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The History Behind the Château de Versailles, part 4: June 23, 1789 – October 6, 1789

In my third post on my continuing series discussing the history of the Château de Versailles, I examined several key events that took place from 1786 – June 20, 1789 in the lead-up to the French Revolution. The post concluded with the evolution of the Third Estate of the Estates-General into the National Assembly, and with its members pledging the Oath of the Jeau de Paume on June 20, 1789. In this fourth post, I’m going to focus on several key events of the French Revolution that happened next within a four-month period between June 23 and October 6, 1789.

The Oath of the Jeau de Paume, June 20, 1789. Jacques-Louis David, 1791-1792. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. This was meant to be a massive painting, with life-sized figures, but was never completed.

Before continuing with the story, I’m going to briefly talk about Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Louis XVI was not a terrible man, but in 1789 he was in way over his head. He was more naturally inclined to be a scholar than a King, and he was completely unsuited to the political and social challenges of his time. To be fair, it would have taken an exceptional personality to rise to the extraordinary changes that were suddenly sweeping through French society. Maybe Louis XIV would have stood a chance. But Louis XVI was not cut from the same cloth as his great-great-great grandfather. Louis XVI had never been a firm and confident decision-maker, and he frequently shied away from conflict. He was a stress-napper and often fell asleep in council meetings—his subsequent snores did little to endear him with or earn the respect of those around him. He also struggled with his mental health. He had been exhibiting symptoms of major depression since August 1787, which would have only been compounded in June 1789 by his grief over the loss of his son.

Louis XVI, King of France (1775-1793). Louis-Joseph-Siffrède Duplessis, 1774-1775. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

Marie Antoinette was even less prepared for the task at hand. Marie Antoinette grew up in an age when noble women received very little education or training beyond preparing them to be delightful, entertaining, and (most importantly) obedient wives. Some women successfully overcame the limitations of such an upbringing—her own mother, Maria-Theresa of Austria, comes to mind—but this was not the case for Marie Antoinette. Her education had been largely neglected throughout her childhood1. She came to France as a fourteen-year old princess full of charm and eager to please, but she could barely read. It was just as well that political intrigues did not suit her, as French Queens were actively discouraged from taking on a political role anyway. Marie Antoinette was an accomplished musician and a devoted mother, happiest when spending time away from court with her children and closest friends; the death of two children in a span of two years would have been devastating. On the few occasions where Marie Antoinette did try to exert the limited political influence she had, she was harshly criticized. The Austrian princess was not welcome in the French political arena, a message that had been made abundantly clear to her by all levels of French society. Further, recent years had seen Marie Antoinette become a target for the simmering anger that the lower class felt for the monarchy. By this point in 1789, she was the most hated person in all of France. 

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France (1775-1793). Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier-Dagoty, 1775. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On June 23, Louis XVI held a seance royal (royal session) in which he tried to break up the National Assembly. Louis XVI had his court master of ceremonies, Henri Evard the marquis de Dreux-Brézé, relay the King’s order that the Three Estates should meet in their separate chambers. Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, the Comte de Mirabeau, hotly replied: “We are here by the will of the people, we shall only go away by the force of bayonets!” Dreux-Brézé and Louis XVI wisely backed down. On June 24, more nobles crossed the floor to join the National Assembly. On June 27, Louis XVI changed tactics in an effort to appear like he was in control of the situation: he ordered all remaining members of the Second Estate to join the National Assembly (the entire First Estate had already done so). He also acquiesced to the demand for “voting by the head.” However, at the same time he also issued orders for the army to mobilize and gather outside of Paris and Versailles.

Etching engraved in 1889 by Alphonse Lamott after the haut-relief “Mirabeau answering to Dreux-Brézé” by Jules Dalou, modelled in in 1883, also called “Les Etats Généraux.” Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Rumours and speculation circulated about the King’s intentions with the military deployment. Was he really a supporter of the will of the people, as he claimed? Or was he about to follow up on Mirabeau’s challenge and violently suppress them with bayonets? There was reason to be concerned, as Louis XVI’s typical indecisiveness had him wavering between supporting the Third Estate and the National Assembly one day, and opposing them the next. The King’s younger brothers and several other conservative royalist figures were urging him to hold firm on the absolutist power of the monarchy and push back against the National Assembly. They also wanted him to fire Jacques Necker, whose progressive reforms and support of the Third Estate as Controller-General of Finance had earned their enmity. 

Louis XVI, preceded by soldiers and ecclesiastics, all on horseback, passes at the foot of the statue of Louis XV. Augustin de Saint-Aubin (engraver) and Hubert-François-Bourguignon Gravelot (draftsman), 1766. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. Remember this picture of Louis XVI in front of the statue of Louis XV; there’s going to be a call-back to it at the end of this post.

On July 6, the National Assembly appointed a committee to begin drafting a national constitution. On July 8, they petitioned Louis XVI to remove his troops from the outskirts of Paris. The recent arrival of several foreign regiments, their obedience to Louis XVI bought and paid for, had worryingly added to their number. Louis XVI shrugged off their request, saying that the deployment was a precautionary measure. He also casually suggested that the National Assembly relocate itself to Noyon or Soissons, two cities that were located 100 kms (62 miles) northeast of Paris. But he wasn’t fooling anyone with this gesture. There was no way the Assembly was going to move that far out from the centre of its growing power at Versailles nor away from the potent support provided by the people of Paris. On July 9 the National Assembly took another revolutionary step forward when they reorganized themselves into the National Constituent Assembly, and claimed that they had the power to make laws. (Note: it was common practice at the time to continue referring to this body as the “National Assembly,” but I am going to start calling it the “National Constituent Assembly to help keep them straight).

The National [Constituent] Assembly. Nicolas Ponce (engraver) and Antoine Borel (draftsman), 1790. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On July 11 a member of the National Constituent Assembly proposed that France adopt a “Declaration of Rights” based on the American Declaration of Independence. This was Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat and military officer who had distinguished himself as a war hero during the American War of Independence while commanding American troops in several battles. Lafayette and many of his French comrades returned from America changed by their experiences there, with new ideas about the role of the monarchy and the power of the common people. Lafayette worked on drafting a French Declaration of Rights through the summer of 1789. He consulted with his close friend Thomas Jefferson, and gathered input from the Abbé Sieyès and Mirabeau as well. 

Portrait of Gilbert du Motier, the Marquise de Lafayette, as a Lieutenant General in 1791. Joseph-Désiré Court, commissioned by the Historical Museum of Versailles in 1834. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

July 11 was also the day when Louis XVI had Necker terminated as the Controller-General of Finance. When news reached the citizens of Paris on July 12, they became outraged. Necker was popular with the common people; there had been celebratory fireworks in Paris when he was recalled to his position back in August 1788. This dismissal of Necker by Louis XVI was interpreted by Parisians as an attack on the National Constituent Assembly. They were also paranoid that the 30,000 soldiers gathered around the city were preparing to shut the Assembly down. This perceived royal interference with the National Constituent Assembly, combined with Parisians’ anger over the current bread price of 14.5 sous, incensed the local populace. Demonstrators took to the streets. A crowd marched from the Palais Royal to the Tuileries Palace, carrying wax busts of Necker and the Duke of Orléans that they had stolen from a local museum while en route. Although the crowd was unarmed, they started to throw stones and garbage at a small group of soldiers when they reached the Tuileries Gardens. The soldiers were part of a German-speaking regiment of the Royal Army, the Royal-Allemand Dragoons, and half of them were made up of Swiss and German mercenaries. Their leader, Charles-Eugène, the Prince of Lambesc, led his troops as they charged at the mob on horseback, armed with sabres. One person was killed and many were injured, including several innocent civilians. A detachment of the French Guards, a permanent local infantry garrison with strong ties to the people of Paris, fired at the Royal-Allemand cavalrymen in response to their attack. 

M. de Lambesc entering the Tuileries with the Detachment of the Royal Allemand on July 12, 1789. Pierre-Gabriel Berthault the Uncle (engraver) and Jean-Louis Prieur the Younger (draftsman), 1791-1817. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Events of July 12, 1789: the prince of Lambesc enters the Tuileries by the Pont Tournant. Jean-François Janinet, 1789-1791. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

This incident pushed Paris into full-blown rebellion. Louis XVI’s mercenary troops had demonstrated that they were willing to hurt people, and the Paris-based soldiers of the French Guards showed that their loyalties were divided. Rumours that the King was imposing martial law spread like wildfire, and Parisians sought to arm themselves. From the afternoon of July 12 through to the morning of July 14 mobs broke into gun stores, private homes, small armouries, customs posts, and even a convent. They beat or chased away any royal official who tried to prevent them from seizing guns and ammunition. One imaginative group broke into the opera house, only to be disappointed when they discovered that all the cannons and guns used on stage were made of cardboard. The French Guard were ordered to quell the insurrection, but they refused to fire on civilians; instead, many of them broke ranks and joined the insurrectionists.

Event of July 13, 1789: the people loot the convent of Saint-Lazare. Jean-François Janinent, 1789-1791. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The National Constituent Assembly held an emergency meeting on the evening of July 12. Since the French Guard had failed in their duty, the deputies came up with a plan to create a new citizens’ militia, the National Guard. This new city guard would defend Paris from external threats and maintain order in the capital. It would operate independently of the army and beyond the reach of the King; its loyalty would be with the National Constituent Assembly alone. The National Guard would use the city of Paris’ red and blue flag as its standard; soldiers would wear cockades (a cloth rosette) sporting the same colours. The formation of the National Guard was met with popular support throughout Paris. Within a few hours of its first establishment in the early hours of July 13, several National Guard groups had formed throughout the city. There were a lot of volunteers eager to make up its intended rank of 48,000 men including soldiers from the French Guard. They dressed in the requisite red and blue and assembled at the Hôtel de Ville, where they awaited instructions. Enthusiasm was in readier supply than organization, however. Arms were in short supply, and so the National Guard could only sit back as mob violence continued to escalate throughout Paris on July 13.

Paris guarded by the people during the night of July 12-13, 1789. Pierre-Gabriel Berthault the Uncle (engraver) and Jean-Louis Prieur the Younger (draftstman), 1791-1817. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Looting of weapons at the Garde-Meuble in the Place de Louis XV on 13 July 1789. Pierre-Gabriel Berthault the Uncle (engraver) and Jean-Louis Prieur the Younger (draftsman), 1791-1817. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. The Garde-Meuble was an administrative unit in charge of managing the furniture and objects of art used in the royal residences, and had a depository—this is what is being looted in the engraving above.

On the morning of July 14 a crowd marched on the Hôtel des Invalides. Although the Invalides had been primarily used as a military infirmary, it had a large store of rifles and artillery in its basement. The guardsmen at the Invalides stood aside and allowed the group to ransack the premises, with some of them even defecting and joining the looters. The mob found 30,000 rifles but little ammunition. But the Invalides guardsmen knew where the solution to that problem could be found: 250 pounds of gunpowder had been recently stored at the Bastille. Once the crowd was informed of this, they duly set off on the 4 km (2.5 mile) trek between the Hôtel des Invalides and the Bastille.

Events of July 14, 1789: transport of the guns of Invalides. Jean-François Janinet, 1789-1791. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The Bastille had been originally built as a fortress from 1370-1380 to protect the eastern city wall of Paris and the entrance gate at the Porte-Saint-Antoine. It cut a formidable profile, consisting of eight towers with crenellated walls that stood 25 metres (82 feet) high above the streets. In 1417, the Bastille became a state prison. Over the centuries it had become a symbol of feudalistic tyranny, although by the 1700s it rarely held more than 20-30 prisoners at a time. The majority of these inmates were not common criminals; instead, they tended to be rebellious nobles, religious heretics or critics, seditious journalists, propagandists, and debt-ridden aristocrats who had displeased the King. There were seven prisoners being held at the Bastille that fateful morning of June 14, 1789: four forgers, a nobly-born criminal, and two men who were mentally ill.

View of the Bastille from the second drawbridge of the Bastille. Laurent Guyot, 1789. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

As the mob from the Invalides gathered outside the Bastille they were joined by a large number of residents from the nearby working-class neighbourhood, the Fauborg Saint-Antoine. At 10:00 am the commander of the Bastille, Bernard-René de Launay, allowed two members of this 900-strong group in to negotiate. De Launay was in a tough spot. He had 114 soldiers assigned to the Bastille, but 82 of them were veteran soldiers who were considered no longer suitable for service in the field—not exactly a collection of elite, competent fighters. And although the construction of the Bastille made it virtually impregnable, the prison only had two days’ food at hand and no source of water; it would not withstand a long siege. On top of that, there was not a lot of room for compromise as de Launay had orders to hold the Bastille at all costs. He was not willing to give up the Bastille’s cannons and gunpowder—the acquiring of which was the sole purpose of this mob— so negotiations quickly failed.

The Taking of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. Anonymous, around 1789-1791. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

At around 1:30 pm, chaos broke out as a small group gained access to the Bastille’s outer courtyard. De Launay ordered his soldiers to fire on the invaders. A frenzied battle took place within the confined space. When news spread that the garrison had opened fire on the people, swarms of additional people descended upon the Bastille. Two detachments of the French Guard joined them around 3:00 pm, bringing with them trained infantry officers as well as their guns. The fighting intensified. The mob found that their weaponry was too light to inflict damage on the stone walls of the Bastille, so instead they focused their cannons on the main wooden gate. For three and a half long hours, the Bastille was under siege. At one point De Launay threatened to blow up the Bastille and, along with it, most of eastern Paris. When this bluff failed, he ordered a cease-fire and surrendered the Bastille at 5:00 pm. The drawbridge came down at 5:30 pm and the revolutionaries stormed into the fortress. De Launay was dragged into the streets where he was severely beaten and then killed; his severed head was raised up and paraded on a pike. The gunpowder and weapons were seized and the seven prisoners released2.

2nd event of 14 July 1789: the governor of the Bastille shooting a large amount of citizens. Jean-François Janinet, 1789-1791. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Taking of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. 1776-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
The Storming of the Bastille. Jean-Pierre Houël, 1789. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

There were nearly 100 people killed and 70 wounded during the course of the actual fighting. Only one Bastille soldier died during the battle due to the protection offered by the fortress’ thick walls, but De Launay and three other officers were slain after the fact. The victorious mob then set out on the short 1.5 km (0.9 mile) distance that lay between the Bastille and the Hôtel de Ville. When they arrived at the Hôtel de Ville they demanded to see Jacques de Fleselles, the provost of the merchants of Paris (a position roughly equal to City Mayor); he was suspected of having royalist sympathies. De Fleselles obliged and had just begun addressing the crowd when he was gunned down. Like De Launay, De Fleselles’ head was severed and paraded on a pike through the streets of Paris. Other city officials quickly (and understandably) fled the Hôtel de Ville. Back at Versailles, Louis XVI was already in bed when news of the Bastille reached him late in the evening of July 14. “Is it a revolt?” the King asked François-Alexandre Frédéric, the Duke of Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, who had come to break the news. “No, majesty, it is a revolution!” the Duke replied.

“Thus we avenge the traitors.” French soldiers carrying the heads of Bernard-René Jordan de Launay and Jacques de Flesselles on pikes, who were killed after the taking of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. Unknown, 1789. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
Event of the night from July 14-15, 1789: M. de Liancourt announcing to the King the taking of the Bastille. Jean-François Janinet, 1789-1791. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On July 15, electors from the 60 districts of Paris gathered to form a new municipal government that they called the Paris Commune. Jean-Sylvain Bailly, the astronomer who had been appointed President of the National Assembly, was elected as Paris’ first City Mayor. At Versailles, the National Constituent Assembly nominated Lafayette as the Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard. Lafayette had stellar credentials: he was a nobleman, a liberal, and a respected military veteran. He was a moderate leader that all Three Estates, aristocrat and common man alike, were willing to rally behind. While Lafayette was uniquely qualified to have the simultaneous backing of the monarchy, the National Constituent Assembly, and the people of Paris at a time when all three of these bodies were coming into increasing conflict with each other, this also meant that he would be responsible for reciprocating their support. Circumstances would soon force him to choose whether his greater loyalties rested with Louis XVI, the National Guardsmen, or the revolutionaries. But for now, one of Lafayette’s first moves as Commander of the National Guard was to add white, the colour of the Bourbon monarchy, to the red and blue cockade of the National Guard. Thus the famous red, white, and blue tricolour of the French Revolution was born. 

