Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Palace of Versailles and it’s Historical Significance

Last week I traveled to Paris with my Global Economics class. There we met with business professionals and investment organizations in order to study globalization and its consequences. Rather appropriately then, during my free day I visited the Palace of Versailles, both because my garden art professor would have been dumbfounded had I decided not to go and because the Palace of Versailles and the gardens of Versailles encapsulate the concept of Globalization. 

In order to understand the significance of Versailles it is important to look at its design and the historical context in which it was built. The Palace of Versailles was initially a hunting lodge used by Louie XIII. However, when Louie XIV took power he found the inner city of Paris much to his dislike and decided to move the court to Versailles. Accordingly, the Sun King (Louie VIX as he liked to be know) began to formulate plans to expand the palace and to expand the gardens. In 1661 under the direction of the landscape designer André Le Nôtre, work on the gardens of Versailles commenced. The project was completed in a series of four building campaigns, which lasted until 1709. When the gardens and palace were completed , they became representations of enormous power and influence. 

Within the design of the gardens at Versailles it is very easy to pick up on global influence and in return the influence of Versailles on other gardens. Le Nôtre was raised and educated in Paris and as such, developed a classical French style. This French style was heavily influenced by both late renaissance and baroque concepts. An arial view of the gardens at the Palace of Versailles illustrates the combination of these styles. Looking down on the gardens we can see the axial design that runs through the entire landscape. There is a central axis and cross axis from which radiate pathways that form an interesting geometric pattern. The reliance on axis and symmetry is a classic renaissance characteristic. The design was to demonstrate mans ability to subject nature to specific patterns and further reflected humanist ideals that controlling nature brought one closer to God. In this case the garden design demonstrates specifically the Sun King’s power and control. Renaissance ideas stem from Italy, but were transported to France when in 1494 Charles the 8th of France invaded Italy and stumbled across the Poggio Reale (an early Renaissance chateau and garden). As avenues of trade expanded and transportation methods improved, renaissance ideas and new ideas in general began to spread. Thus, we can see how economic and political forces translate into the spread of cultural ideas. 

Not only were the gardens of Versailles based on offshoots of renaissance ideas, a new art form, the Baroque, came to play a large role in Le Nôtre’s design. The baroque period is characterized by exaggerated movement and emotional depictions that produce dramatic effects. For a concrete example of baroque style see figure two. This is the famed Hall of Mirrors inside the palace of Versailles. The rounded architecture that has fewer geometrical straight lines and sharp edges, but instead swirls and evokes colorful and emotional images is a good representation of the period. The gardens however are not necessarily fully baroque nor fully renaissance in style. Their layout is geometrical and controlled, but the designs within the gardens are swirly, colorful and emotional. Some may call this fusion of baroque and renaissance styles a flamboyant renaissance style. 

Within the gardens of Versailles there were also quite a few allegorical statures and fountains. Apollo who was the god of the sun and sky was a natural favorite of Louis XIV. Apollo was the god of gods as Louis XIV was the king of kings. Both the Apollo fountain and the Lotona fountain are depictions of Apollo and his power.

It is clear then that Louis XIV and his larger than life palace was a show of ultimate power, which resonated through the entire European continent. This is of major significance because the Palace of Versailles, the gardens of Versailles and the ideas therein became immortalized. For many thousands of years before Versailles gardens had been used to display wealth and power, but the display at Versailles was of a different scale entirely. Not only did it solidify gardens as a show of power, but it helped contribute to the way future gardens and even cities were laid out. For example, the axial design of the gardens with radiating walkways that form geometrical sections became the basis for street design in Paris. The criss crossing patterns and strange geometrical shapes made it difficult for people to block off one section of the city if there was a revolt. There was always another way to get to the destination. Further the gardens acted as an interesting transitionary style from very controlled renaissance design to colorful and dramatic baroque design.

Globalization allowed for the spread of renaissance ideas to France, which in turn contributed to the design of Versailles in a new baroque style. The significance of the garden can be seen not only in power dynamics and influence on other gardens, but on things as removed as city and street planning. Overall, I would say it was a productive visit to Versailles and an academic win for DIS.

Check out these interesting descriptions of the Palace of Versailles and it's gardens:

Figure 2:

FIgure 5:

1 comment:

  1. Definitely a garden of power and control - and glad you enjoyed your visit!