In my previous post I covered the first half of a visit Neil and I undertook at the Château de Versailles, which involved a guided tour through the King’s Private Apartments and the Royal Opera House. In this post, I’ll recap what Neil and I saw when we set about touring the rest of the main residence on our own. We’ll stop at the Royal Chapel, the King’s State Apartments, parts of the History of France museum, as well as the the Hall of Mirrors and the two rooms that bookend it—the Salon of War and the Salon of Peace. You can see these locations indicated in the map below.
While Neil and I were en route to the Royal Chapel from the Royal Opera House we took a quick look at the north wing of the History of France museum. When Louis-Philippe I became King (after the forced abdication of Charles X, Louis XVI’s youngest brother, during the July Revolution of 1830), he stripped Versailles of its royal residence status and transformed it into a museum. Louis-Philippe I was a history enthusiast and decided to assemble at Versailles a collection of painted, sculpted, drawn, and engraved images that illustrated events or personalities from French history. The museum took over parts of the north and south wings, which had been built from 1679-1689 to provide additional living quarters for royal family members and other courtiers in anticipation of Versailles becoming the official royal residence in 1682. The History of France Museum was inaugurated in 1837, and was dedicated to “all of France’s glories.” It contains more than 6,000 paintings and 3,000 sculptures. Neil and I went through the 10 rooms of the Louis XIV Gallery.
The rooms all have different colours of fabric lining their walls, which makes for a bright and lively journey as you move through them.
Below is a portrait of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in 1782 with two of their children: Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François is seated on Marie Antoinette’s lap, and Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte is kneeling down beside them. Louis XVIand Marie Antoinette are surrounded by Louis XVI’s brothers Louis, the Count of Provence (later Louis XVIII), and Charles, the Count of Artois (later Charles X), and their wives.
On to the Royal Chapel! Work on this chapel began in 1699 by architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart under the direction of Louis XIV. It was the fifth, and final, chapel built at Versailles. Upon Mansart’s death in 1708, work on the chapel was completed by his assistant (and brother-in-law) Robert de Cotte in 1710. The design for the chapel incorporates gothic architecture and baroque decoration, and has a two-floor layout that is similar to the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, Germany (which was built for Charlemagne around 792 C.E.). The chapel was dedicated to Saint Louis IX (1214-1290), patron saint and ancestor of Louis XIV.
Below is a picture taken while standing on the ground floor of the Royal Chapel (the nave). This is where officers and members of the Court would have been seated for Mass, which was held daily around 10:00 am. The royal family and ladies of the Court would have been seated upstairs. The King only descended into the nave on special occasions: when he took communion, for ceremonies of the Order of the Holy Spirit, and for the baptisms and weddings of royal family members.
The picture below was taken while standing on the main floor of the Chapel in the Royal Tribune, where the King would have sat, looking up at the beautiful paintings on the vaulted ceiling. The painting in the middle of the roof is God the Father in his Glory, Carrying the Instruments of his Passion by Antoine Coypel (1710). The painting overtop the organ is The Resurrection of Christ by Charles de la Fosse (around 1709).
Below is a closer look at the paintings on the ceiling. The roof was designed without transverse ribs so that it would have a flat, unified surface.
There was actually a third painting located overtop the Royal Tribune, which I failed to photograph. You can see it in the image below, on the left. It is The Descent of the Holy Ghost by Jean Jouvenet (around 1708).
I found this gold medallion on one of the doors leading into the top floor of the Royal Chapel. It’s another representation of Apollo and the sun, similar to the ones we saw on the Gate of Honour. It would be fun to do a scavenger hunt at Versailles where you try to spot as many of these images as you can.
Below is the key to the main door of the Royal Chapel of Versailles. The information sign for it read: “this large ceremonial key was for the main door on the ground floor of the Royal Chapel of Versailles. Commissioned by Louis XIV, it bears his initials, the interlaced double L, surmounted by the royal crown with fleurs-de-lys. The ‘tooth’ has a fleur-de-lys openwork design.”