Tricolour cockades from the late 18th century. Image sourced from the website of the Musée Carnavalet. A cockade is a knot of ribbons, a cloth rosette, or other oval-shaped item consisting of distinctive colours that is usually worn on a hat. Coloured cockades were worn in the 18th and 19th centuries to show allegiance to a political faction or a person’s rank. The tricolour cockade, shown above, was a symbol of the French Revolution.

Louis XVI visited the National Constituent Assembly on July 15 at Versailles. He returned on July 16 and agreed to several concessions they presented to him. He recalled Necker to his position as Controller-General of Finance, and ordered the withdrawal of his troops from around Paris and Versailles. On July 17, Louis XVI travelled to Paris on a mission of goodwill to meet with the new Paris Commune. He met with Bailly at the Hôtel de Ville, and was then taken out on a balcony to face a large waiting audience of Parisians. Bailly presented Louis XVI with keys to the city of Paris and then a large red and blue cockade. Both items were gratefully accepted by the King, who immediately pinned the cockade to his hat. Cheers erupted from the crowd below, along with cries of “Vive la nation!” (Long live the nation!) and “Vive le roi!” (Long live the King!). This appearance by Louis XVI achieved what it had set out to do: it confirmed that the French monarch had bent to the will of the people, and the combustible violence in Paris dissipated… for now.

The King arriving at Paris City Hall on July 17, 1789. Pierre-Gabriel Berthault the Uncle (draftsman) and Jean-Louis Prieur the Younger (engraver), 1791-1817. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

1789 was a long, strange summer in France. There were sporadic displays of violence and paranoia in the capital city and throughout the countryside. On July 22 one of the King’s ministers, Joseph-François Foullon de Doué, was found hiding in Paris. De Doué had temporarily acted as Necker’s replacement, which was enough to earn him the enmity of the people of Paris. On top of that, Parisian newspapers accused him of saying, probably falsely, that hungry people should eat hay. De Doué was seized by an angry mob that cut off his head and pointedly stuffed it with hay, before placing it on a pike and parading it through Paris3. Another man, French public servant Louis-Bénigne-François Bertier de Sauvigny, was forced out of his home in Compiegne and brought to Paris. De Sauvigny, whose duties included securing provisions for the royal army, was accused of purposefully causing food shortages in Paris. De Sauvigny was shown the severed head of his father-in-law, De Doué, before being hanged from a lamppost in front of the Hôtel de Ville. Gouverneur Morris, an American statesman and Revolutionary who was visiting Paris at the time, witnessed the gruesome spectacle. In a letter to Lafayette, he expressed his horror: “Gracious God, what a people! […] Have we gone backward centuries to pagan atrocities? And you talk of making this people the supreme authority in France? Your party is mad!”

The Death of Foullon. 1793. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

In rural France, rumours that Louis XVI and/or his fellow aristocrats had hired gangs of brigands or mercenaries to destroy their crops and property set off a panic known as “the Great Fear.” The peasants took up arms to defend themselves and then embarked on their own riotous mission of looting, burning, and destroying châteaux—ironically becoming what they had initially been frightened of. Property damage was extensive, and a number of people were killed (3 according to official reports). Peasants also sought out and tore up ledgers that contained information about the taxes, labour, and other feudal obligations they owed to their landlords. Nobles were chased out of their homes and, in some cases, ransomed into renouncing their feudal rights. News of this unrest galvanized the National Constituent Assembly. While the Great Fear had begun as a preparatory action against a rumoured aristocratic counter-revolution, it evolved into a demonstration of the strong hatred the peasants had for feudalism.

Events of August 16 and 17, 1789: Mr. Walche appeals to furious people who want to ravage his castle by having them prepare a meal. Jean-François Janinet, 1789-1791. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The Great Fear encouraged members of the National Constituent Assembly to consider an abolition of all feudal privileges, which was first suggested on August 3, 1789. They moved forward into making this law on the evening of August 4. All of the deputies of the Second Estate stood and voluntarily renounced their hereditary privileges and feudal rights. Members of the First Estate were at first reluctant, but eventually they joined in as well by renouncing their titles and abolishing the church tithe (a 10% tax gathered by the First Estate). It was a euphoric moment of liberal idealism that transcended the Estate system. The Assembly formalized these agreements over the following days with the passing of the August Decrees. These nineteen decrees abolished seigneurial feudalism and sought to create a new society that was based on equality and individual merit.

Meeting of the night of August 4-5, 1789 of the National [Constituent] Assembly. Abandonment of all feudal privileges. Charles Monnet and Isidore Helman. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

On August 25, Marie Antoinette hosted a traditional party at Versailles celebrating the Feast of Saint Louis. There, she received a group of women known as the Dames des Halles4. The Dames were retailers who sold fish, fruit, eggs, butter, cheese, herbs, vegetables, and flowers out of Les Halles, the central marketplace of Paris. The majority of these (approximately) 1,000 women sold fish, which is why they’re also often called Les Poissardes (“the fishwives”). Les Halles was the geographic heart of Paris and suppliers could not legally bypass it to sell elsewhere. As such, the Dames who worked in Les Halles (known as “the stomach of Paris”) acted as the distribution lynchpin between countryside suppliers and urban Parisian consumers. This role gave the Dames a lot of local influence: both royal and municipal authorities knew it was crucial to keep them happy. The centrality of Les Halles allowed the market to help set the political tone for the rest of Paris. If the Dames became upset about an issue such as a shortage of food, the entire city would soon reverberate with it.

La Place des Halles. Jacques Aliamet (engraver) and Étienne Jeaurat (painter), 1757-1761. Several Dames des Halles are shown meeting with customers in the public square. Image sourced from the website of the Rijksmuseum.

For centuries, the Dames had been widely recognized as being representatives of the common Parisian people. At the same time, they also enjoyed having a close symbolic relationship with the French sovereign that dated back to King/Saint Louis IX in the 13th century. They were granted the privilege of an audience with the King and/or some of his high officials several times a year either at Versailles or in Paris. On feast days and royal celebrations the Dames presented the King with bouquets and compliments to signify their approval. Generations of Dames had formally met and addressed the King at least 350 times between 1614 (the year of the previous meeting of the Estates-General) and 1789. However, it’s important to note that the sovereign didn’t always have the Dames’ unconditional support. The Dames tended to side with the Parlement de Paris in times when its rulings conflicted with the wishes of the King. In August 1787, the Dames were furious when Louis XVI suspended the Parlement de Paris and exiled its members. They refused to travel to Versailles on August 15 for the Feast of the Assumption, and nearly did the same just over a week later for the Feast of Saint Louis on August 25. City officials pressed them into doing so, as it would have been too provocative for them to snub the King on his own Feast Day (since his name was Louis as well). Now, two years later, the Dames were present at Versailles for the Feast of Saint Louis once more. The traditional bouquets and habitual compliments were offered, but not as easily as before. Little did anyone know that the Dames would soon be making another journey to Versailles but, instead of flowers, they would be bringing cannons.

The Ladies of the Halles of Paris will compliment the Queen at the Tuileries. Anonymous, 1792. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

On August 26, 1789 the last of the 17 articles of the Declaration des Droits de L’Homme et du Citoyen (“Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”), the document that Lafayette and several of his peers had been working on, was adopted by the National Constituent Assembly. The articles were brief and their language was clear, universal, and unambiguous. They secured individual rights of liberty, property, freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of religion, and equal treatment before the law. The articles asserted that law and government existed to serve the public rather than control it. They also established that taxation would be paid by all people in proportion to their means—the elusive goal that had set Louis XVI and his successive finance ministers down this bitter (to them) path in the first place. Although this Declaration did contain some gaps and shortcomings, it quickly became a cornerstone document of the French Revolution and of western liberal democracy itself. Its legacy endures today, as it helped inspire the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. From Machy (engraver) and L. Aubert (engraver), 1701-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

During this same time period, the National Constituent Assembly was also trying to decide what power the monarchy should have moving forward in this new political era. Should Louis XVI have an absolute right of veto on legislation, or was the legislative power of the Assembly paramount? On September 11, the Assembly voted to give Louis XVI a suspensive veto —he could delay the implementation of a new law, but not block it entirely. Louis XVI was furious, as he believed the monarch was entitled to an absolute veto. In protest, on September 15 he used his suspensive veto to refuse endorsement of the August Decrees and the Assembly’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. On October 1, the National Constituent Assembly agreed in principle to the idea of a constitutional monarchy. They were ready to strip Louis XVI of all real political authority, if he made this necessary. But there was another incident that took place at Versailles that same day that forestalled such a measure, as it prompted the people of France to check the King’s power in a way that was more dramatic than anything the National Constituent Assembly could have devised. 

Orgy of the Body Guards in the Opera House of Versailles on October 1, 1789. Pierre-Gabriel Berthault the Uncle (engraver) and Jean-Louis Prieur the Younger (draftsman), 1791-1817. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On the evening of October 1, the Château de Versailles welcomed soldiers of the Royal Flanders Regiment with a banquet held in the Royal Opera House. The troops had come from a town in northern France, Douai, to strengthen the King’s royal bodyguard. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were present at the beginning of the festivities, but retired early. The celebration got rowdier after the monarchs left, as large volumes of wine were consumed throughout the course of the evening. Several drunk soldiers climbed onto the tables and began to sing songs, including verses from André Grétry’s 1784 comic opera Richard Cœur-de-Lion. Although the tone of the evening was largely benign, the Parisian press was aflame with indignation the next day. Jean-Paul Marat, a French political writer, physician, and scientist, was especially critical of the event in his radical newspaper L’Ami du peuple (“Friend of the people”). He reported that the soldiers had purposefully insulted the revolution by throwing tricolour cockades on the ground and then stomping and urinating on them. In their place, the soldiers had worn black and white cockades—which were representative of the Bourbon monarchy. Marat claimed that Louis XVI had been present and approving of all this provocation. Whether these details were true or not, the banquet was surely in poor taste: many men and women in France were starving, unable to find a loaf of bread at any cost, while these royal soldiers were being heartily fed and entertained. It’s understandable that news of the reception would further antagonize a population that was on high-alert for signs of royal excess and contempt.  

Orgy of Bodyguards in the Opera House of the Palace of Versailles, October 1, 1789. 1701-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. This engraving appeared in the Paris press. The caption reads: “Orgy of the bodyguards in the opera room of the castle to which they were admitted. The general staff of the national guard of Versailles, officers of various other regiments, even dragoons and soldiers were welcomed there. It was at this party that the black and white cockades [of the monarchy] were celebrated while those of the sacred French liberty [the tricolour ones] were trampled beneath their feet.”

On the morning of October 5, a group of women at a market in the Fauborg Saint-Antoine—the same neighbourhood whose working-class members had taken part in the storming of the Bastille—began to unite in their fury over the continued scarcity of bread. Lineups outside of city bakeries stretched the length of entire city blocks, with many Parisians waiting for hours only to leave empty-handed. The harvest had just been collected in September, so there was no logical reason why there was still a shortage of food. Rumours began to circulate, with their content intensifying as frustrated people gathered on the streets. No food for Paris! And yet, only a few nights ago the royals and their soldiers had feasted at Versailles! How could this be? Perhaps the royals were trying to starve the people into submission! The soldiers had pissed on their cockades, after all! And, did you hear, the King was there? He even smiled and made a toast to them! The outrage was infectious. Someone started banging a marching drum, and the women urged a nearby church to start ringing its bells. More women from other markets joined in, with the Dames des Halles soon taking charge. Other churches added their bells to the growing storm.

The women of Paris plunder the Hôtel de Ville on 5 October 1789. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

The Dames led the women in a march on the Hôtel de Ville where they were joined by other agitators, including men. The crowd swelled until it numbered around 6,000-7,000 people, perhaps even up to 10,000. They demanded that the municipal authorities provide them with bread. The officials handed over the small supply that was available to them, but it wasn’t enough. The group wanted assurance that food would be made continually available and affordable. When the municipal authorities told them that this wasn’t something they could guarantee, the Dames des Halles asked for weapons. Two cannons and assorted small arms were given to them. An idea surged through the group: they should go to Versailles to demand more bread from the King! And then they should make him return with them to Paris! The people felt they could hold Louis XVI more accountable if he was in the capital, rather than at a remove in his palace at Versailles. The idea became action when Stanslas-Marie Maillard, a National Guardsman who had been among the first revolutionaries to break into the Bastille, grabbed a drum and cried out, “à Versailles!” (to Versailles!). The Women’s March on Versailles had begun.  

Women’s March on Versailles, 5-6 October 1789. Unknown artist, 1789. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

As this first group of demonstrators began to depart the Hôtel de Ville for Versailles, a new one began to assemble in their place. Members of the National Guard had been dispatched to the Hôtel de Ville to try and contain the mob that had gathered there. Although they were tasked by the National Constituent Assembly to keep public order, a large number of the guardsmen were sympathetic to the concerns of the Women’s March—many of their number were working- and lower-class citizens, after all. Their Commander, Lafayette, was surprised to find that his men were on the verge of mutiny. As the tide of guardsmen turned toward Versailles, they ordered Lafayette to either lead, get out of the way, or be killed. Rather than leaving them to their own devices, Lafayette reluctantly took his place at the head of the 15,000 men as they left Paris. He sent a rider to run ahead to Versailles and sound the alarm. He hoped that along the way he would find a way to protect the King and regain control of the escalating situation.

The March of the Women to Versailles on the 5 and 6 of October, 1789. Augustin Challamal, 1842. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

There had been numerous calls over the preceding months for a mass demonstration at the King’s primary residence, and now it was finally happening5,6. It took over six hours for the agitators to march the 21 kms (13 miles) to Versailles in the hard autumn rain, with the first group arriving around 4:00 pm and the main body between 5:00-6:00 pm. They were armed with kitchen knives, pitchforks, scythes, two cannons, muskets, and other makeshift weapons. When the women had first united that morning in the market, hunger and despair had been their motivation. As they were joined by more people with varying agendas their demands grew in number, ambiguity, and ferocity. During the march they cheered the idea of dragging the King (whom they called “the baker”) back to Paris and then killing the Queen (“the baker’s wife”). Several women were overheard saying it was a good thing they were wearing their aprons, since they intended to pull out the Queen’s entrails and use them to make cockades. The more constitutionally-minded folks expressed their desire to force Louis XVI to accept the August Decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

Arrival of the women at Versailles on October 5, 1789. Laurent Goyot (engraver) and François-Martin Testard (engraver and draftsman), 1789-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. The caption reads: Already the noise is spreading, so that the Avenue de Saint-Cloude is filled with armed people. The route to Sèvres is overloaded with warriors. Soon astonishment turns into admiration with the approach of the armed Amazons who came from Paris to ask for bread. The National Assembly is forced to open the gate of the castle and every rank passes through it, tearing the black cockade off of those who dare wear it.

As the demonstrators neared Versailles, they were met by members of the National Constituent Assembly, who invited Maillard into their hall at the Hôtel des Menus Plaisirs. Several marchers piled into the hall behind Maillard and sat on the members’ benches. They were wet, tired, and hungry. The outnumbered and unguarded assembly members had no choice but to admit them. Maximilien Robespierre, a member who was still largely unknown at the time, welcomed the crowd warmly. His efforts helped soften the group’s hostility and contributed to his later popularity. A group of six women were nominated by the crowd to go in to the Château and speak with Louis XVI. At this point, their demands had refocused on the supply of food. The King, who was meeting with his ministers in the Œil-de-Boeuf Antechamber, agreed to speak with one of the women. Louis XVI made arrangements to provide the crowd with bread from the royal stores, and promised that he would tell the directors of two granaries to release all possible reserves. The King then commissioned a carriage so that Maillard and a few of the women could return to Paris and deliver the news.

