The Grand Trianon is a château located on the grounds of the Château de Versailles, situated about 2.2 kms (1.37 miles) northwest of the main palace. The Grand Trianon was built from 1687-1688 and is the second of two residences that were constructed on this site for Louis XIV. The first was the Porcelain Trianon which was built from 1668-1672 and then demolished in 1687. The Grand Trianon is set within its own park, the Estate of Trianon, which also includes the smaller château of the Petit Trianon (built from 1762-1768), the Hameau de la Reine (the Queen’s Hamlet, 1783-1786), and a variety of ornamental gardens.
Below is an aerial view of the Grand Trianon. The main residence of the Château de Versailles can be seen towards the top right of the photo.
A closer look at just the Grand Trianon.
In the map below, the Grand Trianon is shown in relation to the Château de Versailles. The Grand Trianon is marked by a green flag that can be found to the right of the northeast cross-arm of the Grand Canal. The Château is indicated by a red pin located towards the bottom right. It takes about 26 minutes to walk between them. You can also find green flags for the Petit Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet, which can be seen further north and east of the Grand Trianon.
The château and grounds of the Grand Trianon were once the site of a medieval village named Trianon (referred to as Triarnum in a papal bull of 1163). Louis XIV purchased the lands and village of Trianon from the monks of the Saint-Geneviève Abbey of Paris in 1662. He then had the church and thatched cottages of the village torn down in 1663 to make way for an enlargement of his Versailles estate. A garden was initially planted where the village of Trianon had once stood, but Louis XIV soon decided that he wanted to use the space for something more.
Louis XIV already had his mind set towards making Versailles the official seat of the French government and royal court. He knew that as this project progressed, he would want to have another residence available nearby that would be reserved for his exclusive use; one that would provide him with a private retreat from the formality and structure of court life. He didn’t need this new residence to be as big or as formal as a château. In fact, the more intimate it was, the better. Louis XIV had a new chief mistress, Françoise-Athénaïse de Rochechouart de Mortemart, the Marquise de Montespan, and he wanted something suitably romantic and discreet in which to entertain her. A garden situated northwest of the main Château presented a suitable location. Perhaps a garden-style pavilion would suit the King’s accommodation needs? Louis XIV was on-board with the idea. He could call his new residence the “Pavilion de Flore” (the Floral Pavilion) and surround it, literally, with a million potted flowers.
Louis XIV had his chief architect, Louis Le Vau, come up with a design for the Pavilion de Flore. Rather than settling on just one pavilion, the layout included five detached pavilions of varying sizes arranged around three courtyards (shown in the 3-D reconstruction and floor plan below). A main pavilion, named the King’s Pavilion, was the largest of the five. It was placed at the head of a central oval-shaped courtyard. This central courtyard was flanked on its shorter sides by two medium-sized pavilions, with an entrance gate set along its lower side. The two medium pavilions each had a forecourt. These forecourts each contained a small pavilion in their outside corner and a curve of the entry gate in their interior corner. Although this project had now expanded to feature five pavilions in place of just one, it continued to be referred to as the “Pavilion de Flore.” It was built from 1668-1672. When Le Vau died in 1670, the work was completed by his son-in-law and successor, François d’Orbay.
Below is an illustration of the completed residence. I’ve been calling it the Pavilion de Flore up to this point, but you’ll notice that a couple of these captions refer to it as the Porcelain Trianon. I’m going to tell you why, next.
The five pavilions were made of brick and their façades covered with blue and white ceramic tiles. The Chinese style of these tiles was inspired by the famous porcelain Nanjing Tower1, which at the time was occasionally being listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. European craftsmen had not yet learned how to manufacture porcelain, so the tiles used on the Pavilion de Flore were only a tin-glazed earthenware imitation2. The authenticity of the ceramic material did not matter, though, as rumours quickly spread that the pavilions were made entirely of porcelain. Louis XIV knew better than to let the truth get in the way of a good story, especially because porcelain was more valuable than gold at the time. It certainly benefited his image to be seen as a leader who was rich and powerful enough to have a mere garden dwelling made of porcelain, let alone a main residence. In this way, the material supposedly used in the construction of the pavilions soon became more celebrated than their garden location (which served as the inspiration behind their first name). Thus, the “Pavilion de Flore” became known instead as “the Porcelain Trianon.” This latter name also incorporated a reference to the historic village that the new residence had supplanted.