All right, it’s time to join the rest of the masses to tour the King’s State Apartments! The State Apartments were built for Louis XIV when he had Versailles expanded through the construction of the château neuf from 1668-1674. They were built to serve a ceremonial function, and are lavishly decorated in the style of Italian palaces (which Louis XIV greatly admired). Their ceilings have paintings with allegorical or mythological themes. To complement Louis XIV’s title of “Sun King” and his identification with the Sun God Apollo, each room is dedicated to a planet and its associated Greco-Roman deity (Venus, Mars, Mercury, etc.). Further decoration of the rooms include references to historical figures from antiquity, such as Alexander the Great and the Roman Emperor Augustus; Louis XIV’s association with them was meant to highlight his similar heroic qualities. The rooms feature walls covered with polychrome marble and windows that span the entire height of the wall from floor-to-ceiling, a novelty at the time of their construction. Charles Le Brun provided all the room designs, furnishing, and decoration right down to the door locks. During the day, these State Apartments were open to everyone—commoner or courtier, French citizen or foreigner. People crowded the halls to see Louis XIV as he made his daily journey to the chapel. The State Apartments consist of seven salons or drawing rooms. In the map below, they are rooms 1-7. We’ll visit the State Apartments in this order: room 1 (Hercules Salon); room 2 (the Abundance Salon); room 3 (the Venus Salon); room 4 (the Diana Salon); room 5 (the Mars Salon); room 6 (the Mercury Salon); and room 7 (the Apollo Salon).
The Hercules Salon, room 1, is the first stop on this part of the tour. This room used to be the location of the fourth royal chapel, which Louis XIV used prior to the construction of the large Royal Chapel (1699-1710) that we just visited. In 1710, Louis XIV had architect Robert de Cotte start work on converting the former chapel into a drawing room. Work on the room ceased in 1715 when Louis XIV passed away and the French court relocated to Paris, but it was picked up again when Louis XV returned to Versailles in 1722. The room is named after the painting that adorns its ceiling, the Apotheosis of Hercules, by François Le Moyne. Louis XV used the Hercules Salon as a ballroom.
Work on the Hercules Salon was completed in 1736 when François Le Moyne finished the room’s giant ceiling painting, shown below. Le Moyne had been inspired by the frescoes of Italy, and wanted to prove that the French could undertake and excel at such a project. He received unanimous praise upon his finished product, and was appointed First Painter to the King as a reward for his work. Sadly, six months later in 1737—at the peak of his career—Le Moyne committed suicide. His mental illness could have been exacerbated by grief over the recent death of his wife, frustration with court intrigue at Versailles, and/or dissatisfaction with his work.
Our next stop is the Abundance Salon, room 2. For three evenings a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) between All Saints’ Day (November 1) and Easter, the State Apartments were reserved for court receptions known as the soirées d’appartement. From 6:00-10:00 pm there would be light meals, music, dancing, and games for the exclusive enjoyment of courtiers. The Abundance Salon is where refreshments were served on a side board including coffee, wine, and liqueurs.
Although the room is not named after a specific planet or Greco-Roman deity, the central ceiling painting depicts three allegorical figures meant to flatter Louis XIV by their association: Royal Magnificence (swathed in blue and holding a feather); Immortality (the figure in pink, shown generously spilling treasure from a golden horn); and Progress (the winged figure holding a platter).
Whenever the King had special guests, he used this room to display his precious gems, medals, and silverware vases. This showroom aspect of the salon is reflected in the painting on the ceiling. The painting has more detail at its edges, where it borders the gold trim on the top of the wall. There, you’ll find depictions of prized items from Louis XIV’s collections. You can see a few examples in the two photos shown below.