Map of Versailles in 1789. The Hôtel des Menus Plaisirs is located at the bottom right, along the Avenue de Paris, at number 7-10. William Robert Shepherd, 1911. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
Louis XVI receives Parisian women in Versailles. Unknown artist, 18th century. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

However, most of the marchers remained behind in Versailles to continue their protest. They spilled out onto the grounds surrounding the Château. In an attempt to pacify them, Louis XVI came out to address them around 6:00 pm. He announced that he was prepared to make several political concessions such as accepting the August Decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen without qualification. Still, the crowd did not disperse. Later in the evening, Lafayette arrived with his contingent of National Guardsmen. He immediately went inside the Château to see Louis XVI where he announced, “I have come to die at the feet of your Majesty!” Many of the men he had left outside called him a traitor, and allied themselves with the group of marchers who had remained at Versailles. Throughout the evening and into the early hours of October 6, the hostility of this combined group reached a fever pitch. Around 4:00 am, they forced open the gate to the Prince’s Courtyard and charged first into the Royal Courtyard, and then into the residence. Chaos erupted as they stormed through the halls, looking for the Queen’s Bedchamber. They swarmed and beat any member of the Royal Guard who got in their way, killing at least two and placing their heads on pikes. Marie Antoinette and her ladies escaped her room through a secret door and staircase7, running barefoot to the King’s Bedchamber. They pounded on his locked door, unheard for long moments above the screams and gunfire, before they were finally admitted. They had barely escaped in time. Back in Marie Antoinette’s room the mob defiantly stabbed her bed with their pikes, making sure she wasn’t hiding inside it.

The Terrible Night of 5-6 October 1789: who brought disaster on this most frigid night? Who is its carnage? Unknown artist, 1789-1792. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. A slightly melodramatic cartoon shows Marie Antoinette fleeing through the halls with an armed mob close behind her. Lafayette is shown in the front amidst a group of armed women.
The Queen’s Bedchamber. On the left, you can just barely see the outline of a door. This is the one through which the Queen and her ladies escaped through minutes before the rioters stormed into her room. Image sourced from the Château de Versailles website.

Lafayette was eventually able to defuse the situation by mediating between the National Guardsmen and members of the Royal Guard. The fighting ceased and the residence was cleared of agitators. However, an angry mob remained outside. They demanded that Louis XVI return with them to Paris. Lafayette convinced Louis XVI to address the crowd from a balcony. As Louis XVI stepped outside, uncertain as to what was about to happen, the crowd unexpectedly cried out: “Vive le Roi!” (Long live the King!”). Surprised and relieved by this change in mood, Louis XVI announced: “My Friends, I shall go with you to Paris with my wife and children. It is to my good and faithful subjects that I confide all that is most precious to me.” The demonstrators then demanded a similar appearance by Marie Antoinette. At first, the Queen came out onto the balcony with her young daughter and son. But the mob, still armed with muskets, commanded her to send the children back inside. Several of the guns were pointed directly at her. From the very beginning of the march, people had rejoiced at the idea of murdering the Queen. Their attitude towards her had been more hostile than the one they had regarding the King. They had broken into the Château that very morning and chased after her through the hallways, beating and killing others along the way. Ordering her to dismiss her children and face them alone was fearfully ominous. It seemed like the blood-thirsty crowd would finally get what they had come for: regicide. Marie bravely faced the crowd with her arms crossed over her chest. And then cheers of “Vive La Reine!” (Long live the Queen!) broke out through the audience. Lafayette knelt before her and kissed her hand, a display that further delighted the crowd. It was a moment that had danced delicately across a razor’s edge. The royal couple had been met with positivity and celebration rather than bloodshed and mutiny. Several heads had already ended up on pikes; theirs could have very easily followed suit. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were undoubtedly relieved to come away from that balcony alive, but they were no longer free. The crowd may have cheered for them, but their directive was still clear: the royal family was going to Paris.

Lafayette kisses Marie Antoinette’s hand on the balcony at Versailles. Unknown artist, 18th century. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
King promising to come to Paris with his family. Pierre-Gabriel Berthault the Younger (engraver) and Jean-Louis Prieur the Younger (draftsman), 1791-1817. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

At 1:25 pm on October 6, the royal family began their trip back to Paris, escorted by a crowd that now numbered around 60,000 people. Louis XVI left the Château in the care of his Minister of War, Jean-Frédéric, the Comte de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet, with the words, “try and save my poor Versailles!” He had hoped to return, but his departure would prove final. Versailles would never again serve as a royal residence. The journey to Paris took nine hours with the National Guard leading the way. Loaves of bread were paraded on the points of bayonets alongside pikes with the decapitated heads of members of the Royal Guard. Celebratory gunshots were fired over the royal carriage into the sky. The King and the French people knew fully who was now in charge of whom. Louis XVI and his family were taken to the Tuileries Palace and, ever the scholar, he asked for a book to be brought to him from the library: it was a history of Charles I, the deposed and (ominously) executed King of England.  

The Dames des Halles bring the King back from Versailles. Pierre-Gabriel Berthault the Uncle (engraver) and Jean-Louis Prieur the Younger (draftsman), 1791-1817. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Epoch of October 6, 1789: The French heroines bring the King back to Paris. Revolutions of Paris Printing, 1776-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
The King Slave or the Subject King. Female Patriotism. Isaak Cruikshank (engraver) and Samule-William Fores (editor), October 31, 1789. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

Two weeks later, the members of the National Constituent Assembly followed Louis XVI to Paris. They set up shop at a former riding school, the Salle du Mènage, close to the Tuileries Palace. Louis XVI and his family remained at the Tuileries for the next three years, effectively prisoners, as the country tried to work out a plan for governance. Versailles was closed in their absence and left in the care of the township of Versailles. The Tuileries had not been occupied since the time of Louis XIV and was a considerable downgrade from their previous residence, but the royal family did their best to adapt. Louis-Charles complained, saying of the Tuileries: “it’s very ugly here, Maman.” Marie Antoinette replied, “Mon fils (my son), Louis XIV lived here once and found it very comfortable.” A respectful gesture, certainly, but Louis XIV had built the Château de Versailles with the purpose of leaving Paris and the Tuileries behind. Nearly two years after their arrival in October 1789, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette tried to do the same. During the night of June 20-21, 1791 Louis XVI and his family fled their captivity in Paris, but were caught and arrested a short while later in the small town of Varennes. This escape attempt turned public opinion against Louis XVI even further, and talk shifted from the possibility of establishing a constitutional monarchy to abolishing it outright. Further, the National Constituent Assembly declared that with this flight attempt the royal family had effectively abandoned all of their possessions. The King and Queen’s standing quickly deteriorated from there.

Marie Antoinette Imprisoned. Alexander Kucharski, 1791-1792. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. This pastel portrait was begun in 1791 at the request of the Queen for Louise-Élisabeth de Cröy de Tourzel, who served as the royal governess for Marie Antoinette’s children from 1789-1792. It was almost destroyed during the trip to Varennes in 1791. It received two shots from pikes during the Insurrection of August 10, 1792. It returned to Versailles in 1954.

During the Insurrection of August 10, 1792 the Tuileries Palace was stormed by the National Guard (for more information on this, see my post on the Arc de Triomphe). Louis XVI and his family fled the palace and sought refuge with the Legislative Assembly (the name for the new governing body that had replaced the National Constituent Assembly on October 1, 1791). On August 13, the royal family was imprisoned in the Temple of the Conciergerie. On September 21, 1792, the monarchy was abolished. Louis XVI and Marie were stripped of their royal titles and referred to as Citoyen and Citoyenne Capet. On October 19, the interior minister of France proposed that all of the furnishings in the Château and its related residences (the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, the Hameau de la Reine, etc.) be sold. Louis XVI was separated from his family in December 1792 and put on trial. On January 15, he was found guilty of treason and condemned to death by a majority of one vote8. On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI was beheaded by guillotine at the age of 38.

Execution of Louis XVI in the Place de la Révolution. Isidore Stanislas Helman, 1794. Image sourced from Wikipedia. The empty pedestal on the right side of the painting had previously exhibited an equestrian statue of Louis XVI’s predecessor and grandfather, Louis XV. Earlier in this post, there was a picture of Louis XVI parading by that statue. How circumstances have changed!

On April 6, 1793 the Committee of Public Safety became the de-facto government of France as the Reign of Terror kicked into full gear. Marie’s son, Louis-Charles, was taken away from her on July 3. He was placed in the care of Antoine Simon, a cobbler who was tasked with turning him against his mother and into a “proper republican citizen.” Louis-Charles would later die of tuberculosis on June 8, 1795. Marie Antoinette was put on trial by the Revolutionary Tribunal on October 14, 1793. Her verdict was effectively a foregone conclusion: she was found guilty of treason, depletion of the national treasury, and conspiracy against the security of the state. On October 16, at the age of 37, Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine. Her daughter, Marie-Thérèse, remained imprisoned and was not informed of the death of her mother or brother until late August 1795. She was finally released on the eve of her 17th birthday on December 18, 1795, in exchange for six prominent French prisoners. She was taken to Vienna where her cousin, Francis II, was ruling as the Holy Roman Emperor.

Marie Antoinette’s Execution on October 16, 1793. Sanson, the executioner, shows Marie’s head to the people. Anonymous artist, 1793. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
The Departure for Vienna of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, daughter of King Louis XVI. Carlo Lasinio the Father (engraver), Antoine Deif (draftsman), and Darbi (printer), 1796-1799. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

I’m going to pause my recap of the history of the Château de Versailles at this point, with the death of two of its most famous inhabitants. I’ll pick up the story again in part 5 where I’ll examine how the Château began to transition from being a royal residence to a public museum. That post will include the last Louis of our story, Louis-Philippe I, as well as two controversial French political figures who also share a name: Bonaparte. Thank you for reading!


1 Marie Antoinette’s mother, Maria-Theresa of Austria, had sixteen children. Ten of them survived to adulthood: six girls and four boys. Of the six who died, there were three girls who died during their infancy (ages 1-3) and three other children (two girls, one boy) who died between the ages of 12-15. As the fifteenth child and youngest daughter of this large brood, Marie Antoinette was not slated to be a significant political pawn. It’s not surprising that her education was neglected, as there was a lot going on in this household. However, a surprising new alliance was made between France and Austria in 1756-1758 after most of Maria-Theresa’s other daughters had already been married off to secure other political negotiations. Maria-Carolina, the 13th of Maria-Theresa’s children and the 2nd-youngest daughter, was actually who Maria-Theresa planned to have wed to the heir of the King of France. But on October 15, 1767 her 12th child (and 3rd-youngest daughter), Maria-Josepha, died of smallpox at the age of 16. Maria-Josepha passed away on the very day she was due to leave Vienna to marry King Ferdinand of Naples and Sicily. This meant that King Ferdinand was still in need of a bride. So Maria-Carolina was sent to Naples in Maria-Josepha’s stead. Marie Antoinette was the last daughter standing, and so she went on to become Queen of France. Maria-Carolina lived until the age of 62, when she died of a stroke in 1814: a longer life than if she had wed Louis XVI instead. However, Maria-Carolina’s influence later extended to France as two of her descendants, granddaughter Marie-Louise (second wife of Napoleon) and daughter Marie-Amélie (wife of Louis-Philippe I), served as Empress (1810-1814) and Queen of the French (1830-1848), respectively.

2a There was some debate in the days after the storming of the Bastille about what to do with it. Suggestions included having it set up as a monument to liberation or using it as a depot for the National Guard. Others, including Mirabeau, were eager to see it torn down—recognizing the growing value the conquered fortress had as a revolutionary symbol. On July 16 the Permanent Committee of Municipal Electors at the Hôtel de Ville commissioned Pierre-François Palloy, a building contractor, to disassemble it. 1,000 workers completed the task within 5 months. Some of the stones were used to build the Pont de la Concorde bridge. Palloy also took bricks from the Bastille and had them carved into replicas of the fortress, some of which he sold and some he sent as gifts to spread the revolutionary message throughout France.

Demolition of the Bastille. Laurent Guyot, 1789. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
A model of the Bastille made from one of the stones of the fortress. Pierre-François Palloy, 1790. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

2b There were 954 people who claimed to have stormed the Bastille, Palloy being one of them. They received certificates from the National Constituent Assembly in 1790 recognizing them as Les Vainqueurs de la Bastille (Vanquishers of the Bastille).

2c In 1793, a large revolutionary fountain featuring a statue of Isis was planned for the former site of the Bastille, which became known as the Place de la Bastille. A foundation stone was laid, but the project never advanced beyond that. Louis-Philippe I had a column built there in 1835-1840 that commemorates the July Revolution of 1830 that placed him in power. In 1899, excavations in the area for the new Paris underground Métro station unearthed the foundations of the Liberté tower. They were moved to the corner of the Boulevard Henri IV, where they can still be seen today. The key to the Bastille was given to George Washington by Lafayette in 1790.

The foundations of the Liberté tower of the Bastille, rediscovered during excavations for the Paris Métro in 1899. Anonymous, 13 April 1899. Image sourced from Wikipedia. The July Column of Louis-Philippe I can be seen in the background.
Vestige of the foundations of the Bastille. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

2d Only one of the seven liberated criminals, Hubert de Solages, remained free after the fall of the Bastille. The four counterfeiters (Jean La Corrège, Jean Béchade, Bernard Laroche, Jean-Antoine Pujade) were taken to a new prison a few days later and the two mentally ill men (James F.X. Whyte, Jean-Antoine Pujade) were admitted into an asylum. De Solages was a member of a minor noble family from Languedoc. He had tried to help his 25-year old sister, Pauline, escape from her abusive husband, Jean-Antoine Barrau, by pretending to kidnap her. Their plan failed, and Barrau ensured that de Solages was imprisoned “due to his dissipation and bad conduct” while Pauline was sent to a convent. De Solages lived until 1824.

3 Did Marie Antoinette actually say, “let them eat cake?” I discuss this further in footnote 5 of my post on the Hameau de la Reine. In short, no. Contemporary accounts from French revolutionaries did not attribute this quote to Marie Antoinette, and they certainly would have been happy to do so if she had. She was the most hated person in France. If she had said such a thing, there would have been a big reaction to it. De Doué was merely rumoured to have said “let them eat hay!” and, well, you can see how that turned out.

4 For more about the Dames des Halles, please see Katie Jarvis’ excellent book, Politics in the Marketplace: Work, Gender, and Citizenship in Revolutionary France by Oxford University Press, 2019. All information I have on the Dames des Halles (including the use of the term “Dames des Halles” to refer to them) comes from this work. All other sources I have read regarding the Women’s March on Versailles simply refer to the women (somewhat dismissively) as “the fishwives” or “the market-women.” It was very interesting to learn about the very existence of the Dames des Halles, and the prominent role they played in the French Revolution. How easily their historic impact (and that of many other women) is trivialized and forgotten!  

5 Just three weeks earlier, on September 13, a bread riot had taken place in the town of Versailles. A baker was half-hanged for allegedly favouring his richer customers with better quality loaves. Tensions were escalating in the lead-up to the Women’s March on Versailles.

October 5 began as just another normal day at Versailles. Marie Antoinette was at the Petit Trianon and Louis XVI was out hunting. They both raced back to the main residence, arriving there around 3:00 pm—an hour before the first marchers arrived. They debated whether they should flee to somewhere safer, such as the Château de Rambouillet located 33 kms (20.5 miles) to the southwest of Versailles. They chose not to, as Louis XVI didn’t want to be perceived as a fugitive King; he later said that he regretted that decision. Marie Antoinette stated that her place was by the King’s side, an attitude she held throughout their captivity.  

7 This was the same secret staircase that Louis XVI had installed in the summer of 1775 so that he could privately visit the Queen in her bedchamber. Previously, he had to walk across the Œeil-de-Boeuf Antechamber where he had to endure the taunts of members of the court. On the night of October 5-6, it was suggested that Marie Antoinette stay in the King’s Bedchamber where she would be safer. But she didn’t want to put her husband or children in danger, as she knew that the crowd outside wanted to hurt her. At 2:00 am she went to lie, sleepless, in her Bedchamber with some of her ladies.

8 The King’s cousin, Louis-Philippe-Joseph, the Duke d’Orléans, provided one of those votes in favour of Louis XVI’s execution. He was the same man who spoke up against Louis XVI at a lit de justice held on November 19, 1787 and was exiled by one of Louis XVI’s lettres de cachet. He also marched with the deputies of the Third Estate during the procession of the Estates-General on on May 4, 1789. Louis-Philippe-Joseph changed his name to Philippe Égalité in the fall of 1792. He would later face the guillotine himself during the Reign of Terror on November 6, 1793. Interestingly, he spent a few months imprisoned at Fort Saint-Jean in Marseille before being sent back to Paris for his execution.