All of the decoration, stucco, woodwork, and furniture of the five pavilions were painted blue and white to match their exterior ceramic tiles. Similar tiles were also used to pave the interior floors, and the ceilings were richly painted as well. The King’s Pavilion was the largest of the five, measuring 6.7 metres (19 feet) in width by 5.7 metres (22 feet) in length. The other four pavilions were dedicated to the preparation and tasting of various culinary delicacies: one was for desserts; a second for jams; a third for fruits; and a fourth for soups, starters, and hors d’oeuvres.
The interior of the King’s Pavilion contained two apartments set on either side of a lounge-vestibule: the “Apartment of Love” and the “Diane Apartment.” Each apartment had a fireplace and a carpet. The Apartment of Love was inlaid with Venetian mirrors, and contained a bed made of carved and gilded wood. It should be noted that despite the presence of a bed, Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan never spent the night at the Porcelain Trianon. The pavilions were designed to serve as a pleasurable day time retreat for the King and his mistress, but they were not equipped with the amenities necessary to host them overnight. A sketch below shows what the Diane Apartment may have looked like3.
Very few items survive from this first Trianon residence. There is only one piece of furniture, a small writing desk, known to still exist. The desk is covered with ivory and horn with decorative details painted in blue. It is currently part of the collection of the Getty Museum, shown below.
Another rare item relating to the Porcelain Trianon includes the painting below, which was originally made to adorn a fan. It may have even been commissioned by the King’s mistress, Madame de Montespan. The painting offers a rare view of the interior of the King’s Pavilion of the Porcelain Trianon. Madame de Montespan is shown comfortably reclining in the middle of the scene, surrounded by examples of the most luxurious furnishings available at court at the time. There are lavish tapestries, ornate mirrors, and richly appointed furniture. She sits, bare-breasted, with her gown carelessly strewn across a jewel cabinet and shoes kicked off to the side of her foot rest. Three ladies attend to her while various putti offer her flowers, play instruments, cool her with fans, hold up a mirror, and fill vases up with water. Exotic birds peck at red berries. A putti on the left side of the painting flies through one of the windows, where the blue and white ceramic tiles decorating the exterior of the pavilion can be seen. Putti on the right side of the painting are attending to a young brown-haired boy in a pool; this may be Louis-Auguste, the Duke of Main, an illegitimate son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. The age of the boy may provide a clue to the year in which this intimate portrait was set. The boy looks to be around four years of age, which is what he would have been in 1674. 1674 was a good year to be Madame de Montespan! She finally became the King’s undisputed chief mistress after her rival (François-Louise de la Baume Le Blanc, the Duchess de la Vallière, the King’s first chief mistress) retired to a convent. The Grand Fête was also held that summer in her honour, and the Porcelain Trianon hosted a ballet performance by Lully, L’Eclogue de Versailles, on July 11 (for more information on the Grand Fête, see my first post on the history of the Château de Versailles here).
Below is an illustration depicting that July 11 ballet performance, which took place in the gardens of the Porcelain Trianon.
The gardens of the Porcelain Trianon were extraordinary. Their care was entrusted to Michel III Le Bouteux, nephew of André Le Nôtre (the French landscape architect and garden designer responsible for the main grounds of Versailles). Bouteux worked very hard to ensure that Louis XIV enjoyed a luxurious garden that was always in flower and full of rare, colourful, and beautifully scented species. Flowers were planted in pots and then buried in the beds, so that they could be dug up and changed on a daily basis. Flowers from all over France (mainly Provence) and abroad (including tulips from Holland and jasmine from Spain) were brought in. There were thousands of tuberoses, daffodils, anemones, hyacinths, and cyclamens. They were arranged by colour in a palette of blue and white to complement the royal fleur-de-lys, as well as red for the Virgin Mary. There was even a small building dedicated to scented flowers, which was used by the King and his guests to enjoy the different fragrances featured in the garden. There was also a line of orange trees planted in the ground near the canal; every winter, they had to be covered with glass panes. The decor scheme of the Porcelain Trianon extended throughout the gardens as well, with blue and white ceramic tiles and/or paint used to decorate the flower pots and fountains.
Although elegant, the exterior decoration of the Porcelain Trianon was fragile. The ceramic tiles tended to fracture and became detached from the buildings under the strain of cold weather. The required maintenance was constant and costly. By 1687, the condition of the Porcelain Trianon had deteriorated to the point that Louis XIV ordered its demolition. It had been several years since Madame de Montespan, the woman for whom the Porcelain Trianon was built, had left court. She had been replaced in 1680 by Louis XIV’s third chief mistress, Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon. After Queen Marie Theresa’s death in 1683, Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon were secretly married. Louis XIV was tired of toying around with garden-style pavilions and day-time retreats. Now, he wanted to built a proper château of stone and marble that would allow him to spend longer periods of time away from Versailles, including overnight.