In the picture above, there is a purple and gold vase located beneath the painting of Philip V, set on top of a chest. The vase is shaped like a ship without a mast, and is called a nave. Louis XIV used to have a much fancier one, known as the golden nave, that he kept in this room. It was one of his prized possessions. He made people salute it every time they passed by. The golden nave is also featured in the detail of the ceiling painting, found above one of the doors (shown below). I couldn’t track down what happened to this golden nave but, since it’s no longer in the room, it’s probably fair to speculate that it was sold off during the French Revolution.
The Abundance Salon also served as the antechamber for Louis XIV’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which was kept in the adjoining room (now Louis XVI’s Games Room). It was accessed through the door shown below, which also contains the decoration of the golden nave above it.
The Venus Salon, room 3, was one of two rooms (along with the Diana Salon) that provided the main entry to the State Apartments from the time when the former Ambassador’s Staircase (built from 1672-1679, demolished in 1752) led up to them. The Venus and the Diana Salons were also known as the two marble antechambers. The Venus Salon was named after the planet and Greco-Roman Goddess of love. She is depicted in the ceiling painting, shown below.
During court receptions this room contained tables covered with baskets of flowers, pyramids of rare fresh fruit such as oranges and lemons, as well as marzipan and candied fruits.
Can you spot Apollo on the door below?
The Diana Salon, room 4, like the Venus Salon, served as a main entry point to the State Apartments due to its proximity to the former Ambassadors’ Staircase. During the soirées d’appartement, this marble antechamber would be set up as a billiard room. Diana, the Greco-Roman goddess of Hunting, was associated with the moon. She was also the sister of Apollo, the Sun God. Louis XIV was known to be an exceptional huntsman, and would have appreciated the allusion.
The central ceiling panel, shown below, features Diana.
The four panels surrounding the central one are of hunting scenes that feature various heroes from Antiquity such as Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, and Jason and the Argonauts.
Can you spot Apollo in the decoration below?
A highlight in this room is the bust of Louis XIV done by Bernini. Fun fact: Louis XIV considered hiring Bernini to work on the Louvre, but did not like the design that Bernini had in mind. Instead, Bernini was commissioned to make this bust of the Sun King. Louis XIV was very pleased with it!
The Mars Salon, room 5, marked the real start of the King’s Apartment. It was used as a Guardroom, making its dedication to the Greco-Roman God of War highly appropriate. During the evening court receptions, it was used at first for card games and then later on for music and dancing.
The central ceiling painting is shown below.
The Mercury Salon, room 6, was the original location of the King’s Ceremonial Bedchamber. Later on, in 1701, Louis XIV had a new official bedchamber set up in a more central location overlooking the Marble Courtyard. The Mercury Salon was actually rarely slept in, as Louis XIV preferred to actually sleep in his private apartments. In the winter, the bed would be moved to make space for gaming tables. The room originally contained tables, mirrors, firedogs, incense burners, and chandeliers made of solid silver. Louis XIV had them melted down in 1689 to finance the War of the League of Augsburg (also known as the Nine Years’ War, 1688-1697). There was also a silver balustrade that divided the alcove from the rest of the room (replaced in the photo below by a red velvet rope).
The central ceiling panel features Mercury, the Greco-Roman deity of commerce.
The room also originally contained brocade fabric (which was made using real gold and silver thread) hanging from the walls and bed, but they were later sold to help finance the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).
It was actually in this room that Louis XIV’s grandson was proclaimed Philip V of Spain on November 16, 1700. Philip V then slept in this room for three weeks before traveling to his new country. The War of the Spanish Succession was over Philip V’s ascencion to the throne, which upset the balance of European power. Great Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, and their allies did not like having such a prize lie in the hands of France (and Louis XIV in particular).
Most of the furniture in the room has been recreated from inventory lists, as the original items were sold off during the French Revolution. The bed was commissioned by Louis-Philippe I in 1833.
The only original item of furniture in the room is the automation clock, shown below, that was gifted to Louis XIV by its designer, Antoine Morand, in 1706.