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France Paris

The History Behind the Château de Versailles, part 3: 1786 – June 20, 1789

In my first and second posts focusing on the history of the Château de Versailles I discussed the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV and that of Louis XVI until the year 1783, a few years prior to the outbreak of the French Revolution. In this third post, I’m going to examine how the French Revolution gained momentum at Versailles through some key events that took place there from 1786 – June 20, 1789. The causes of the French Revolution are numerous and complex; please note that brevity forces me to touch on only a few of them. As the Château de Versailles served as the centre of political power in 18th century France, it became the stage on which many of these pivotal activities played out.

The Lower Gallery. Image sourced from Pixabay.

Discontent with both royal and religious authority had been building in France over the last few decades. The French people were increasingly ready for a complete overhaul of their political, social, and religious systems. Privilege, corruption, and disenfranchisement are the cornerstones of a feudal system and France was increasingly due for an earthquake. France under the Ancien Régime (15th century-1789) understood its society as being divided into three separate classes, each of which provided the state with a separate service. The First Estate was made up of the clergy, who were considered responsible for education, religion, and charity. In 1789 they numbered only 10,000 people but owned 5-10% of all land, the most of any Estate. The Second Estate was the aristocratic/noble class, who viewed their contribution to the state as being fulfilled through military service and counsel to the sovereign; they were 400,00 in number, including women and children. The Third Estate, 25 million people strong, consisted of everybody else: the bourgeoisie, peasants, farmers, and the poor. They were responsible for fulfilling their state obligation through taxation, industry, and physical labour. The King was not a part of any Estate as he existed outside of them. There were a lot of problems with this system, the most prominent being that membership in the classes was deeply entrenched. It was impossible for members of the Third Estate to advance in this social hierarchy because the wealth, property, and privileges of the other two were legally and vigorously protected. Crucial to our story is that the First and Second Estates were exempt from taxation, so the people who had the most contributed the least.

An illustration from a 13th century French text represents the tripartate social order of the Middle Ages: the orators (those who pray, the clerics); the bellators (those who fight, the nobility); and the laboratores (those who work, peasants and members of the lower class). From “Li Livres dou Santé,” 13th century. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

The Estate system began to show signs of strain in the 18th century. New ways of thinking about society were percolating at this time. The Age of Enlightenment, an intellectual and philosophical movement, is often cited by French historians as spanning the years 1715-1789; these same years mark the beginning of Louis XV’s reign and the outbreak of the French Revolution during Louis XVI’s. The Enlightenment focused on the importance of reason as the primary source of knowledge and included ideals such as individual liberty, religious tolerance, constitutional government, and the separation of church and state. These ideas challenged the fundamental structure of French feudal society, and they would feed the hungry flame of revolution when it began to flicker in 1788.

The frontispiece and title page of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s “Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality Among Men”, 1755. Image sourced from Wikipedia. Rousseau (1712-1778) was one of the most crucial figures of the Enlightenment.

In 1786, however, it was not yet Enlightenment ideals that were the most pressing threat to the Estate system: taxes were. France had long relied on heavy taxation of the Third Estate, but the financial burden of the nation had now become too great for it to continue bearing alone. French military involvement in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) and the American War of Independence (1775-1783) were ruinous to the country’s finances. By the late 1780s, nearly half of the total national budget was being used to service debts that had been run up while financing wars and the armed forces over the last century—a rate of 41% in 1788. Years of harsh winters and poor harvests led to price inflation and food shortages. A loaf of bread, the main food available to commoners, rose in price from 9 sous to 14.5 sous—almost a full day’s pay for an average worker. Further, there were times when there wasn’t enough grain available to even make this costly bread. People were angry, starving, and desperate. Levying more taxes on this suffering population was not an option as the Third Estate was stretched too thin.

“You should hope that this game will be over soon.” A caricature of the Third Estate carrying the First and Second Estates on its back. M.P., 1789. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Several successive financial ministers (Anne-Robert Jacques Turgot; Jacques Necker; Charles Alexandre Calonne) told Louis XVI that taxation reform was sorely needed. Louis XVI agreed, but both he and his ministers faced heavy opposition from the noble members of the Second Estate. The proposed tax measures were seen as attacks on their hereditary privileges, such as their right to carry a sword and bear a coat of arms. The nobility were inordinately proud of their titles, their family lineage, and the vast unique rights (especially the tax exemptions) that endorsed their perceived social superiority. It would be considered a humiliation for them to pay taxes like any regular commoner. After all, someone at some point in their esteemed family had served in some capacity in the King’s military or on an advisory committee at some point, surely. As far as the Second Estate was concerned, their duties to society had been paid. It was offensive to suggest that they should contribute anything more. (Never mind that military spending, and the proud counsel of the Second Estate that had encouraged it, was actually responsible for the larger portion of the country’s debt).  

Court costume from the reign of Louis XVI, designed by P.N. Sarrazin. Charles-Emmanuel Patas (engraver), Claude-Louis Desrais (draftsman), Esnauts & Rapilly (publisher), 1701-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

Louis XVI’s current Minister of Finance, Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, proposed a new set of financial and administrative measures to the King on August 20, 1786 in his Précis d’un plan pour l’amélioration des finances (Precise plan for improving finances). Calonne sought to apply taxation in a more uniform and fair manner, with only the poor being protected from further burdens. It centered around a new land value tax that would be payable by all landowners without exception, even the Church. Calonne also outlined a system of provincial assemblies that would more effectively handle the administration of the nation’s affairs. Louis XVI supported Calonne’s ideas, but both he and Calonne knew that they were going to have trouble getting the measures passed through the regional parlements.

Portrait of Charles-Alexandre de Calonne. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1784. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

France had 13 regional parlements as of 1789, the most powerful of which was the Parlement de Paris. The parlements had historical medieval roots in the King’s Council. Its members were aristocratic members of the Second Estate who had bought or inherited their office, and they acted independently of the King. The parlements acted as a supreme court of final appeal for the judicial system and each body consisted of at least 12 magistrates, known as the noblesse du robe (nobles of the robe). They were not legislative bodies but they held a lot of power over a wide range of issues, including taxation. Laws and edicts issued by the Crown were not official until the parlements approved and registered them. Although the parlements could not initiate or amend laws, they were able to exercise a limited veto power on new ones. If the parlement refused to register a law, they would publish a remonstrance that explained why. If the King wished to move forward with an edict, he would then summon justices of the parlement to a session known as a lit de justice (bed/court of justice) where he could override the remonstrance and demand registration of the law. The King could also use lettres de cachet—an order that couldn’t be appealed in a letter bearing the King’s seal—to threaten, imprison, or exile magistrates of the parlement in order to force their compliance. In theory, the parlements were intended to work as a check against the absolute, central power of the King. They were tasked with upholding the Constitution and defending the rights of the French people as a whole. This theoretical mandate of the parlements lent them the popular support of the commoners, who believed that the parlements were their best protection against the authoritarian control of the King. In practice, however, the parlements were mostly dedicated to protecting the interests of the Second Estate, as its members were all nobles.

Lit de Justice of Louis XV with the Parlement de Paris, September 12, 1715. Louis-Michel Dumesnil, 1715-1720. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The Parlement de Paris had so far opposed any reform put forward by Louis XVI and his ministers that required the financial contribution of the aristocratic class, even though this was becoming increasingly crucial to the well-being of their nation. Louis XVI and Calonne knew they were not going to make headway with the Parlement de Paris, so they sought a new route to push through their reforms. Or, rather, an old route—one that hadn’t been used in 160 years, since the reign of Louis XIII in 1626. Calonne suggested that they summon the Assembly of Notables. This Assembly was a group of high-ranking nobles, clergymen, and state officials who convened on extraordinary occasions to advise the King on matters of state. The King hand-selected members for this council and, as such, could typically trust in their support. The Assembly of Notables acted in a consultatory capacity only, as they did not have any legislative or judicial powers. But a successful meeting of the Assembly would result in the King issuing one or more edicts based on their feedback. Louis XVI and Calonne hoped that Assembly endorsement of their taxation reforms would pressure the Parlement de Paris into accepting them as well.

The letter sent by Louis XVI announcing the forthcoming meeting of the Assembly of Notables. Laurent Goyot (engraver & editor) and Mme Lesclapart (editor), around 1786. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. It reads: “The letter of convocation written by the King to the various members conceived in these terms: Having resolved to assemble people of diverse conditions and qualifications of my state, to communicate to them my views for the relief of my peoples, the order of my finances and the reformation of several abuses, I have decided to call you. I send you this letter to tell you that I have fixed the said assembly on the 29 January 1787 at Versailles, and that it is my intention that you should be there on the day of its opening, to attend, and to hear what I will propose: I am sure that I will find in you the help that I must expect for the good of my kingdom, which is its object. On this I pray that God has you in his holy guard. At Versailles, 29 December 1786. The caption below the illustration reads: “Citizens assembled by a citizen King, council of the Motherland, and his royal solution. You will not betray the generous expectation of a King who wants to make France happy.”

Louis XVI named his candidates and the Assembly of Notables duly met at the Château de Versailles on February 22, 1787. There were 144 members present, of whom only two people were not aristocrats or high clergymen. The group included 36 prominent nobles, 14 bishops or archbishops, seven “Princes of the Blood”, magistrates from the parlements, provincial deputies, and city mayors. Calonne presented his reform package to the Assembly. However, rather than providing Louis XVI and Calonne with the obedient endorsement that was expected—the sole purpose of this exercise, after all—the Assembly erupted into debate and criticism. The measures remained too extreme for these members of the First and Second Estates, even the ones that Louis XVI had purposefully selected. What the Assembly did agree on was that these fiscal and administrative reforms needed to receive proper acceptance from the parlements or, barring that, from an institution that had not been summoned in a period of time even longer than that of the Assembly of Notables: the Estates-General, which had last met 175 years previously, in 1614.

The Assembly of Notables held in Versailles on February 22, 1787. Engraved by Claude Niquet after a drawing by Veny and and Abraham Girardet, end of the 18th century. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
King’s Speech at the Meeting of the Notables held in Versailles on February 22, 1787. Paul-André Basset, 1787. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The possibility of calling up the Estates-General charged the French political atmosphere in a whole new way. Like the Assembly of Notables, the Estates-General acted in an advisory capacity, with no legislative or judicial power. Unlike the Assembly of Notables, members were not selected by the King. Instead, the Three Estates had the power to choose their own representatives. It was a sensational prospect for all levels of French society, and Louis XVI was soon being pressured to convene it. But there was a reason the Estates-General had not met since early in the reign of Louis XIII: its very existence suggested that the people had more power than an absolutist monarchy was interested in sharing with them, especially the Third Estate. Three generations of Kings had worked to concentrate power solely in the hands of the monarch. After all, Louis XIV’s motto had been “the King rules alone.” His reign had been the height of this practice, especially thanks to his ability to curb the Second Estate’s impulses to strive for more power by challenging his own. But the system he had so effectively established at Versailles to do this had begun to erode towards the end of Louis XV’s reign, and it was proving to be like quicksand beneath Louis XVI’s feet. Calling up the Estates-General was the last thing Louis XVI wanted to do, and he resisted it for as long as he was able.

Louis XII of France declared as “Father of the People” by the French Estates-General in Tours in 1506. Michel Martin Drolling, 1833. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Calonne, frustrated with the refusal by the Assembly of Notables to endorse his reforms, tried to seek favour with the general public. He published information about the state’s fiscal crisis and his attempts to resolve it, revealing that the 1786 state deficit was 110 million livres. This infuriated Louis XVI and the members of the Assembly. For centuries, the Kings of France had controlled fiscal policy on their own terms—purposefully keeping the details private when faced with a credit crunch. By making the specifics of the deficit available for public scrutiny, Calonne opened the monarchy up to claims that it was weak, fallible, and corrupt. Calonne was dismissed from his position on April 8. The outraged public looked for someone to blame for this financial crisis, and a foreign princess from Austria was the perfect target. It helped that at the same time Marie Antoinette’s reputation was effectively being deliberated by the Parlement de Paris in a sensational trial concerning the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Although the Queen was innocent of any crime, her image took a severe hit when the Parlement chose to acquit those involved on May 31; a decision that was likely influenced by the political standoff currently taking place between the Parlement de Paris and Louis XVI. Although Marie Antoinette had long been the subject of salacious pamphlets, their hateful nature intensified at this point. It was during that summer in 1787 that people began to derisively call her by the name “Madame Deficit1.”

Exact representation of the large brilliant necklace of Sieurs Charles-Auguste Boëhmer and Paul Bassenge, after 1789. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

With Calonne gone, Louis XVI needed a new advisor to help him in his continued battle with the Assembly of Notables and the Parlement de Paris over tax reform. Calonne was replaced by Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, the Archbishop of Toulouse, on May 1. Brienne was a member of the Assembly of Notables and, in fact, had led the opposition to Louis XVI and Calonne. Louis XVI hoped that through Brienne’s appointment he would bring more members of the Assembly onside with him. But when Brienne presented his measures to the group on May 25, they were also defeated. As a consequence, Brienne had the Assembly of Notables dissolved. Louis XVI and Brienne then wrestled with the Parlement de Paris for months in an effort to get their measures made into law. They submitted reforms in June 1787, only to have them soundly rejected by July. On August 6, Louis XVI chose to force his measures through a lit de justice held at Versailles. When the parlements of Paris and Bordeaux objected, Louis XVI dissolved them on Brienne’s advice and composed several lettres de cachet that ordered their members into exile in Troyes—a city located 154 kms (96 miles) southeast of Paris.

Portrait of Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne. After Jean-Baptiste Despax, 1770-1794. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
Lit de Justice held at Versailles on August 6, 1787. Abraham Girardet (engraver and draftstman) and Marie-Alexandre Duparc (engraver), 1787-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

Brienne expected that exile would encourage the magistrates to back down on their firm line of opposition. Instead, the magistrates wrote to other parlements urging them to refuse to register any tax edicts. There was also public backlash in Paris to the King’s behaviour, leading to several protests. On September 24, it was Louis XVI and Brienne who conceded. Louis XVI allowed the parlements to be recalled and reseated. They were cheered by a celebratory crowd when they returned to Paris in October. On November 19, Louis XVI held another session of the lit de justice at Versailles. This time it was the King’s cousin Louis-Philippe-Joseph, the Duc d’Orléans, who led the protest. In response, the King issued a lettre de cachet that sent the Duke into exile and two of his companions into prison. It was around this point in time that Louis XVI began entertaining the possibility of convening the Estates-General in five years’ time, but he would find that political tensions came to a head much sooner than that.

Portrait of Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, future Duke of Orléans (known as Philippe Égalité), in ceremonial robes of the Order of the Holy Spirit. Antoine Françoise Callet, circa 1761-1800. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Louis XVI’s and Brienne’s tug-of-war with the Parlement de Paris continued throughout 1788. In January, the Parlement ruled that all lettres de cachet were illegal. On May 3 the Parlement issued a “Declaration of the Fundamental Laws of France” which sought to assert the parlements’ judicial independence. The declaration also contained strong criticisms of the lettres de cachet and demanded that the Estates-General be convened in order to verify any tax reforms. In response, Louis XVI issued two lettres de cachet on May 4 ordering the arrest of two members of the Parlement de Paris. On May 8, he summoned the parlements to Versailles. Using the lit de justice process he registered an edict that suspended all of the parlements and replaced them with 47 new provincial organizations that were more malleable to the will of the King. These measures were seen as despotic, and a wave of protest and violence swept through France. On June 7, mobs in Grenoble and Brittany threw tiles at government soldiers. In July, several provincial assemblies also demanded the reinstatement of the parlements, as well as the convocation of the Estates-General. On July 5, Louis XVI buckled; he made a preliminary declaration announcing that the Estates-General would be summoned at a future date in 1792. He also scheduled another meeting of the Assembly of Notables in November 1788. This time, the Assembly would provide guidance on how the Estates-General should be selected, how many would make up its number, and what voting procedures it would follow.