Louis XIV’s new château was built by architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart from June 1687-January 1688. It was modelled in the style of an Italian palace with elements of classical French architecture mixed in. It is mostly a single-storey in height, and stretches across several wings. It is flanked by gardens on its west side and a courtyard on its east. The building is made of blond Saint-Leu stone and pink Languedoc marble veined with white. A balustrade runs across the flat roof, and was originally decorated with sculptures; Napoleon had these removed in 1810. The new residence was first christened “the Marble Trianon”, following the tradition established by its (faux) porcelain predecessor whereby the structure ended up being named after its celebrated exterior material. The château didn’t acquire its current name of “the Grand Trianon” until the 1760s, when a new residence known as “the Petit Trianon” was built nearby. However, for the sake of simplicity, I am going to refer to it as the Grand Trianon from this point on.
The floor plan and painting shown below will help with my explanation of the layout of the Grand Trianon. A large entry courtyard separates the two principal wings. The south wing is shown on the left, and contains rooms numbered 1-7. This south wing encloses a second courtyard, labelled below as the Cour des Offices (Office Courtyard). The north wing is shown on the right, and contains rooms numbered 8-26. The south and north wings of the Grand Trianon are connected via its peristyle—a layout which mimics how the Hall of Mirrors connects the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments back at the main residence of Versailles. The Jardin du Roy was the King’s private enclosed garden and the Bosquet des Sources, labelled here as Les Sources, was a wooded grove criss-crossed with streams.
The north wing of the Grand Trianon is larger than the south. There are four different areas that make up the north wing (moving left to right in the floor plan above): Block 1, with rooms numbered 8-12, is laid out from west to east along the main courtyard; Block 2 spans a set of rooms starting with 13 & 14 in the south to 21 & 22 in the north; Block 3 consists of a long gallery arm that extends to the west with rooms numbered 23-24; Block 4, known as the Trianon-sous-Boise (Trianon-under-the-forest) wing, stretches north once more, with rooms numbered 25-26. I have a tour of the rooms of the Grand Trianon available in a separate post.
Although the new marble residence was radically different from its porcelain predecessor, the layout of the Trianon gardens was kept largely the same; they remain so to this day. The gardens of the Trianon were one of the features that Louis XIV most cherished, and he made sure that there was a view of them from every room in the new château. He had the long gallery of Block 3 built largely so that this new wing would protect the flowerbeds from the strong winter winds. Occasionally, Louis XIV’s love for his garden and adoration of its heavily-perfumed flowers backfired. In a letter written on August 8, 1689, Madame de Maintenon wrote: “the tuberoses cause us to abandon the Trianon every evening… [m]en and women feel ill, overwhelmed by the scents.” Even the Sun King could end up with too much of a good thing.
Louis XIV is quoted as saying: “I built Versailles for my court, Marly4 for my friends, and Trianon for me and my family.” Madame de Maintenon came from an impoverished background, and her inferior social position meant that she could not be openly acknowledged as Louis XIV’s wife. Within the privacy of the Grand Trianon, they had more freedom to be together. The simple decor and relaxed atmosphere of Trianon also provided respite from the ostentatiousness and formality experienced at the main residence. Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon first ate dinner at the Grand Trianon on January 22, 1688. They officially inaugurated the residence in the summer of 1688. Although they would often go there during the day, they had to wait until the Trianon was fully furnished before spending their first night there on July 11, 1691 (one assumes the perfume of the tuberoses was also suitably cut back by this point).
Guests were admitted to the Trianon only through royal invitation, and then usually only for a light dinner hosted by the King. Few guests were given the privilege of sleeping overnight, as there was limited space available for them. As the King had said, Trianon was for him and his family. In respect to the latter, the Grand Trianon increasingly found itself housing more members of Louis XIV’s extended family. Here is a list of royal relations of Louis XIV that, at some point, called the Grand Trianon their home throughout the latter years of his reign (and for a few years following):
- Louis the Grand Dauphin, son of Louis XIV, moved into the Grand Trianon in 1703. The Grand Dauphin lived at Trianon until he died of smallpox in 1711 at the age of 49.