The Apollo Salon, room 7, was used as a ceremonial chamber from 1673-1682, and then as a throne room when Louis XIV made Versailles his official residence. A huge wooden throne, 2.6 metres (8.5 feet) in height and covered with silver plaques and sculptures, stood here on a platform until 1689 when it too was melted down to finance Louis XIV’s wars. The room contains six pedestal holders: three of them are of women and three are children. They are part of a set of 24 that were commissioned for the Hall of Mirrors in anticipation of the wedding of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In 1770, eight new pedestal holders were ordered for the Salon of War. These two original sets were sold off during the French Revolution, and only these six located in the Apollo Salon have made their way back to Versailles. 24 copies of them were commissioned by Gérald Van der Kemp between 1976-1980, and they are the ones that are now on display in the Hall of Mirrors.
The central ceiling painting is of Apollo, the Greco-Roman God of the sun, with whom Louis XIV identified himself. The panels surrounding it show scenes from Roman history, such as Emperor Vespasian directing the construction of the Roman Colosseum.
In the photo below, you can see a painting of Louis XVI on the left wall. A Persian carpet adorns the wall behind where the throne would have been placed.
In the picture below, you can see the most famous portrait of Louis XIV. The King commissioned Hyacinthe Rigaud to paint it in 1701. He wanted to gift it to his grandson, Philip V of Spain. The King was so pleased with the result that he kept the original (now located in the Louvre) and had copies made. The copy in the Apollo Salon was also painted by Rigaude.
We’ve finished the tour of the State Apartments! We’ll now tour the Salon of War (number 8 in the image below), the Hall of Mirrors (number 9), and the Salon of Peace (10).
The Salon de la Guerre (Salon of War), room 8, is located on the north side of the Hall of Mirrors. Originally, this was meant to be the Salon of Jupiter, dedicated to the King of the Gods in Roman mythology (known as Zeus in Greek mythology), as well as the God of the sky and thunder. Even though the plans were changed, this room doesn’t lack for drama. Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart began construction on this room in 1678 and its decoration was completed by Charles Le Brun in 1686. It is an unabashed celebration of Louis XIV’s military victories. Marble panels, gilded bronze weapons, and trophies pay homage to the triumphant King.
My favourite detail of the room is the ornamentation of the fake fireplace (shown in the photo above, to the left). Clio, the Greek muse of history and lyre playing, is recording Louis XIV’s great deeds for posterity.
The central ceiling panel, painted by Charles Le Brun, shows France personified as a warrior goddess dressed in blue, bearing a shield with Louis XIV’s image.
Below is a different angle of the painting, so you can see it more clearly.
One of the highlights of this room is the oval stucco bas-relief depicting Louis XIV on horseback, trampling his enemies. There is nothing subtle about the details in this room!
There are three vaulted ceiling panels in the room that depict the countries of Germany, Spain, and Holland in defeat. The panel below shows Germany kneeling, with a banner bearing the black two-headed eagle of the Hapsburg dynasty.
Spain is depicted with a roaring lion.
Holland is shown falling on her lion in the midst of battle.
A fourth panel shows Bellona, the Roman goddess of war (also destruction, conquest and blood lust), “in a rage between rebellion and discord.”
It is now time to visit the most famous feature of the Château de Versailles: the Hall of Mirrors! Work on the Galerie des Glaces, room 9, began in 1661 and was completed in 1678. It is 73 metres (239.5 feet) long by 10.5 meters (34.4 feet) wide by 12.3 meters (40.4 feet) high.
Below is one of the new pedestal holder copies—six originals can still be seen in the Apollo Salon.
The Hall of Mirrors contains 17 mirror-clad arches that reflect 17 arcaded windows. Each arch contains 21 mirrors, for a total of 357. At the time, mirrors were among the most expensive items that one could possess. Marble pilasters topped with gilded bronze capitals are located on either side of the arches; the capitals are decorated with fleur-de-lys and cockerels (France’s national animal). Louis XIV also commissioned 43 chandeliers, which held a total of 1,000 candles. The gallery, like the State Apartments, also originally contained silver furniture that was melted down in 1689 to fund Louis XIV’s army during the War of the League of Augsburg.