A lettre de cachet dated to 1703, signed by Louis XIV. Image sourced from Wikipedia. It reads: “By the order of the King, Mr. Parnau is ordered to be transported to the religious convent of the charity at Charenton to draw the name from Montilion and take him to Sainte-Marie Daisy. Done at Versailles on February 28, 1703.”
Day of the Tiles on June 7, 1788 in Grenoble. Alexandre Debelle, 1890. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Although plans were put in motion for the Estates-General to convene in 1792, circumstances in France quickly became more dire. On July 13, a severe hailstorm decimated the impending harvest. On August 8, Brienne learned that the state was unable to meet its loan repayments. An official calculated that there was only enough money in the treasury to fund state expenditure for one or two days. Louis XVI was thus forced to advance the meeting of the Estates-General by three years, to May 1789. On August 16, the government suspended the payment of interest on some of its debts. On August 25, Brienne resigned. Jacques Necker, previously dismissed from his position of Controller-General of Finance, was recalled. So too were the parlements. Debate raged throughout the fall of 1788 regarding the composition of the Estates-General, particularly regarding the number of representatives that would make up the Third Estate. When the Estates-General had last met in 1614, there had been an equal number of delegates from all Three Estates. French society had drastically changed since then, and now the Third Estate wanted to have double representation—this had already been granted to them in the provincial assemblies. Louis XVI and Necker approved of this idea as they believed that the Third Estate would serve as a royal ally. Increased Third Estate representation would dilute the strength of the Second Estate, and so their much-desired tax reform might finally be approved. The Second Estate was aware of this and, consequently, was firmly opposed to double representation.

Jacques Necker, Minister of State & Director General of Finances under King Louis XVI of France in 1789. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
The Deficit. Issac Cruikshank, November 12, 1788. Image sourced from the collections website of the British Museum. Louis XVI stands at the right, pointing at a pile of empty treasure-chests. He says to his Finance Minister, Jacques Necker: “Mr. Necker, il n’y sonts plus” (there are no longer). Necker replies, “J’en ai cependent laisses” (I have left). Two of Louis XVI’s previous Finance Ministers are shown leaving the room on the left with large sacks on their shoulders. The figure on the far left is Calonne, who says, “Je lestiens” (I hold them). Coins fall out of his pocket along with a label that reads, “requete au roi” (request of the King). The other man is Brienne, who says “j’ai le reste” (I have the rest).

On September 25 the Parlement de Paris ruled that the upcoming meeting of the Estates-General would follow the same structures and procedures as when it had been previously summoned in 1614: the proportion of representatives would be equal amongst all three Estates, with no double representation granted for the Third; each Estate would meet and deliberate separately; and each of the Estates would cast one vote, in order, rather than having votes be decided by the ballots of individual deputies (“voting by the head”). Each of these edicts effectively curtailed whatever power the Third Estate had been hoping to exercise through the Estates-General, especially the voting procedure. It allowed the First and Second Estates (3% of the French population) to vote together to protect their own interests and easily overrule those of the Third (97%). The Assembly of Notables added their support to the decisions made by the Parlement de Paris when they met for the second time in November at Versailles. Louis XVI and Necker were disappointed with this outcome, so they had the Assembly of Notables dissolved for the second time.

List of MM. the Deputies of the Nobility of Paris. Laurent Guyot, 1789. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. Louis-Philippe-Joseph d’Orléans, the Duke of Orléans, is one of the men pictured.
List of Mmr the Deputies of the Third Estate of the city of Paris. Laurent Guyot, 1789. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The Third Estate was furious at the decisions made by the Parlement de Paris and the Assembly of Notables. There was a flood of heated political literature that criticized their rulings and demanded both political and fiscal reform. The parlements were finally exposed as being instruments of aristocratic self-interest and lost the support of the common people. The Third Estate pushed harder for double representation and for voting to be determined by individual ballots by all deputies. On December 27, Louis XVI agreed to double the number of delegates for the Third Estate. But he did not remedy the voting procedure. This meant that no matter how many representatives the Third Estate had, double or not, the result would be the same: they would still only have one group vote, and they would be overruled by the two votes held by the First and Second Estates. It was in this climate that Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, an Enlightenment-minded political theorist and Catholic abbot commonly known as the Abbé Sieyès, felt moved to publish his views on the political situation in January 1789. His pamphlet, titled Qu-est ce que le tiers-état? (What is the Third Estate?), stated: “What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it been hitherto in the political order? Nothing. What does it desire to be? Something.” His work was an immediate success, and it would soon become a manifesto of the French Revolution.   

Portrait of Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès. Jacques-Louis David, 1817. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
First page of Abbé Sieyès’ 1789 pamphlet, “What is the Third Estate?” Image sourced from Wikipedia.

The winter of 1788-1789 was the most severe in living memory, with several people actually freezing to death as they made the journey between Paris and Versailles. Food stores were low due to the failed harvest of the previous season. Bread was in short supply and, when it was available, the prices were astronomical. Rumours of an aristocratic plot to “starve the poor” were rampant and readily believed. On January 24, rules and instructions for electing delegates to the Estates-General were finalised and sent out to the various districts. In February, elections for delegates to the Estates-General took place across France. Among the members successfully elected to the Third Estate were the Abbé Sieyès, thanks to the renown he had gained with his influential political pamphlet, as well as a radical nobleman named Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, the Comte de Mirabeau; the latter had failed to be elected to the Second Estate in his country district, but had managed to secure a seat with the Third Estate.

Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, the Comte de Mirabeau. Michel-Pierre Alix (engraver), 1797-1817. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On April 27, the Réveillon riots broke out in Paris due to rumours that wage cuts were going to be made by the wallpaper manufacturer. Members of the French Guard, the city’s military garrison, were hit with stones, tiles, and other projectiles thrown at them by demonstrators. The French Guard reacted swiftly, even brutally, by firing on the protestors. Official reports stated that 25 people were killed, but the actual figure was probably somewhere between 100-300. This response by the French Guard had a severe effect on the relationship between the government and the people of Paris: the government believed that Parisians were becoming increasingly unmanageable, while the Parisians saw that government troops were prepared to use military action against them.

Guards try to suppress rioting crowds in the Fauborg Saint-Antoine, who were enraged by the remarks of the wallpaper manufacturer Réveillon, on February 28, 1789. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

The 1,200 delegates of the Estates-General arrived at Versailles on May 2. On May 4, they were joined by the royal family in a procession that made its way through the town of Versailles. The group set out from the Church of Notre-Dame de Versailles, crossed the Place d’Armes, and concluded their march at the Church of Saint-Louis. The royal family led the procession dressed in their finest. Louis XVI wore a cloak made of gold cloth that was embellished by brilliant-cut diamonds. He also sported a diamond sword, diamond buttons, diamond shoe buckles and the largest diamond in the kingdom, the Regent diamond2a, on his hat. Marie Antoinette wore a dress made of silver fabric and, in her hair, the Sancy diamond2b. She wore other diamonds as well, including two of the famous eighteen Mazarin diamonds (numbers 5 and 6). She did not wear a necklace. The crowds cheered for Louis XVI, but pointedly not for Marie Antoinette. It was safe to show disrespect for a foreign-born Queen, but not yet for their King.

View of the procession of the Estates-General, Versailles, May 4, 1789. Paul-André Basset, 1789. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Procession of the opening of the Estates-General at Versailles on May 4, 1789. 1776-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Process of the Estates-General at Versailles on May 4, 1789. 1776-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The deputies of the Estates-General followed the royal family, and protocol was strict regarding what the members of each Estate were permitted to wear. The clergy of the First Estate wore their ecclesiastical dress. The nobility of the Second Estate wore black silk and white breeches with lace cravats and plumed hats; they carried swords to denote their rank. The Third Estate wore plain black and were forbidden to carry swords. Louis XVI’s troublesome cousin Louis-Philippe-Joseph, the Duc d’Orléans, decided to walk with the deputies of the Third Estate. This provocative act earned him cheers from the crowd—and the resentment of the King. At the Church of Saint-Louis a High Mass was held by Monseigneur de la Fare, the Bishop of Nancy. The Bishop seized the chance to deliver a now-famous sermon that severely rebuked the luxury of the court. Louis XVI fell asleep during the service (a typical reaction of his in times of stress), and Marie Antoinette pressed her lips together. The Bishop was applauded at the conclusion of his speech. The congregation’s applause was noteworthy, as it quite possibly marked the first time in history a Bishop’s sermon had been received in such a manner.

Costumes of the Three Orders under Louis XIII, restored in 1789. Edmé Bovinet (engraver), Louis-François Couché the son (engraver), and Badouin Brothers (publisher), 1776-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Ceremonial costume of the deputies of the three orders to the Estates General: clergy, nobility, Third Estate. Paul-André Basset, 1789. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

At long last the 1,200 delegates of the Estates-General finally convened on May 5, 1789 in a temporary hall at Versailles that had been built behind the Hôtel des Menus Plaisirs3. This event is often considered to be the opening act of the French Revolution. The King and his family were seated at the end of the hall beneath a baldachin, with the deputies seated in rows around the edge. Louis XVI began the session with a speech that reviewed the circumstances leading up to the summoning of the Estates-General, and then laid out what he expected from the gathered delegates. He concluded by saying that he was a peaceful king, and declared himself “the people’s greatest friend.” Necker’s three-hour address to the assembly touched on the financial health of the state, constitutional monarchy, as well as institutional and political reforms. His voice hoarse from a cold, he had to quit speaking after fifteen minutes and have the Secretary of the Agricultural Society read the rest. Although Louis XVI and Necker had intended to focus the energy of the Estates-General solely on the matter of taxes, the group soon reached a deadlock on May 6 regarding voting procedure. The Third Estate insisted on having “voting by the head,” as they knew that their single group vote was not enough to exercise any degree of power in the face of the two votes that would surely oppose them. The Third Estate also wanted all of the Estates to meet together and deliberate on issues, rather than being divided and sent into separate chambers. They knew that their best hope to influence the decisions of the First and Second Estates were to have everyone assembled and in discussion together. The resultant controversy raged for days.

Inauguration of the Estates-General on May 5, 1789. Auguste Couder, 1839. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
The opening of the Estates General at Versailles in the Salle des Menus Plaisirs. Isidore-Stanislaus Helman (1743-1806) and Charles Monnet (1732-1808). Image sourced from Wikipedia.

It was while the Estates-General was mired in this conflict that tragedy struck the royal family. On Thursday, June 4 the eight-year-old dauphin, Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François, died of tuberculosis. Although the boy’s health had been declining for awhile, his death came at a particularly bad time. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were understandably devastated, but the delegates of the Third Estate were too feverishly driven by the changing political climate to give them proper time to mourn. They were discovering that as they pushed, they were gaining more power and influence. Their demands were increasingly likely to earn them new rights; if they let up, the opportunity might be lost. Louis XVI was forced to meet with the Estates-General on Sunday, June 7, bitterly commenting: “So there are no fathers among the Third Estate?”

Louis-François-Joseph-Xavier, Dauphin of France. Anonymous, 1785-1786. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On Wednesday, June 10, the Abbé Sieyès proposed that members of the First and Second Estates join the Third and become a united body to represent the nation as a whole; he further suggested that the Third Estate had the right to consider those who refused this invitation to have defaulted on their national responsibility. On Saturday, June 13, several members of the First Estate crossed the floor in order to do just that. On Sunday, June 14 the royal family retreated to the Château de Marly for a week of official court mourning. On Wednesday, June 17 the Third Estate, now joined by several members of the First and Second Estates declared themselves the National Assembly of France; astronomer Jean-Sylvain Bailly was elected President. The Assembly considered itself to be a legitimate authority equal in power to the King and, as such, they were going to draw up a new constitution for France. Louis XVI’s mourning would have to be cut short. 

The Third Estate declares itself to be the National Assembly at Versailles on June 17, 1789. François-Louis Couché, 1830. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
Portrait of Jean-Sylvain Bailly. After Jacques-Louis David, 1791-1792. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On Friday, June 19 the entire First Estate voted to join the National Assembly. On Saturday, June 20 the group went to their usual hall at the Hôtel des Menus Plaisirs. They were surprised to find the doors locked and guarded. Fearing a royal conspiracy, they hastened to the nearest open building where they found a hall that was used to play tennis. Here, led by Bailly, they swore an oath (quickly written by the Abbé Sieyès) that they would assemble, wherever circumstances required, and not separate before they had given France its new constitution. The Serment du Jeau de Paume (Tennis Court Oath) was a courageous act of defiance. It was revolutionary in its assertion that political authority derived from the people and their representatives, rather than the monarchy. The genie was out of the bottle. 

The Oath of the Jeau de Paume, June 20, 1789. Jacques-Louis David, 1791. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
The Oath of the Jeau de Paume, June 20, 1789. Auguste Couder, 1848. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

It is at this point in the story, with the creation of the National Assembly and the swearing of the Oath of the Jeau de Paume, that I am going to pause. In my next post, I will cover a series of momentous events that took place between June 23 and October 6, 1789. Thank you for reading!


1a The painting of Marie Antoinette and her children done by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun in 1786-1787 was scheduled to be exhibited at the Salon of the Royal Academy at the end of August 1787. But the Queen’s increasing popularity led to fears that there would be demonstrations against her. The Chief of Paris Police, Jean-Charles Pierre Lenoir, advised her to stay away from the capital city. The painting was hurriedly withdrawn from the Salon, leaving only an empty frame. Someone pinned a note to it that read, “Behold the Deficit!” After the death of Louis-Joseph Xavier-François in June 1789, Marie Antoinette understandably found the portrait too painful to look at. She had it removed from the Salon de Mars in Versailles, where it had been displayed.

Marie Antoinette and her children. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1787. Photo by Leah, June 2017. The painting depicts Marie Antoinette with Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte leaning on her mother’s arm, Louis-Charles seated on her lap, and Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François pointing to an empty bassinet. When the painting was begun in 1786, the bassinet was painted to hold infant Sophie-Hélène-Béatrix. Sadly, Sophie died while the painting was in progress. The bassinet was left empty to memorialize her.

1b Court expenditure accounted for 6-7% of the 1788 budget. That’s a significant sum, especially considering the hardship that the majority of the French population was suffering. Still, Marie Antoinette’s expenses weren’t the sole, main reason France was on the verge of bankruptcy—although they were certainly depicted as such. And she wasn’t the only high-roller: that 6-7% includes spending by other members of the court and royal family, such as Louis XVI’s brothers and their wives.

2a The Regent and the Sancy Diamonds are currently on display at the Louvre. Below are a couple of pictures I took of them while visiting the Louvre. You can read more about the Regent and the Sancy diamonds in this post. First up is the Regent Diamond, which was worn by Louis XIV. It is considered by many to be the purest and most beautiful diamond in the world. It is 141 carats, and estimated to be worth $63 million USD as of 2015.

The Regent Diamond. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

2b The Sancy Diamond, worn by Marie Antoinette, shown below. Today, this 55.232 carat pale-yellow diamond is estimated to be worth more than $100 million USD.

The Sancy Diamond. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

3 The Menus-Plaisirs du Roi was a department of the French royal household that looked after the “lesser pleasures of the King.” It was in charge of the preparations for all ceremonies, events, and festivities, down to every last detail. During the reign of Louis XV the Hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs was built in the town of Versailles, near the Chȃteau, to house the activities of this department. A provisional hall was set up behind this building to accommodate the Assembly of Notables in 1787 and 1788. In 1789, one of the courtyards was used to create the Salle des États, to house the Estates-General. The Hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs still stands, and is now home to the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles

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The History Behind the Château de Versailles, part 2: Louis XV-Louis XVI (1783)

My first post on the history of the Château de Versailles concluded with the death of its foremost figure, Louis XIV, who had transformed Versailles from a private hunting retreat into a grand palace. In this second post, I am going to discuss the reigns of the next two Kings of France: Louis XV and Louis XVI (until the year of 1783). Louis XV was Louis XIV’s five-year-old great-grandson. It was not an easy transition, as it was beset by tragedy. I’m going to back up a couple of steps to illustrate how this came to be. 

Louis XV as a child. Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1715-1717. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Towards the end of Louis XIV’s reign, his succession seemed a sure thing as he had a full stable of legitimate male heirs (lots of illegitimate children as well, but that’s besides the point). He had a son named Louis, known as the Grand Dauphin1, who had been born in 1661 (the same year Louis XIV started to take an interest in Versailles!). Further, Louis XIV had a grandson who was also named Louis, born in 1682, known as the Petit Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy. Louis XIV also had two great-grandsons, both named Louis2 , who had been born in 1607 and 1610 at Versailles. Plenty of Louis’ to spare! Or so it seemed.  