- In 1708, Louis XIV had a second storey added to the Trianon-sous-Boise wing in order to accommodate the family of his younger brother (and only sibling), Philippe d’Orléans. Philippe died in 1701, but was survived by his second wife, Elizabeth-Charlotte of the Palatinate, and their two children (a surviving daughter from his first marriage was already married and living in Sardinia by this point). Elizabeth-Charlotte moved into the Grand Trianon when the Trianon-sous-Boise wing was completed.
- Elizabeth-Charlotte had a son, Philippe II d’Orléans, who was also given a set of apartments in the Trianon-sous-Boise wing in 1708. He moved in there with his wife, Françoise-Marie de Bourbon, and their children. Françoise was a legitimized daughter of Louis XIV; her mother had been Madame de Montespan.
- After Louis the Grand Dauphin died in 1711, his eldest son Louis the Petit Dauphin, Duke of Burgundy, moved into the Grand Trianon. The Petit Dauphin lived there from 1711-1712 with his wife, Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy, the Duchess of Burgundy. They lived there with their two young sons until February 1712, when they both died of measles.
- In 1712, Louis XIV’s youngest grandson, Charles, the Duke of Berry, moved into the Grand Trianon with his wife, Marie-Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans, the Duchess of Berry. Charles was the youngest of the Grand Dauphin’s three sons (the eldest had just died of measles, the second was busy ruling Spain as Philip V). The Duchess of Berry was the daughter of Philippe II d’Orléans and Françoise-Marie de Bourbon. The Duke and Duchess of Berry resided at the Grand Trianon until the Duke passed away in 1714; the Duchess went on to live a slightly scandalous life at the Palais du Luxembourg.
- In 1720, Louis XIV’s eldest legitimized daughter with Madame de Maintenon, Louise-Françoise, the Duchess of Bourbon, came to live at the Grand Trianon. She liked the château so much that she decided to have her Parisian residence, the Palais Bourbon5, modelled after it.
In the summer of 1717, the Grand Trianon hosted a prominent royal visitor from Russia. Pyotr Alexeyovich Romanov, also known as “Peter the Great,” had long been interested in visiting France. However, Louis XIV had refused to host the Russian Tsar at his court. After Louis XIV died in 1715, an invitation was finally extended to Peter I by Philippe II d’Orléans, who was acting as Regent of France during Louis XV’s minority. Peter I visited France from May-June of 1717 and resided at the Grand Trianon from June 3-12. He was fascinated by the Château of Versailles and its grounds, using them as inspiration for his building of the Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg from 1714-1723. Neil and I visited Versailles on the 200th anniversary of Peter I’s stay at the Grand Trianon. There was an exhibit dedicated to his time there, and I’ll share some of the photos I took of it at the end of this post.
Louis XV moved the royal court back to Versailles in 1722 when he was twelve years old. Although he had a lot of appreciation for the main residence, he did not have a lot of initial interest in the Grand Trianon. He gifted the château to his wife, Queen Maria Leszczsyńska, in 1741. Queen Maria was delighted with the Grand Trianon, and spent her summer months there. She loved it as much as Marie Antoinette would later come to love the Petit Trianon. Queen Maria’s father, Stanislaw Leszczsynski, the deposed King of Poland, stayed at the Trianon during his visits to Versailles from 1740-1743 (see my post on the Château de Chambord for more information about him).
In 1749, Louis XV’s chief mistress, Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, the Marquise de Pompadour, saw the potential the Grand Trianon offered them as a private retreat from the royal court of Versailles. She and Louis XV began to spend more time there. In 1750, Louis XV renovated several rooms in the north wing of the Grand Trianon and began making improvements to its surrounding gardens. He added a vegetable garden, a botanical garden, a fig orchard and several greenhouses (which were still a rare innovation at the time). He also had two new structures built in the French Garden: the French Pavilion in 1750, and the Cool Pavilion in 1753 (more on those in my post about the Petit Trianon). In 1762, construction began on a small château located 450 meters (1,476 feet) east of the Grand Trianon (a short five minute walk away). This new residence was called “the Petit Trianon” and was designed according to the taste and preferences of Madame de Pompadour. The building of the Petit Trianon led to the rechristening of the Marble Trianon as “the Grand Trianon.” Sadly, Madame de Pompadour passed away in 1764—four years before the Petit Trianon’s completion in 1768. Her successor, Jeanne Bécu, the Comtesse du Barry, would occupy the château in her stead.