Below are some more pedestal holders. I mostly took photos of the pedestals that depicted women, but you can see one with children in the photo above, to the left.
The ceiling contains 30 paintings by Le Brun that portray the military and diplomatic victories of Louis XIV achieved from 1661-1678.
A painting in the central panel, Le Roi Gouverne par Lui-même (the King Governs Alone), encapsulates Louis XIV’s attitude towards leadership and the distribution of power (namely: me, myself, and only me).
The room was designed to impress. During weddings and diplomatic events, Louis XIV’s throne would be placed on a platform at the south end of the gallery in front of the Salon de la Paix (the Salon of Peace). Imagine you’re a foreign ambassador paying Louis XIV a visit at Versailles. You are led first through the State Apartments, and then the Salon of War. Next you are expected to walk the long distance of the Hall of Mirrors. Finally, you approach Louis XIV. As you kneel before him, you have the weight of all you have just seen weighing upon you. This effect was intentional. Such a scene can be seen in the painting below.
I should note that, in addition to its role as an ostentatious reception hall and ballroom, the Hall of Mirrors was also a daily thoroughfare accessible to courtiers and the visiting public alike.
The Treaty of Versailles, which brought an end to World War I, was signed in the Hall of Mirrors on June 28, 1919. The gallery continues to be an important diplomatic space, as political guests of France are still received here. The Hall of Mirrors also remains a busy, public thoroughfare; 6.7 million visitors in 2016 made the Château de Versailles the third-most visited museum in France, behind the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.
The Salon de Paix (Salon of Peace), room 10, is located on the south side of the Hall of Mirrors. It is symmetrical to and contains the same marble paneling and decoration style as its twin, the Salon of War. However, the theme of the room is dedicated to the benefits of peace brought to Europe by France. This room was separated from the Hall of Mirrors by a movable partition. When the partition was in place, the room was used as the final room in the Queen’s suite of State Apartments. Louis XV’s wife, Queen Maria Leszczsyńska, hosted musical concerts every Sunday in this space. This was a tradition that was then continued by Marie Antoinette, who also used the space for card games. When the partition was removed, this room was used as part of the King’s State Apartments.
The painting shown over top the fireplace depicts Louis XV at age 19, in the dress of a Roman emperor, extending an olive branch to a woman figure who is representative of Europe. To the right of Louis XV can be found a woman (the goddess of Fertility) cradling Louis XV’s twin daughters.
The central ceiling panel, also painted by Charles Le Brun, depicts France in a chariot being pulled by doves.
Similar to the Salon of War, the Salon of Peace contains four vaulted ceiling panels that depict the countries of Germany, Spain, and Holland. This time, they are shown being offered an olive branch by France.
A fourth panel shows all of Christian Europe at peace (thanks to France!).
There are three rooms left on our tour of the King’s Apartments. In the map below, they are rooms 19 (the Bull’s Eye Antechamber), 21 (the Council Cabinet) and 20 (the King’s Bedchamber).
First we’ll stop at the Second Antechamber, often called the Œil-de-Boeuf (Bull’s Eye) Antechamber, number 19. This room has a prime location located right next to the King’s Bedchamber and along the Hall of Mirrors. This room used to be part of the Queen’s Apartments, but Louis XIV had it added to the King’s Apartments in 1701. Courtiers would wait in this room before they were granted access to the King’s Bedchamber.
This room is named after its Bull’s-Eye window, found in both the picture above and below. It was through this room that Louis XVI had to pass when he decided to visit Marie Antoinette’s Bedchamber. He would have to endure the taunts and jeers of courtiers, which probably discouraged him from making the trip that often. In the summer of 1775, Louis XVI had a secret staircase built that connected his room with the Queen’s in order to make his visits more discreet. That staircase saved Marie Antoinette’s life in the early hours of October 6, 1789, when she and her ladies used it to flee her Bedchamber minutes before a frenzied mob burst into it.