Portrait of Louis of France, known as the Grand Dauphin. Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1697. Louis XIV’s son, Louis XV’s grandfather. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
Louis of France, Duke of Burgundy, known as the Petit Dauphin. Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1704. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Things took a turn in 1711. That was when Louis, the Grand Dauphin, died of smallpox at the age of 49. Then, in February 1712, Louis the Petit Dauphin (aged 29) and his wife, Marie Adélaïde of Savoy (aged 26), died of measles. On March 7, their two young sons were also stricken with measles. Louis XIV’s great-grandsons both underwent the typical treatment of the time: they were bled. During the night of March 8-9, the elder Louis died from a combination of the disease and his treatment at the age of 5. The governess of the younger Louis, Madame de Ventadour, prevented the doctor from bleeding him further. Thanks to her intervention, he survived. Three and a half years later, he became Louis XV (1710-1774, reigned 1715-1774). 

The portrait below is a composite of six generations of Bourbon men and one non-royal woman, Madame de Ventadour, whose presence in the painting honours her role in saving the dynasty. Louis XIV is seated in the centre. The man standing to the left of Louis XIV is his son Louis, the Grand Dauphin. The man standing on the right is his grandson, Louis, the Petit Dauphin. Madame de Ventadour appears on the far left holding the reins of her charge, Louis XV, who is shown reaching up to his great-grandfather. The figures are flanked by busts of Louis XIII (Louis XIV’s father) and Henri IV (his grandfather). It’s quite an honour, to be included in such a dynastic ensemble of men! That speaks volumes as to how appreciated Madame de Ventadour was for saving Louis XV’s life.

Louis XIV and his Family. Unknown artist, circa 1715-1720. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Louis XV’s cousin Philippe II (1674-1723), the Duke of Orléans (son of Louis XIV’s younger brother Philippe), served as Regent during Louis XV’s minority. Philippe II moved the court away from Versailles and back to Paris during this time. Louis XV lived at the Tuileries Palace while Philippe II conducted the affairs of the regency out of his Parisian residence, the Palais-Royale (which he had inherited from his father).

Portrait of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, Regent of France. Jean-Baptiste Santerre, 18th century. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

In 1717, Russian Tsar Peter the Great (1672-1725, reigned 1682-1725) stayed at the Grand Trianon. He was impressed by Versailles, and used it as inspiration for the building of the Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg from 1714-1723. 

The Peterhof Palace in Russia. Image sourced from Pixabay.

Louis XV returned to Versailles on June 15, 1722 when he was twelve years old. He was cheered by a crowd as they gathered on the main street leading up to the residence. Both the town and the Château of Versailles had missed the energy and attention that came with being the official residence of the monarch and the French government. Louis XV’s first stop at Versailles was the Royal Chapel to attend mass. He then explored the gardens, the State Apartments, and the Hall of Mirrors. He lay on the floor in the Hall of Mirrors, staring up at the paintings that Charles Le Brun had made to honour the exploits of his great-grandfather. The court followed his example. Louis XV loved Versailles, as it was where he had been born and lived the early years of his life; it was as if he was finally coming home. On October 25 in that same year, Louis XV was crowned King at the Cathedral of Reims. In February 23, 1723 Louis XV’s thirteenth birthday meant that he had reached the age of his majority and the Regency was officially ended. Versailles became once more the seat of power in France.

Portrait of Louis XV of France. Maurice Quentin de la Tour, 1748. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
Portrait of the Château de Versailles in 1722. Pierre-Deni Martin. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

Louis XV was determined to follow the example set by his great-grandfather. He had the clock in the Marble Courtyard set to the time that Louis XIV had passed away, where it would remain unchanged for the rest of Louis XV’s reign3. As a result, Louis XV did not make many modifications at the Château de Versailles. His first construction project was to actually complete one that had been interrupted by the death of Louis XIV in 1715. When the fifth and final Royal Chapel had been completed in 1710, Louis XIV had architect Robert de Cotte begin work to repurpose the site of the fourth chapel into a drawing room. Louis XV kick-started this project once more in 1722, and the Hercules Salon was completed in 1736. The room was named after the painting that adorns its ceiling, the Apotheosis of Hercules, by François Le Moyne. It was considered the most finely appointed room in the Château due to the beautiful painting and the room’s marble decoration. Louis XV used it occasionally as a ballroom.

The Hercules Salon. Image sourced from the website of the Château de Versailles.
Apotheosis of Hercules. François Le Moyne, 1731-1736. Image sourced from the website of the Château de Versailles.

Later in 1723, Louis XV became ill. Although he recovered, panic set in among his advisers about the possibility of him dying without leaving an heir. If that happened, the throne would then pass on to the Bourbon-Orléans branch of the family—the descendants of Louis XIV’s younger brother, Philippe4. Marriage to a woman of child-bearing age was urgent. A list of possible brides for Louis XV was drawn up. Maria Leszczsyńska (1703-1768, Queen Consort 1725-1768), the daughter of the deposed King of Poland, Stanislaw I (1677-1766, reigned 1704-1709 and 1733-1736), was eventually chosen (you can read more about him in my post on the Château de Chambord, here). Maria and Louis XV met for the first time on the evening of their official wedding, which took place on September 5, 1725 at the Château de Fontainebleau. They were reported to have fallen in love at first sight. Louis XV was 15 years old and Maria was 22. Their relationship was initially happy. Louis XV was flattered to have a wife several years older than he was. From 1727-1737 Maria gave birth to ten children (the first two were twin girls) of which seven would survive into adulthood; one of them was the crucial male heir, Louis the Dauphin (1729-1765). In 1737, Maria nearly died in childbirth. She was advised that another pregnancy may kill her, and so she and Louis XV ceased having sexual relations. Sadly, things cooled between them from this point on. Louis XV barred Maria from family get-togethers, and they would only see each other on public court occasions.

Portrait of Maria Leszczsyńska. Alexis Simon Belle, 1726. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Louis XV remained faithful to Maria for the first eight years of their marriage, but later became a notorious womanizer; one list I found contained the names of 61 mistresses, official and otherwise. He began his first affair with Louise Julie de Mailly-Nesle in 1733; apparently, the experience was so to his liking that he then had relationships with Louise’s three younger sisters: Pauline Félicité (in 1739), Marie-Anne (1742), and Diane Adélaïde (1742). At first, Louis XV was discreet about his extramarital affairs. Louise only became the first official maȋtress-en-taitre (chief mistress) in 1738, after the King and Queen had ended the intimate aspect of their relationship. Maria was still hurt by the affair, especially as Louise was one of her ladies-in-waiting; she would eventually become resigned to her husband’s philandering.

The Three Graces. Charles-André van Loo, 1765. Image sourced from Wikipedia. Traditionally, three of the Mailly-Nesle sisters were considered to have been the models for this painting. The website for the Chateau de Chenonceau, whose collection this painting belongs to, says that the women depicted are Pauline, Marie-Anne, and Louise.

On the night of February 25-26, 1745, a masked ball was held in the Hall of Mirrors to celebrate the marriage of Louis XV’s son, Louis the Dauphin, to Maria-Teresa Rafaela of Spain (1726-1746)5. Louis XV and several of his men dressed as topiary yew trees (shown in the picture below, to the right), which led to the event becoming known as “the Yew Tree Ball.” The ball started at 11:30 pm and continued until 8:30 am the next day with 1,500 people in attendance. It was at this ball that Louis XV met Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, who was dressed as a shepherdess. She became his mistress shortly thereafter. Of all Louis XV’s mistresses, Madame de Pompadour would be the most politically influential. In some respects, her power at court eclipsed that of the Queen, and some have suggested her role could be seen as being a “de facto prime minister.”   

Masked Ball at Versailles Given by the King. Charles Nicolas Cochin, 1745. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Portrait of Madame de Pompadour. François Boucher, 1756. Image sourced from Wikipedia. I love this dress, and those shoes!

Louis XV continued with the spectacle and performance of kingship that his great-grandfather had initiated, but he wasn’t as comfortable in the role as his predecessor. He was a little more timid than Louis XIV, and so his work at Versailles was directed toward creating more private and intimate spaces. Louis XV renovated several of the apartments so that they were smaller and more personal as opposed to the grand public spaces that Louis XIV had created. The gardens of Versailles remained largely unchanged during his reign. Further, Louis XV didn’t stay at Versailles exclusively; he divided his time between several other residences such as those at Marly, Fountainebleau, and Compiègne.

The Château de Marly, located 7 kms (4 miles) northwest of Versailles. Pierre-Denis Martin, 1724. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Plan of Versailles in 1746. Abbot Delagrive, 1746. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

In 1752, Louis XV ordered the demolition of the Ambassador’s Staircase6 in order to create more apartments for his daughters. The staircase had served as an entrance to the King’s State Apartments, and had been built between 1672-1679 by Louis Le Vau. It was richly decorated by Charles Le Brun with polychrome marble, gilt bronzes, paintings, and featured a glass roof. Other decor had celebrated the victory of Louis XIV in the Franco-Dutch War of 1672-1678.

A scale model of the Ambassador’s Staircase. Image sourced from the website of the Château de Versailles.
Reception of the Grand Condé in the Ambassador’s Staircase by Louis XIV in 1674. Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1878. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

From 1762-1768 Louis XV had a small château, the Petit Trianon, built on the grounds of the Grand Trianon. Louis XV had it designed with Madame de Pompadour in mind, but she died four years before its completion. Her successor Jeanne Bécu, the Comtesse du Berry, became its occupant. More information about the Petit Trianon can be found in this blog post.

The Petit Trianon. Photo by Leah, June 2017.
Portrait of Madame du Berry. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1782. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

The biggest project undertaken during the reign of Louis XV was the construction of the Royal Opera House of Versailles from 1763-1770 under the direction of architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel. At the time it was the largest concert hall in Europe, and could hold nearly 1,500 spectators. In addition to its use as a theatre space, it could also be adapted for use as a ballroom and a hall for feasts thanks to a complex system of movable floors using winches and hoists (for more on the Royal Opera House, see this post).

The elaborate ceiling decoration of the Royal Opera House. Image sourced from the website of the Château de Versailles.

Louis XV died of smallpox on May 10, 1774 after reigning for 59 years. He was predeceased by his wife Queen Maria in 1768 and his son Louis, Dauphin of France, in 1765. Louis XV would be succeeded by his grandson, Louis-Auguste, crowned Louis XVI (1754-1793, reigned 1774-1792), who was two months shy of his twentieth birthday.

Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre, wearing his grand royal costume in 1779. Antoine-François Callet, 1789. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Louis-Auguste was born on August 23, 1754. His mother was Maria-Josepha of Saxony (1731-1767), the second wife of Louis, the Dauphin of France. Louis-Auguste was the third child born of his father’s second marriage, but his elder sister and brother both died while they were young: Marie-Zéphyrine from an attack of convulsions at the age of 5 (1755) and Louis-Joseph from tuberculosis at 9 (1761). Louis-Auguste had two younger brothers and two younger sisters: Louis-Stanislas, the Comte (Count) de Provence (1755-1824, later reigned as Louis XVIII from 1814-1815 and 1815-1824); Charles, the Comte de Artois (1757-1836, later reigned as Charles X from 1824-1830); Marie-Clotilde (1759-1802, later reigned as Clotilda, Queen Consort of Sardinia from 1796-1802); and Princess/Madame Élisabeth (1764-1794). Louis-Auguste was timid and studious as a child. Some of the subjects he enjoyed learning included Latin, Italian, English, history, geography, and astronomy. Louis-Auguste’s parents both died of tuberculosis at a young age: his father in 1765 (he was 36), and his mother in 1767 (she was 35).

Portrait of Louis-Auguste (right, the future Louis XVI) and Louis-Stanislas (left, the future Louis XVIII). François-Hubert Drouais, 1757. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

For many years, Austria and France had been bitter enemies. However, European power dynamics shifted considerably in the middle of the 18th century7. One outcome of such a change in alliance was that, in 1770, Louis-Auguste was married to Maria-Antonia, the youngest daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and his wife, Empress Maria-Theresa. Maria-Antonia’s name was changed to Marie Antoinette (1755-1793, reigned 1774-1792) in order to sound more French. The couple were married in the Royal Chapel at Versailles on May 16. Afterwards, they attended a feast in the Royal Opera House. Louis was 15 years of age and Marie was 14.

Portrait of Marie Antoinette in her wedding dress. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1785-1789. Photo by Leah, June 2017. The dress had been made prior to Marie Antoinette’s arrival, and did not do up in the back as it was too small. Perhaps that’s why she’s wearing a long flowing blue train with gold fleur-de-lys, to cover that up!
Auditorium of the Opera, Versailles. Celebration of the Wedding of the Dauphin to Marie Antoinette in 1770. Jean-Michel Moreau, 1770. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
Illuminations of the Park of Versailles during the wedding festivities of the Dauphin and Marie Antoinette, May 19, 1770. Jean-Michel Moreau the Younger, 1775. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The Austrian Archduchess did not receive a warm welcome in France. For generations, the French had viewed Austria as their enemy and the new alliance between the two nations had resulted in France’s humiliating defeat by the English in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)8. The French public had soured on the French-Austrian alliance and the young Dauphine became the target of that ire. This established a pattern that would be repeated throughout the next 25 years of their marriage, in which Marie Antoinette would draw a lot of heat (and negative propaganda) for the monarchy’s wrongdoing. The relationship between Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was initially friendly but distant. Both of them were only in their mid-teens, and Louis XVI was very shy; their marriage remained unconsummated for seven years despite incredible pressure to produce a male heir. One of the issues was that there was a significant distance between the King and the Queen’s bedchambers, one that Louis XVI could scarcely bring himself to bridge because it was very public. Courtiers would spot him walking through the Œil de Boeuf Antechamber and there they would point, laugh, and make comments that left him feeling very uncomfortable. In the summer of 1775, a secret staircase was built to connect the King’s and Queen’s chambers (this same staircase would later save the Queen’s life). The couple’s first child, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, was born in December 1778. Two boys were then born: Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François in 1781 and Louis-Charles in 1785. A fourth child, Sophie-Hélène-Béatrix, was born in 1786 but died one month shy of her first birthday.   

Marie Antoinette and her children. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1787. Photo by Leah, June 2017. The painting depicts Marie Antoinette with Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte leaning on her mother’s arm, Louis-Charles seated on her lap, and Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François pointing to an empty bassinet. When the painting was begun in 1786, the bassinet was painted to hold infant Sophie-Hélène-Béatrix. Sadly, Sophie died while the painting was in progress. The bassinet was left empty to memorialize her.

Like his grandfather, Louis XVI had been born at Versailles. Unlike his grandfather, he spent most of his time there. He enjoyed long periods of solitary study within his private chambers, and any work he did at Versailles was dedicated to making these areas more comfortable for him and his family. In May 1774, two weeks after the death of Louis XV and their ascension to the throne, Louis XVI gifted the Petit Trianon to Marie Antoinette. She used the property as a very exclusive, private domain; even the King wasn’t allowed there without her permission. She made extensive changes to the interior of the small château and its grounds, including the construction of a rustic farm hamlet from 1783-1786 (read more about the Hameau de la Reine here). Neither Louis XVI or Marie Antoinette enjoyed living their lives as publicly as their predecessors. This did not sit well with the nobility, who were accustomed to the previous levels of access that had been established by Louis XIV and Louis XV. Their resentment began to fester, and would later contribute to the royal couple’s downfall.

Marie Antoinette of France walking with two of her children in the park of the Petit Trianon. Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, 1785. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
The Mill from the Hameau de la Reine, Queen Marie Antoinette’s Farm Hamlet. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

In 1775, the American War of Independence broke out between Britain and the Thirteen Colonies. Louis XVI sent financial and military assistance to the Americans and, in 1778, France officially joined the war against the British. This conflict became global when Spain and the Netherlands later took part (also in opposition to Britain) and battles were fought throughout America, Europe, and India. On September 3, 1783, two of the three treaties of the Peace of Paris were signed at the Château de Versailles in the Hôtel des Affaires étrangères et de la Marine, officially ending the war. Britain accepted the independence of the Thirteen American colonies as part of these peace agreements. French assistance had been vital and decisive to this outcome, but it came at a high cost to France as its economy was nearly bankrupt. After accumulating over a billion livres in debt, the country was on the verge of financial collapse9.