It was while Louis XV was spending time with Madame du Barry at the Petit Trianon that he became ill with smallpox. He was moved back to the main residence of Versailles, where he died a few days later on May 10, 1774. He was succeeded by his grandson, Louis XVI. Two weeks later, Louis XVI gifted the Petit Trianon to his wife. Louis XVI would often stay at the “men’s palace” of the Grand Trianon with their eldest son, Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François (born in 1781, died in June 1789), while Marie Antoinette resided at the “women’s palace” of Petit Trianon with their daughter, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte (born 1778). Marie Antoinette preferred the Petit Trianon, and so the Grand Trianon did not play a prominent role in their reign beyond hosting a few parties.
During the French Revolution the Château de Versailles, its grounds, and its associated residences (including the Grand Trianon) were declared national property. When the monarchy was overthrown in July 1792, it was decided that all of the furniture, mirrors, bronzes, art works, and other valuables at Versailles would be sold off with the exception of those items deemed to have historic or artistic value. The Grand Trianon’s original furnishings were all lost during this time. The residence was largely neglected for a number of years, although its condition did not deteriorate as badly as that of the Petit Trianon and the Hameau de la Reine.
Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor of France took place on December 2, 1804. He had Versailles designated as an imperial palace, although he never lived there. Instead, he mostly resided in the Tuileries Palace in central Paris, and moved between several official residences located throughout France such as the Château de Malmaison and the Château de Fontainebleau. Napoleon first visited Versailles and the Grand Trianon in March 1805. Instead of having apartments set up in the main château, Napoleon decided to use the Grand Trianon as a summer residence. He planned to stay there while hunting in the woods nearby—this was the same appeal, it just so happens, that had first brought a young Louis XIII to Versailles nearly two hundred years earlier in 1607 and encouraged him to build his first hunting lodge in 1623. Napoleon planned to have the south wing of the Grand Trianon fixed up to house his mother, Maria Letizia Ramolino, and the north wing for himself and his wife, Empress Josephine. Napoleon would also have the Petit Trianon set up as a summer residence for his favourite sister, Pauline Borghèse. He wanted all the arrangements to be ready by May 21, 1805, but it would be July before they were even close. His mother arrived at the Grand Trianon on May 6 and refused to take up residence in the south wing. She felt the château was outdated and ill-suited to modern needs. Pauline was happier with the Petit Trianon, and stayed there from June to July.
Napoleon continued to have improvements made to the grounds and the châteaux of both the Grand and Petit Trianon over the next few years, restoring them to their former glory. He had the Grand Canal reopened, and decided to build a bridge between the Trianon residences. To achieve this, he destroyed part of the enclosing wall of Louis XIV’s private garden. He then had an iron bridge constructed to span a sunken pathway, which connected the King’s Garden with the gardens of the Petit Trianon. He also cut down the Bosquet de Sources. Napoleon made his first extended stay at the Trianon following the announcement that he was divorcing his wife Empress Josephine. He left the Tuileries at 4:00 pm on December 15, 1809 and arrived at the Grand Trianon that night. It was a painful separation. Pauline came to stay at the Petit Trianon so that she could be nearby to offer him support. Napoleon went to see Josephine a few times over the following weeks, and invited her to dinner at the Grand Trianon on Christmas Day. It was a sad occasion. Josephine was indisposed for a few days after the meeting, and Napoleon threw himself headlong into plans for his next marriage. He had the Grand Trianon completely refurnished between 1809 and 1810; by the spring of 1810, it was completely finished and ready to be inhabited. He married his second wife, Marie-Louise, daughter of his conquered enemy Emperor Francis I of Austria, in April 1810.
Napoleon brought Empress Marie-Louise to Versailles for the first time on June 10, 1810. They returned at the beginning of August and stayed there for a few days, with Marie-Louise residing at the Petit Trianon. At this point, Napoleon decided to have the ruins of the Hameau de la Reine, the Queen’s Hamlet, restored for his wife. Interestingly, Marie-Louise was a great-niece of Marie Antoinette; her grandmother was one of Marie Antoinette’s many sisters, Maria-Carolina (her favourite, in fact, as they were closest in age). Austrian diplomat Prince Charles de Clary-et-Aldringen visited Versailles that same summer and described the Grand Trianon as being furnished with a “fairy-tale luxury.” He further states, “the Orient has never known, I believe, anything so beautiful in bronzes, embroidered velvets, porcelains, paintings, parquet floors, fireplaces, and all is of the best taste.”
