it's emulating, it achieves a dramatic sense of verticality in the way the Corinthian-style colonnade supports a large clerestory, nave, and apse that are of equal height. The illusionistic ceilings recall earlier examples of Italian ceiling frescoes.

The chapel exists as a further example of the majesty of Versailles. The entire complex at Versailles, from its use of expensive building materials, like in the Hall of Mirrors, to the gardening and landscaping techniques, like trimming the trees into cone shapes, or the French [? par Thiers ?] that were in the shape of a tapestry-- these all emphasize the display of wealth, the dominance over the landscape, and the absolute authority of Louis the XIV.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see how we did.

Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the stylistic characteristics of the art and architecture from the palace of Versailles? Can you explain the influence of Louis the XIV on the construction of the palace at Versailles?

And the big idea, again-- the Palace at Versailles was a renovated royal hunting lodge that developed into a sprawling palace, park, and town. It was one of the most important examples of 17th-century French architecture and art.

And that is it. Thank you very much for joining me. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Versailles"

Key Terms


An open building used for shelter, it can be separate or attached; in architecture, a projecting element of a facade suggesting a tower.

Sun King

Louis XIV or Louis the Great, the longest reigning king of France.


Image of France Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:France_location_map-Regions_and_departements.svg; Louis VIV; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Louis_XIV_of_France.jpg Palace of Versailles; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Palace_of_Versailles.gif; Hall of Mirrors; Creative Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chateau_Versailles_Galerie_des_Glaces.jpg Apollo Attended by the Nymphs; Domain:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Le_chateau_de_versailles_le_jardin_94.JPG Royal Chapel; Creative Commons, David ILIFF: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Versailles_Chapel_-_July_2006_edit.jpg; Image of Versailles Map PD-old-auto-1923 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1920s_Leconte_Map_of_Paris_w-Monuments_and_Map_of_Versailles_-_Geographicus_-_ParisVersailles-leconte-1920s_-_2.jpg; Image of Versailles Aerial Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Palace_of_Versailles.gif; Image of Versailles Horizontal Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Versailles_Plan_Jean_Delagrive.jpg

Terms to Know

An open building used for shelter, it can be separate or attached; in architecture, a projecting element of a façade suggesting a tower.

Sun King

Louis XIV or Louis the Great, the longest reigning king of France.