A painting of the American delegation at the Treaty of Paris. The British delegation refused to pose, and so the painting was never finished. Depicted (left to right): John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, William Temple Franklin. 1783-1784. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Two weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, Versailles hosted an event that was literally much lighter in tone. Brothers Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier had begun experimenting with lighter-than-air flight in 1782. The brothers caught the attention of the Académie Royale des Sciences, which asked them to stage an experiment for Louis XVI. On September 19, 1783 the brothers staged a public demonstration of their hot-air balloon technology at the Château de Versailles. The presentation used a balloon made of cotton canvas with paper glued onto both sides that measured 18.47 metres (60.6 feet) tall by 13.28 metres (43.57 feet) wide, and weighed 400 kg (882 pounds). The balloon was a sky-blue colour with gold decoration and interweaving letter L’s in honour of the king. On the day of the experiment Louis XVI, his family, and a crowd of curious onlookers gathered in the palace forecourt. At 1:00 pm, a cannon fired to announce the beginning of the demonstration. A sheep, a duck, and a rooster were guided into a wicker basket that was tied to the balloon by a rope. Eleven minutes later a second cannon fired, indicating the lift-off of the basket. The balloon soared 600 meters (1,968.5 feet) into the air. It traveled through the air for 8 minutes and 3.5 kms (2.17 miles) before slowly descending, due to a rip in the fabric, and landing in the woods nearby. Happily, the three animals survived their journey; it wasn’t entirely expected that they would. They were rewarded with a home in the Versailles Menagerie. The first manned hot-air balloon flights would later follow in October and November, but these were not carried out at Versailles.  

Aerostatic experiment made at Versailles on September 19, 1783 in the presence of their majesties by the Montgolfier brothers. Lenoir, after 1783. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Experiment made at Versailles in the presence of their majesties and the royal family by M. Montgolfier, Sept 19, 1783. Nicolas de Launay (engraver), Etienne de Lorimier (designer), 1701-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
A model of the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon at the London Science Museum. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

It is here in 1783, on the eve of the French Revolution, that I am going to pause in my summary of the history of the Château de Versailles. The events leading up to the French Revolution, and the role that the Château played in them, is deserving of a post of its own, which you can find here. Thank you for reading!  


1 The Dauphin of France was the title given to the heir of the throne of France, equivalent to the English title of the Prince of Wales. Dauphin is French for dolphin. The name comes from the Count of Vienne, Guigues IV (?-1142), who had a dolphin on his coat of arms—thus earning him the nickname le dauphin. The name became part of his title, the Dauphin of Viennois, which was inherited by his successors. In 1349, the seigneury/lordship of Viennois was sold to King Philippe VI (1293-1350) on the condition that the heir apparent retain the title of Dauphin de Viennois. The Dauphin’s wife would be called a Dauphine. The title was used from 1350 to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. It was taken up again during the reign of Charles X (during the Bourbon Restoration) from 1824-1830. Charles X’s son, Louis-Antoine, Duke of Angoulême, was the last man to be styled as Dauphin. Interestingly, he was married to Marie Antoinette’s daughter, Marie-Thérèse, and the couple technically ruled France for 20 minutes in between the time Charles X signed his abdication and Louis-Antoine was forced to do the same.  

2 Why so many men named Louis? It was tradition for the Capetian royal dynasty to name the eldest son Louis, and the second son Philippe. The name Louis harkens back to the Germanic name Chlodwig. A leader by this name was the first King of the Franks to unite all the Frankish tribes under one leader, effectively changing the style of Frankish rule from that of several chieftains ruling over multiple groups to a single King ruling over one; his heirs would then inherit his title as King. (The Franks were a Germanic tribe). Chlodwig was Romanized into Clodovicus, and then Clovis; Clovis I (466-511, reigned 509-511) is the name most often used for this Frankish King. Clovis then evolved into Clouis and then, finally, Louis. You’ll notice that a lot of French men were also named Louis and French women Louise in an effort to flatter the King—similar to how there were so many Marys and Elizabeths in England.  

3 The clock in the Marble Courtyard would display the time of Louis XIV’s death (8:15 am on September 1, 1715) until 1774, at which point it changed to reflect the time of Louis XV’s passing (3:15 pm on May 10, 1774). It reflected the latter until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.

4 The senior branch of the Bourbon family, of whom Louis XIV and Louis XV were a part, later ended when their descendant Charles X was forced to abdicate in 1830, and the Bourbon-Orléans branch would take its place in the succession. Charles X was the younger brother of Louis XVI and Louis XVIII; all three of them being grandsons of Louis XV (Louis XVI’s son with Marie Antoinette died of illness at the age of 10; he is unofficially titled as Louis XVII even though he was never crowned). Charles X was forced to abdicate in favour of his cousin, Louis-Philippe I, who was part of the Bourbon-Orléans branch of the family (and more inclined towards a constitutional monarchy than Charles X). So eventually the Bourbon-Orléans would have their day in the sun, even if it was denied at this point when Louis XV recovered from his illness. The branch is named after the Dukedom (Orléans) that their members frequently held.   

5 Sadly, in July 1746 Maria-Teresa would die three days after delivering the couple’s first child, a girl named Marie-Thérèse. Maria-Teresa and Louis the Dauphin were very much in love, and Louis was devastated by her passing. He had to be physically dragged away from her deathbed by his father, Louis XV. He married his second wife, Maria-Josepha of Saxony, on February 9, 1747. In April 1748, the two year old Marie-Thérèse also died. 

6 Interestingly, an exact replica of that lost staircase was later built (1878-1886), and can still be seen, at the Schloss Herrenchiemsee on the orders of King Ludwig II of Bavaria; the Herrenchiemsee itself is modelled after Versailles. Ludwig II idolized Louis XIV, the Sun King, and styled himself as “the Moon King” (amongst other titles including the “Mad King”—see my post on him for more information).     

The Schloss Herrenchiemsee in southern Bavaria, Germany. Image sourced from Pixabay. 
The Grand Staircase of the Schloss Herrenchiemsee, taken while standing in the middle of the staircase and looking to the side. Image sourced from the website of the Schloss Herrenchiemsee. 

 7 The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) saw the major powers of Europe divided on whether Marie Antoinette’s mother, Maria-Theresa of Austria, had the right to succeed her father, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, when he passed away in 1740 with no male heirs. The problem was that a woman (Maria-Theresa) could not hold the title of Holy Roman Empress and her husband, Francis, did not have enough land or rank on his own to make him eligible. Maria-Theresa had all of the qualifications except gender. Francis had the gender but none of the other qualifications. To solve this, in 1740 Maria-Theresa made Francis co-ruler (with her) of Austria and Bohemia. She then set about securing their joint claim to the Hapsburg Empire and fighting off other powers, such as Prussia and France, that were taking advantage of this political uncertainty to claim pieces of that empire for themselves. A lot of conflict and shifting of political alliances happened as a result. It’s way beyond the scope of this blog post to go into detail, but suffice it to say that Marie Antoinette’s mother was at the heart of it all. In 1745, Francis I became Holy Roman Emperor. While he may have had the title, Maria-Theresa was definitely the deciding voice in matters of state. Great Britain had been an ally of Austria, but failed to come through for Austria in the face of Prussian aggression. Austria realized it needed another ally to counter the Prussian threat, and so it turned to a country that had once been its enemy—France. France was eager to have Austria side with them against Great Britain. Et voilà! The First, Second, and Third Treaties of Versailles were signed between Louis XV and Maria-Theresa at the Château de Versailles in 1756, 1757, and 1758. In 1770, a marriage alliance was arranged between Louis-Auguste and Marie Antoinette to further secure their partnership. 

8 The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) is considered by many historians to be the first global war. France and Austria were soundly defeated by the British and Prussians both in Europe and North America. As a consequence, France was forced to give up its colonial claims in Canada and the Indies to England. Not a popular political move. 

9 The rate of inflation from 1783 to 2017 is an estimated 2,212.45%. So $100 in 1783 would be worth (a very rough) $2,2312.45 today. So 1 billion livres of debt would be around 23 billion livres of debt today ($23,124,528,301.89 to be precise). But how much would that debt, calculated in French livres, be worth in US dollars today? This is where things enter pure speculation. According to HistoricalStatistics.org, 1 French livre tournois (1663-1795) in 1783 could buy the same amount of consumer goods and services in Sweden as 0.14621893202721578 US dollars (1791-2015). So 1 US dollar is worth 6.849315068 French livres. 1 billion livres thus becomes 6,849,315,068 livres of debt. Adjusted for that inflation rate, the debt is $158,387,180,138 US dollars. This provides a very rough estimate of 158 billion US dollars in debt. Just for fun, I looked up what the US debt rate is at. According to NPR, as of February 2019 it is 22 trillion. In 2015, France’s national debt was estimated to be 2.51 trillion according to statista.com. But, of course, world finances are very different than they were in 1783. Being indebted is much more acceptable in today’s credit-centric world than it was in 1783.

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France Paris

The History Behind the Château de Versailles, part 1: Louis XIII-Louis XIV

Of the many sites that Neil and I planned to see during our stay in Paris, I was most excited to see the Château de Versailles. The beauty of its gilded halls and the splendor of its former inhabitants loom large in our social and cultural imagination. The Château has housed a few of the most intriguing, even tragic, French historical figures and has served as the backdrop to some truly dramatic scenes. The Château, its magnificent gardens, and the other impressive buildings that lay within its grounds have earned it many admirers and imitators1 worldwide. Consisting of 2,300 rooms spread over a distance of 63,154 square meters (207,198 square feet), Versailles is overwhelming, even to modern eyes. It’s impossible to appreciate how fantastical it would have seemed in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was host to the French court at the height of its decadence and hubris.  

The east façade of the Château de Versailles overlooking the Marble Courtyard. Photo by Leah, June 2017.
The south wing of the Château de Versailles alongside the Marble Courtyard. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

It’s going to take a concentrated effort on my part to try and tell the story of Versailles through a medium as modest as a blog post. In fact, I’m going to use twelve different posts to break down this endeavour. Six posts, including this one, will cover its history: part 2 will cover Louis XV-Louis XVI (until 1783); part 3 will discuss the events that took place from 1786-June 20, 1789; part 4, June 23, 1789-October 6, 1789; part 5, 1789-1870; and part 6, 1870-present day. Two posts will recap our visit to the main residence: part 1 covers the front gates, the Marble Courtyard, the King’s Private Apartments and the Royal Opera House; part 2 the Royal Chapel, the King’s State Apartments, part of the History of France Museum, and the Hall of Mirrors. Four posts will go into detail about the other residences found on the grounds: two will detail the Grand Trianon, with part 1 discussing its history and part 2 a tour of the residence itself; a third post will feature the Petit Trianon; and, finally, a fourth post will cover the Hameau de la Reine (the Queen’s Hamlet). There is a lot to learn about and see at Versailles!

The Boudoir of the Hameau de la Reine, Queen Marie Antoinette’s Farm Hamlet. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

The Château de Versailles served as the primary royal residence of the French monarchy from 1682 until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. It is referred to as a château rather than a palais because it was located in the countryside², about 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of the centre of Paris. Notable figures in the history of the Château de Versailles include several guys named Louis, each accompanied by a number (XIII-XVI). I’ll go through each of them in turn.

The east façade of the Château de Versailles overlooking the Marble Courtyard. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

The place name Versailles has its root in the Latin word vertere (“to turn the soil”) and the Old French versail (meaning a ploughed field). The discovery of a Merovingian cemetery south of the Château in 2006 suggests that there have been people living in the area since at least the beginning of the 8th century (the Merovingians were the ruling dynasty of the Franks from the middle of the 5th century until 751 C.E.). The earliest recorded reference to Versailles can be found around 1038 in a charter that contained the signature of Hugo de Versailliis, the seigneur (lord) of Versailles. Versailles was a small medieval village of 200 peasant families that contained a small castle and a church, with its inhabitants living in modest thatch- and slate-roofed cottages. The town’s main prosperity came from its location along the intersection of several roads, including a main route that linked Paris and Normandy. The area was made up of thick woodland and low-lying marshland, with a few orchards and open fields where vines and grain were grown. A windmill once stood on a mound where the present-day château resides. The forest outside of the village was well-stocked with game such as pheasants, boars, stags, hare, as well as wolves. In the middle of the 15th century, wealthy Parisians started buying property in the area. Martial de Loménie, an influential state financier, built a manor house. He petitioned the Crown into allowing the village to have a weekly market and four annual fairs. A Protestant, Lomênie was killed during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris in August 1572. His property, as well as the seigneury of Versailles, was purchased by Albert de Gondi in 1575. Gondi was a Florentine man who had held a prominent position in the court of Henri II (1519-1559, reigned 1547-1559) and Catherine de Medici (1519-1589, ruled as Queen Consort of France 1547-1559 and as Queen Regent for most of 1559-1589). Gondi and his family invited Henri IV (1553-1610, reigned 1589-1610) to Versailles on several hunting trips in 1589, 1604, 1607, and 1609. Versailles was located between Paris and the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a favoured royal residence that had first been built by Louis VI (1081-1137, reigned 1108-1137) in 1124. Versailles was convenient for a day-long hunting trip, with Henri IV occasionally staying overnight in the Gondi manor house. Henri IV brought his young son, six-year old Louis (later crowned Louis XIII), along with him on August 24, 1607. The boy’s first hunting trip here was a success, as he managed to catch a hare, five or six quail, and two partridges.

Louis XIII of France. Philippe de Champaigne, 1655. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Louis XIII (1601-1643, reigned 1610-1643) made several hunting trips out to Versailles in the 1610s. In 1623 he purchased some elevated land near the village windmill (which was demolished) and had a small hunting lodge built, which is shown in a 3-D model below3. The lodge was 24 metres long (79 feet) by 6 metres (20 feet) wide. There were four sides to the building, which enclosed a small central court. A protective ditch surrounded the residence. The main wing of the building is the one located towards the back, in the west. This is where the King’s apartments were located. The ground floor of the main wing contained four bedrooms, and the floor above held three rooms and a gallery that overlooked the courtyard. There are two other wings that attach to the lodge’s main wing on its northern and southern sides. The north wing contained the kitchens, service rooms, the house of the concierge, and four spare rooms for Louis XIII’s companions. The south wing contained storerooms, latrines, and four more guest rooms. There were no rooms built to accommodate Louis XIII’s Queen, Anne of Austria, or her ladies. The hunting lodge was strictly for Louis XIII and the members of his hunting party. The fourth and final side of the residence (located at the front, in the east) is not a wing but, instead, a protective ten-foot high wall that contains an entry gate. The hunting lodge and its grounds covered about 2.5 acres. Louis XIII first stayed in it in June 1624.

Image sourced from the Versailles 3D website. S ←→ N

Versaille’s first instance of starring in a major moment of French political intrigue came in November 1630. Louis XIII’s mother, Marie de Medici (1575-1642, Queen Consort 1600-1610, Queen Regent 1610-1617), had been increasingly determined to get rid of her son’s chief minister (and her rival), Cardinal Richelieu. At the Luxembourg Palace on November 11, the Queen Mother faced off against Richelieu in front of Louis XIII. She demanded that her son choose between them. Louis XIII left for Versailles after the confrontation, leaving Marie de Medici with the impression that she had triumphed. She and her supporters celebrated the apparent termination of Richelieu. However, that same evening, the King summoned the Cardinal to Versailles. There, the two men had a long private discussion during which Louis XIII agreed to reinstate Richelieu and dismiss his mother. The royal carriage returned to Paris with the restored Richelieu aboard. Upon spotting it, a witty courtier named Guillaume Bautru, the Count of Serrant, gave the whole affair its name by proclaiming: “it’s the day of the dupes!” Marie de Medici was ordered to leave Paris for Compiègne. She would later flee and continue to plot against the Cardinal before dying in 1642, still in exile, never seeing her son again.

Marie de Medici confronts Cardinal Richelieu before Louis XIII. Maurice Leloir, 1910. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Louis XIII began to spend more time in the countryside and away from Paris, basing his court out of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He often made trips out to Versailles, Fontainebleu, and Compiègne to escape the pressures of court. In 1631, Louis XIII decided to demolish his hunting lodge at Versailles and had architect Philibert Le Roy build a bigger, but still modest, château in its place, shown below. The new residence was made of red brick and white stone, and had a black slate roof. In May 1632, Louis XIII purchased the seigneury of Versailles from the Gondi family. Construction was carried out on the new château from 1631-1634. Gardens and a large park surrounding the estate were also laid out. In 1639, P. Claude de Varennes’ Le voyage de France, dressé pour la commodité des François et des estrangers (The trip to France, prepared for the convenience of the French and foreigners) was the first guidebook (of what would become many) to recommend that Paris visitors check out the nearby royal residence of Versailles. By 1643, the grounds of Versailles had grown to cover 312 hectares (771 acres).