Napoleon and Marie-Louise hosted three separate entertainments during their summers at Versailles. On August 9, 1810, a Molière play was staged at the newly-restored Queen’s Theatre of the Petit Trianon, and a big party was held the next day in the gardens. A circus, built especially for the occasion, hosted a performance of the Franconi brothers, Laurent and Henri. In July 1811, a gondola once more cruised the Grand Canal, this time with Napoleon and Marie-Louise on board. On August 25, 1811 the imperial couple hosted a grand party, “the Feast of the Empress”, which was attended by hundreds of people. The châteaux were lit up by lanterns in different colours, the lakes were illuminated and filled with boats, and guests were entertained by musicians and a choir. The Trianon Theatre hosted both a play and a ballet performance. A lavish feast was served in the Grand Trianon. It was a magnificent celebration, an echo of the great entertainments that had once been staged at Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV. Attendees of this party must have felt that the night had been like a fairytale.
Napoleon and Marie-Louise visited Versailles for the last time in March 1813, shortly after Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign. Napoleon was forced to abdicate just over a year later in April 1814, and the Bourbon monarchy was restored to power. The younger brothers of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X, chose not to live at Versailles, which had been their former home. It would be March 1832 before another monarch, their cousin and successor Louis-Philippe I, took an interest in Versailles. Louis-Philippe I was a descendant of Louis XIV’s younger brother, Philippe d’Orléans. Louis-Philippe’s wife, Queen Marie-Amélie, was also related to Marie Antoinette6.
Like Napoleon, Louis-Philippe I took up residence in the Grand Trianon. He dedicated himself to the task of turning Versailles into a museum, which was inaugurated on June 10, 1837. Also in June of 1837 his son and daughter-in-law, Ferdinand-Philippe and Hélène Louise Élisabeth, the Duke and Duchess of Orléans, settled into the attic of the Petit Trianon. In October, one of Louis-Philippe’s daughters, Marie d’Orléans, married Alexander of Württemberg in the chapel at the Grand Trianon. Louis-Philippe I was later forced to abdicate during the French Revolution of 1848. Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, ruled France as President from 1848-1851 and then Emperor from 1852-1870.
The Grand Trianon next took centre stage on June 4, 1920, where it hosted the negotiation and signing of the Treaty of Trianon. The Treaty of Trianon followed the earlier signing of the Treaty of Versailles (June 28, 1919) and the Treaty of Saint-Germaine-en-Laye (September 10, 1919). The treaty left Hungary with an area that was less than one third of what it had held prior to the breakout of World War I: it went from 325,411 kms² (202,201 miles²) to 93,028 kms² (57,804 miles²). Hungary lost access to the sea in Croatia; five of its ten most populous cities; 55-65% of its forests; all of its gold, silver, mercury, copper, and salt mines; as well as numerous railways, factories, canals, arable land, and banking institutions. It was a national trauma, and today the word “Trianon” remains synonymous with that heavy loss.
In 1959, French President General Charles de Gaulle decided to transform the Grand Trianon into a presidential home. Renovation work was carried out between January 1963 and June 1966 under the direction of French architect Marc Saltet and conservator Gerald Van der Kemp. Air conditioning and electricity were installed throughout the building. The wing of the Trianon-sous-Boise was completely remodelled in order to provide modern living accommodations; its basement was also installed with professional kitchens. The Trianon-sous-Boise wing has been used to host visiting heads of state such as John and Jackie Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Boris Yeltsin, King Hussein of Jordan, among others. The 1982 G7 Summit met at the Grand Trianon from June 4-6. In 1999, President Jacques Chirac authorized the opening of the French presidential apartments to the public.
That concludes our historical tour of the Grand Trianon! Before I conclude this post, though, I’m going to share some pictures I took of an exhibit that Neil and I saw during our tour of the residence. The exhibit was titled, “Peter the Great: A Tsar in France,” and was presented in collaboration with the State Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg, Russia. Neil and I went to Versailles in July 2017, which marked 300 years since Peter I of Russia had visited France. In 1717, Peter I traveled to Versailles on May 24-26, as well as June 3-12. It was during this second trip that Peter I stayed at the Grand Trianon. The exhibit featured more than 150 works including paintings, sculptures, tapestries, maps, medals, scientific instruments, books, and manuscripts. More than half of these items were on loan from the Hermitage Museum.