Just hours earlier, the Œil-de-Boeuf Antechamber was where Louis XVI had been meeting with his ministers when he opted to receive one of six female delegates of the Women’s March, who asked the King to make more bread available.
Next we’ll stop at the Council Cabinet, room 21. This room also has a notable location, as it is on the other side of the King’s Bedchamber. It also lies along the Hall of Mirrors. Originally, Louis XIV had two rooms here: the King’s Cabinet was a study where he held his Council meetings, and the other was the Cabinet de Termes which was a more private space where the King met with his family or special guests after dinner. In 1755, Louis XV had the two rooms combined into the present Council Cabinet. All major political decisions were made in this room including, in 1775, France’s involvement in the American War of Independence.
The gold wall paneling was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel and carved by Antoine Rousseau. Can you see the intertwined-L’s in the picture below?
The last main room we’ll visit is the King’s Ceremonial Bedchamber, number 20. You may recall that the original location of Louis XIV’s Ceremonial Bedchamber was the Mercury Salon, which was part of our earlier tour of the King’s State Apartments. In 1701, Louis XIV decided that he wanted the bedchamber moved to a more central position in the residence. This bedchamber is located on the main floor, overlooking the Marble Courtyard, and backs onto the Hall of Mirrors. This room is large, measuring nearly 90 square metres (295 square feet).
The King’s Bedchamber can be found on the main floor (known as the second floor in North America, the first floor in Europe), in the central part of the building below.
The King’s Ceremonial Bedchamber was the most important and symbolic room in the Royal Apartments. It was used daily for the public levee (getting up) and coucher (going to bed) rituals, in which the King’s courtiers assisted him with the task of dressing or undressing (for more on these rituals and their political significance, see my first post on the history of Versailles). Louis XIV also retired here daily around 1:00 pm in order to eat a smaller lunch service. He would eat alone at a table, but was still (always) in the presence of the men of the French Court.
The Ceremonial Bedchamber was also used for individual audiences with the King, ceremonial audiences for the greeting of ambassadors, and swearing-in ceremonies for high offices. Access to the room was strictly governed by etiquette when the King was present, but when he was absent anyone could visit the room—even commoners.
It was in this room that Louis XIV passed away on September 1, 1715, concluding his long reign of 72 years.
The textiles decorating the room are brocade, made of gold and silver thread on a crimson background.
To finish off the tour, we’ll take a look at a couple more areas in the History of France Museum. In the map below, you can find them in the lower left. We’ll visit the 1792 Room/Merchants’ Room (number 37) and the Gallery of Great Battles (number 38).
The 1792 Room, number 37, was developed for the History of France Museum from what had formerly been known as the Merchants’ Room during the reign of Louis XV. In this room, Louis-Philippe I gathered portraits of the heroes of the Revolutionary and Empire wars. There are also paintings that depict the battle of Valmy (September 20, 1792) and Jemappes (November 6, 1792) in which Louis-Philippe I, then known as the Duke of Chartres, participated along with his younger brother Antoine Philippe, the Duke of Montepensier.
The Gallery of Great Battles, number 38, is the largest room in the Château, measuring 120 metres (393.7 feet) long by 13 metres (42.6 feet) wide. It covers almost the entire main floor of the south wing, which was originally built in 1681 to house royal family members and courtiers. Five apartments on the main floor and 14 quarters in the attic were destroyed to make this gallery, which was commissioned by Louis-Philippe I in 1830. The gallery features 33 large paintings and 82 busts illustrating major victories and personalities of French military history. It begins with the founding victory of the French monarchy by Clovis in the Battle of Tolbiac (496), and ends with that of Napoleon at Wagram (July 5-6, 1809). Some of the major artists involved in this project include Eugène Delacroix, François Gérard, and Horace Vernet.
This concludes our tour of the main residence of the Château de Versailles! Next up, a few posts on the Petit Trianon, the Hameau de la Reine, and the Grand Trianon (the history behind it, as well as a tour of the residence). Thank you for reading!