The exhibit materials described Pyotr Alexeyovich Romanov (1672-1725) as “an unpredictable force of nature, a stranger to etiquette, [who] flouted protocol on a number of occasions.” Peter I was a reformist Tsar, and he is considered the founder of modern Russia. He made two journeys to Europe during his reign. The first was from March 1697- September 1698 when he was 25-26 years old; this was also the first foreign trip made by any Russian sovereign! He had wanted to visit France during this trip, but Louis XIV refused to host the Russian Tsar at his court. After Louis XIV died in 1715, an invitation was finally extended to Peter I to visit France by Philippe II d’Orléans, who was acting as Regent of France during Louis XV’s minority. Shortly afterward, Peter I made his second tour of Europe from January 1716 – October 1717 at the age of 45. He spent many weeks in France, including 43 days in Paris. He wanted to “discover all that was remarkable about France and adopt it back in his country.” He was also looking to sign a trade agreement with France, and secure a military alliance with France and Prussia against Sweden.
Peter I’s visit is considered the foundation of diplomatic relations between France and Russia. He left a lasting impression, especially following his meeting with Louis XV at the Hôtel des Lesdiguières7 on May 10, 1717. In a spontaneous gesture that defied royal protocol and shocked everyone in attendance, Peter I scooped the seven-year-old King of France up in his arms in a warm, father-like gesture and kissed him on both cheeks.
Peter I explored the French markets and workshops as casually as if he was a regular person, requiring no special attention or ceremony. In addition to scores of books, Peter I bought lots of scientific and technical instruments. He had a real passion for learning about the advances being made in science and mathematics, and wanted to bring back as many tools as he could find. When he returned to Russia he had artisans make copies of these instruments. He then shared them with architects, topographers, scientists, doctors, explorers, and the military. All of the instruments displayed in the exhibit at the Grand Trianon were part of his personal collection.
Peter I found a lot to be inspired by during his time in Paris. While there, he visited: the Academy of Sciences, where he was made an honorary member (the first monarch to be granted such an accolade); the Academy of Painting and Sculpture; the Observatory; the Louvre; the Sorbonne; the Royal Printing Office; the Jardin des Plantes; La Monnaie de Paris (the Mint); and the Gobelins Manufactory, which created a set of tapestries for him that are still on display at the Hermitage Museum. He also toured several libraries and cabinets of curiosities.
Peter I brought many artistic, cultural, scientific, and technological influences back with him to Russia. He recruited more than 60 artists, craftsmen, architects, and engineers to help build Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg from 1714-1723. He also imported several French customs into his country. His second wife and successor, Catherine I (also titled “the Great”), would later insist on the use of the French language by the Russian court. This admiration and respect for the French would be helpful when the French Revolution broke out, and several French aristocrats and artists (such as Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun) sought refuge at the Russian court.
Peter I favoured simple clothing. During his first trip to Europe in 1697-1698 he had toured Amsterdam and admired the simple, no-frills style of dress worn there. He had since adopted it as his own. A wool-and-silk suit belonging to Peter I, shown below, was part of the exhibit. It would have contrasted sharply with the lacy ensembles worn by members of the French court.
The size of the garment indicates that Peter, aged 45, was slim and very tall; in fact, his height was nearly 2 meters (6’7″)!
Below is a manual that provided instructions on the proper protocol to follow when receiving the Tsar of Russia (not that the Tsar himself always followed it!). This manual was used by Etienne Rossius de Liboy, who was titled “Ordinary Gentleman of the King.” One of the entries is dated April 5, 1717. The manual belongs to the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Political Correspondence, Russia.
Peter I visited France to secure an alliance, which was made official with the “Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Guarantee between France, Russia, and Prussia” shown below. This autographed manuscript was negotiated while Peter I was in France, but signed later on August 15, 1717 when his journey had taken him to the Netherlands. It was the start of a “close union” between France, Russia, and Prussia. The text is written in French, which had been the language of diplomacy since the reign of Louis XIV. The treaty set up the conditions that would allow for the opening of permanent embassies in France and Russia. It is celebrated as a founding diplomatic act between the two countries, establishing an alliance that would withstand significant political changes brought on by each nation’s own revolutionary and imperial periods. The document belongs to the archives of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.
The Signatories of the Treaty are, on the left, for France: that of Pierre-Antoine de Chasteauneuf [Châteauneuf], the Marquis de Castagnère, Ambassador of France to the United Provinces. On the right are those of the Russian Plenipotentiaries, including: Count Gavrila (Gavriil) Ivanovich Golovkin, Prince Boris Ivanovich Kurakin, and Vice-Chancellor Peter Pavlovich Shafirov (I’m not sure of the order).
A (rough) translation of Article 5 of the Treaty (shown below) reads:
“to make peace and this alliance still more solid and more durable, the King […] the Czar of all Russia and the King of Prussia not only will, but […] in concert all the powers and states […] will want to enter this Treaty[…] the maintenance of general tranquility […] Europe and for the common utility of all interested parties.” A (rough) translation of Article 6 reads:
“the ratifications in good standing being mutual […] exchanged within a month of counting […] from the day of the signing of this treaty.”
That concludes my summary of the history of the Grand Trianon! In my next post, I’ll conduct a tour of the rooms of the Grand Trianon. Thank you for reading!
1 The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing was constructed during the early 15th century. In the middle of the 17th century, European explorers and missionaries came upon it and their stories of its beauty soon spread throughout the west. The original tower was damaged when the Taiping Rebellion broke out in the 1850s, and it was torn down in 1856. In 2015 a modern replica was opened to the public. The Porcelain Trianon was the first building in Europe to adopt what would soon become the highly fashionable chinoiserie style, predating its earliest successors by well over 50 years.
² Delftware, or Delft pottery, is a style of blue and white tin-glazed earthenware pottery. It is named after the city of Delft in the Netherlands, which was a major centre of its production. Delftware features the use of a white glaze that is decorated by blue cobalt oxide. The style first came into production in 1600, and was popular from 1640-1740. It could be used to imitate Chinese porcelain, as western Europe did not learn how to manufacture its own until the 1700s; German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger discovered the secret to making hard-paste porcelain in 1709, and the Meissen porcelain factory was opened near Dresden in 1710. The tiles for the so-called Porcelain Trianon were sourced from Delft as well as the French cities of Rouen, Lisieux, and Nevers. When the Porcelain Trianon was demolished in 1687, many fragments of these ceramic tiles were buried in the Trianon gardens. These decorative elements still sometimes reappear during excavations or levelling work.
3 This illustration of the Diane Apartment was done by Robert Danis, the “Architecte en Chef des Palais nationaux et des Monuments historiques” (the Chief Architect of National Palaces and Historic Monuments). Danis mined the national archives for evidence of the Porcelain Trianon’s design, especially its interior, and sketched it as he imagined it would have looked. This drawing comes from Danis’ book, La Première Maison Royale de Trianon 1670-1687, which was published in 1927.
4 The Château de Marly was built in 1679 at the northern end of the royal park, west of Versailles. It served as yet another private retreat for Louis XIV from the royal court of Versailles. Courtiers competed with each other for an invitation to Marly, where they had the chance to interact with the King in a more intimate setting. Marly consisted of 12 pavilions built in matching pairs that flanked several central sheets of water. Marly was meant to be a simple hunting lodge but quickly became renowned for its water features. Most notable was the Marly Hydraulic Machine, which was considered a miracle of modern hydraulic engineering. It had a system of 14 paddlewheels that pumped water from the Seine into a vast underground network of reservoirs and aqueducts that then supplied the fountains of Versailles. Marly was used very little after Louis XIV’s passing in 1715, as his successors thought it was too damp and dreary. In 1800, Marly was converted into a factory for spinning cotton thread. When the factory went out of business in 1806, the pavilions were demolished and their building materials were sold. In 1807, Napoleon bought the land back, and so the empty gardens and surrounding woodland park now belong once more to the French State. Only the foundation of the main pavilion remains at the top of the slope of Marly park. Marly-le-Roi is a small town that grew up around the château to help service it when Louis XIV still resided there. It is now a bedroom community of Paris.
5 The Palais Bourbon was constructed from 1722-1726 on what was then the outskirts of the city. It was initially a country-style residence surrounded by gardens, but has since undergone a lot of changes over its (nearly) two hundred year history. Today, it serves as the seat of the French National Assembly.
6 Maria-Carolina, Marie Antoinette’s sister, was Marie-Amélie’s mother. Marie-Amélie was a sister to Empress Marie-Louise’s mother, Maria-Theresa of Naples and Sicily. So Marie-Amélie was a niece of Marie Antoinette, and Empress Marie-Louise was a niece to Marie-Amélie (and great-niece to Marie Antoinette).
7 The Hôtel des Lesdiguières was a private residence (built in 1580 and demolished in 1878) located near the Bastille in Paris that Tsar Peter I of Russia opted to stay in, rather than the Louvre.