Image sourced from the Versailles 3D website. S ←→ N
Le voyage de France, dressé pour la commodité des François et des estrangers (The trip to France, prepared for the convenience of the French and foreigners). P. Claude de Varennes’, 1657 edition. Image sourced from the website of the Maison Carrée. (With a description of the paths, to come and go, by everyone. Very necessary for travellers).

However, this second residence was still considered as being “far from royal” and its colour scheme of red, white, and black led to it being called “a little castle of cards.” One of Louis XIII’s courtiers, Duc (Duke) de Saint Simon, wrote that it was “the saddest and most unrewarding of places with no view, no woods, no water and no earth; for it is all shifting sand and marsh, and the air is consequently bad.” The smell was due to the surrounding marshland with its pools of stagnant water, and was especially pungent in the hot summer months. The “puny” residence fell far short of the grandeur of the Tuileries and Louvre palaces in Paris and the nearby Germain-en-Laye. Louis XIII did not mind this; rather, he preferred to keep Versailles as a solitary retreat and rarely extended invites to guests that were not already members of his small hunting parties. Even Queen Anne (1601-1666, Queen Consort 1615-1643, Queen Regent 1643-1651) never spent the night at Versailles. Although rooms had been built to accommodate her, Louis XIII always arranged to have her taken to Paris or Saint-Germain-en-Laye to sleep.  

A pencil illustration of Louis XIII’s château. Image sourced from the official guidebook of the Château de Versailles. S ←→ N
Portrait of Anne of Austria, Queen of France. Peter Paul Rubens, 1622-1625. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

It would be Louis XIII’s son, Louis XIV (1638-1715, reigned 1643-1715), who transformed Versailles into the grand pleasure palace that it is recognized as today. By the time Louis XIV was born in 1638, his parents had been married for 23 years. They had already grieved the loss of four stillborn children. Louis XIV’s birth was considered a miracle of God, and so he was named Louis-Dieudonné, the God-given. Louis XIV was first sent to Versailles in October 1641 at the age of three along with his younger brother, Philippe, to protect them from a smallpox epidemic that had reached Saint-Germaine-en-Laye. Throughout his childhood, Louis XIV was encouraged to think of himself as literally being God’s gift to the people of France. This would later shape his ideas concerning rule. He believed in the “Divine Right of Kings”: that a monarch derives the right to rule directly from the will of God, and is not subject to any earthly authority. As an absolute monarch and the centre of all power, France revolved around Louis XIV in the same way the earth orbits the sun. Thus Louis XIV identified himself with Apollo, the Greek and Roman god of the sun. His use of the sun as a personal emblem would later earn him the title he is readily known by today, the “Sun King.”

Portrait of Louis XIV, King of France. Attributed to Charles Le Brun, circa 1661-1662. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Louis XIII died on May 14, 1643 of illness at the age of 41. He was succeeded by his young son, Louis XIV, aged four. Anne of Austria assumed the Regency and entrusted the government to Cardinal Richelieu’s successor, chief minister Cardinal Mazarin. The French court moved to the Palais-Royal in Paris, the former home of Richelieu. Versailles was abandoned for a decade. Louis XIV returned to Versailles in 1651, at the age of thirteen, where he participated in a hunt. The location outside of Paris must have appealed to the young King, who was in the midst of fighting a series of civil wars known as the Fronde (the Parlementary Fronde, 1648-1649; the Fronde of the Princes, 1650-1653). On two separate occasions, Louis XIV had been held prisoner by revolutionary forces. He was eager to find an excuse to leave Paris behind. He visited Versailles a few more times over the next few years. He took a greater interest in the property following his marriage in 1660 to María-Teresa of Spain (1638-1683, Queen Consort 1660-1683) and the death of Mazarin in 1661.

Maria-Theresa of Austria as Queen of France. Jean Nocret, circa 1660. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

María-Teresa’s marriage to Louis XIV came about as a result of the Treaty of Pyrenees, which was signed on November 7, 1659. The treaty and the marriage put an end to the nearly twenty-five years of war (beginning in 1635) that had raged between France and Spain. Louis XIV and María-Teresa were first cousins as they shared a grandfather, Henri IV of France (Henri IV was the father of María-Teresa’s mother, Elisabeth of France and Louis XIV’s father, Louis XIII). Upon her marriage, María-Teresa’s name was changed to Marie-Thérèse to make it sound more French (I’m going to compromise and refer to her as Maria-Theresa, which is the name used in most English-language accounts). She was shy, insecure, and spoke hardly a word of French—a sharp contrast to her new husband, who positioned himself at the centre of French political life. Five of their six children would die in early childhood (the sixth, the all-important male heir, Louis the Grand Dauphin, would also predecease his father at the age of 49, but not before continuing the line with a son of his own). Louis XIV remained faithful to Maria-Theresa for the first year of their marriage, but he then went on to have many affairs. Maria-Theresa became good friends with her mother-in-law, Anne of Austria, with whom she spent a lot of time.

A portrait of Maria-Theresa4 at the age of 15.

Infanta Maria-Theresa. Diego Velázquez, 1652-1653. Image sourced from Wikipedia. The style of hair and dress featured in this painting were very popular in Spain.

Louis XIV had a greater role in mind for Versailles than the one that it had served for his father as a private hunting retreat. Louis XIV wanted a place where he could gather his entire court around him, something that no other royal residence had the capacity for. He wanted to keep all his advisers and provincial rulers close, so that he could keep his eye on them and prevent them from plotting against him, as they had during the Fronde. Louis XIV also wanted to expand Versailles so that he could host and entertain on a grand scale. In 1661, Louis XIV gifted the Palais-Royal to his younger brother, Philippe d’Orléans. He had no more personal need for it, as he now had a new residence in mind.

The Palais-Royal, known as the Palais-Cardinal during the time that Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin lived in it. Jean Boisseau, 1641. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Below are two pictures, the first of them a repeat, to remind you what the Château de Versailles looked like when it was constructed by Louis XIII. Louis XIV is about to make some big changes, so I wanted to put them here for easy comparison.

The front of the Château de Versailles prior to Louis XIV’s modifications.

Image sourced from the Versailles 3D website. S ←→ N

The back of the Château.

The western/garden façade of the Château de Versailles as built by Louis XIII. Israël Silvestre, circa 1660-1664. Image sourced from Wikipedia. (N ←→ S)

From 1661-1668, Louis XIV ordered some building work inside the existing château at Versailles as well as the addition of some outbuildings. You can see these changes in the painting below, which depicts Versailles and its gardens around 1667-1668. These works were guided by architect Louis Le Vau and French painter Charles Le Brun5. Louis XIV also hired French landscape architect and gardener André Le Nȏtre to extend the grounds and gardens. You can see that the château built by Louis XIII remains at the heart of the Versailles residence. The foreground shows the new Place d’Armes, a grassy fan-shaped square that is enclosed by a white fence and lines of trees on the bottom of the painting. To the left of the Place d’Armes is the old village of Versailles. In the middle of the painting, a royal procession led by guardsmen on horseback makes its way through the Place d’Armes and through a new forecourt, the Cour d’Honneur, towards a gate, the Porte d’Honneur. Beyond that gate lies the new paved Cour Royale. The Cour Royale features four new buildings. The two larger ones found toward the centre are the Communs, which were built in 1662. The wing on the left (south) houses the pantries and kitchens, the wing on the right (north) the stables. There are two other smaller, narrower buildings that flank the Communs and lie towards the outside of the Cour Royale. They contained the wood reserve on the left (south) and a shed for coaches on the right (north). To the right of the coach shed are three water reservoirs that were used to supply water to the ponds and fountains of the garden. The square building that can be seen on the western (far) end of the coach shed housed the Thetys Grotto (built in 1666), another elaborate water feature. Behind the Château, the vast expanse of the gardens can be seen with the Grand Perspective stretching west into the distance (this later becomes the Grand Canal in 1668-1669). To the left of the Château can be seen the Orangery, which was constructed by Le Nôtre in 1664; Le Nôtre also built a Menagerie, located to the southwest of the Château, which cannot be seen in the painting.

The Château de Versailles. Pierre Patel, circa 1668. Image sourced from Wikipedia. (S ←→ N).
View of the Palace of Versailles, 1669. Adam-Frans Van der Meulen, 1699. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

Louis XIV kicked off these improvements at Versailles with the purpose of displaying his power and grandiosity. In 1664, he held the first of what would be many big parties at Versailles. The celebration, entitled The Party of the Delights of the Enchanted Island, ran for one week from May 7-13 with 600 guests in attendance. The party was inspired by an Italian epic poem6 in which a magician, Alcina, imprisons the knight Ruggiero and his companions in her palace on an enchanted island. Guests were treated to a rich selection of entertainments that centered on the theme including fireworks, a carousel, theatre and ballet performances, parades, horse races, rides, and a lottery. The party had a program guide that numbered 58 pages! There were refreshments and elaborate meals served by servants in mask and costume. Guests also delighted at the sight of exotic animals in the royal menagerie such as an elephant, a camel, and a bear. French actor and playwright Molière and Italian composer and violinist Lully organized the entertainment. Louis XIV himself danced the part of Ruggiero in a ballet, The Princess of Elide, that had been written for this particular occasion by the two artists. The Round Pool (which later became Apollo’s Fountain) was used to stage a recreation of Alcina’s palace. At the conclusion of the performance, Alcina and her servants departed her castle while riding on the backs of a whale and two whale calves.

The illustrations below depict scenes from the party. Note the elephant and camel in the first one, the ballet performance in the second (Louis XIV, who had a starring role, was quite proud of his dancing ability7), and the castle of Alcina in the third. If I had the ability to time travel and my choice of where I could visit, this party is definitely a top-five destination.

The First Feast Day at the Enchanted Island, 7 May 1664, Given by Louis XIV at Versailles. Parade of the Knights of Charlemagne. Israël Silvestre, 1664. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
The Second Feast Day at the Enchanted Island, 8 May 1664, Given by Louis XIV at Versailles. Performance of the Princess of Elide. Israël Silvestre, 1664. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
The Third Feast Day at the Enchanted Island, 9 May 1664, Given by Louis XIV at Versailles. Ballet at the Castle Alcina. Israël Silvestre, 1664. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The celebration was officially dedicated to the two Queens of France: Louis XIV’s mother, Anne of Austria, and his wife, Maria-Theresa of Spain. However, the party’s unofficial honoree was Françoise-Louise de la Baume Le Blanc, Duchess de la Vallière, the first official mistress8 of Louis XIV. In fact, Louise had been living at Versailles since her affair with the King began in 1661. Their relationship was an open secret at the time of the party and a popular topic of gossip.

Françoise-Louise de la Baume Le Blanc, Duchess de la Vallière as Diana. Claude Lefèbvre, 1667. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

On July 16, 1668, a second giant party was held at Versailles with 1,500 guests in attendance. The Grand Royal Entertainment was held to celebrate the military successes of France during the War of Devolution with Spain9 and the signing of the Peace Treaty of Aix-Chapelle. Louis XIV also had a new mistress, Françoise-Athénaïse de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan, to whom the celebrations were dedicated.

Portrait of Françoise-Athénaïse de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan. Unknown artist, 1650-1700. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

The party lasted for one night and took place in the gardens. The celebration began in the late afternoon with a visit to the Dragon Fountain, which makes for an impressive sight as its main water jet shoots water up to a height of 27 metres (88.5 feet), making it the tallest and most powerful water feature at Versailles.

Viewing of the Dragon Fountain at Versailles. Part of the Grand Royal Entertainment given on 18 July 1668 by Louis XIV. Jean Le Pautre (1618-1682). Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
The Dragon Fountain in 2017 (the sculptures were redone in 1889, which is why it differs from the illustration above). Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Guests were then invited to partake in a lavish afternoon tea in the Star Grove. Following that, members of the court were then delivered via coach and sedan chair to the site of what would be the highlight of the festivities: a comedic ballet performance of George Dandin, which featured the music of Molière and Lully as well as the choreography of ballet master Pierre Beauchamp. The ballet required more than a hundred dancers, and the elaborate set decoration included blue tapestries decorated with fleur-de-lis and 32 crystal chandeliers. The performance was followed up with a feast and a ball.

The Ballroom in the Small Park of Versailles. Part of the Grand Royal Entertainment given on 18 July 1668 by Louis XIV. Jean Le Pautre (1618-1682). Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

At the conclusion of the festivities, the guests were taken to the bottom of the Grand Perspective. There, they enjoyed a view across the gardens looking back towards the Château. The residence was lit up from inside, and there were rows of illuminated statues and painted vases lined up along the Great Lawn. Just when the guests thought it couldn’t get any better, fireworks burst across the sky. It must have felt like a fairy tale ending to an already magical evening.

Fireworks and Illuminations of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles. Part of the Grand Royal Entertainment given on 18 July 1668 by Louis XIV. Jean Le Pautre (1618-1682). Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On the day after The Grand Royal Entertainment, Louis XIV concluded that the existing château built by his father was too small. Rather than demolishing the old residence and building anew, Louis XIV had Le Vau construct a new white stone building that enveloped the older residence on its north, west, and south sides (shown in the 3-D model below). This building is known as the enveloppe or the château neuf to distinguish it from Louis XIII’s original structure. The château neuf resembled a baroque Roman villa, the popular architectural style at the time of its construction. It contrasted sharply with the red brick, stone, and slate of Louis XIII’s original residence so much that it looked like there were two châteaux, one slotted into the other. Construction took place from 1668-1674; after Le Vau passed away in 1670, architect François d’Orbay continued with the project. Le Brun guided the interior decoration of the new residence. The château neuf consisted of three separate wings, each with three floors: the ground floor, the main floor, and the upper floor10. The main floor of the north and south wings consisted of two symmetrical suites of apartments: one for the King on the northern end (the Grand appartement du roi), and one for the Queen on the south (Grand appartement de la reine). The west wing, the one that overlooked the gardens, contained some of these apartments on its northern and southern ends. The King’s and Queen’s apartments were then separated by a large, marble terrace that lay in the middle of the west wing.

Image sourced from the Versailles 3D website. N ←→ S

Below is a floor plan of the main floor of the expanded Château de Versailles. Louis XIII’s original château is shaded grey. The new château neuf, which enclosed the older structure, is outlined in green. The King’s new suite of apartments is shown on the right (the north) in blue, and the Queen’s on the left (south) in yellow. The terrasse can be seen separating them in the middle of the west wing. This symmetrical design of apartments was an unprecedented feature in French palace design. It’s suggested that Louis XIV had this identical set of rooms built for his wife, Maria-Theresa, because he intended to establish her as Queen of Spain. They would rule as dual monarchs: equal in power, status, and State Apartments. (See footnote 9 for more information on why Louis XIV felt Maria-Theresa had a claim to the Spanish throne).

Plan of the main floor of the Château de Versailles, circa 1676-1680. Image sourced from Wikipedia. S ←→ N.

The expanded western/garden-side façade of the château can be seen in the painting below. The King’s State Apartments were located on the left, and the Queen’s on the right. You can see the large open-air terrace in-between them, located on the main floor.

View of the Château de Versailles and the Water Parterre circa 1675. Unknown painter. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles. N ←→ S

Below is a model that shows the western/garden side façade from above, with a view of the terrace (which contained a fountain in the middle). You can see how the new white stone building of the château neuf was built around the red-brick residence of Louis XIII. The two small inner courtyards help to mark out the different structures.

An overhead model showing the terrace and the new white building of the château neuf. Image sourced from the website of the Château de Versailles. N ←→ S

The King and the Queen already had apartments located in the original residence that had been built by Louis XIII. They retained these rooms even as Versailles expanded, but they were meant for their own private use (you can learn more about and tour the King’s Private Apartments in this post). The new State Apartments built on the main floor in the château neuf were public spaces and served a performative function (you can learn more about and tour the King’s State Apartments in this post). Each apartment suite consisted of seven adjoining rooms: a vestibule; a guard room; an antechamber; a chamber; a large cabinet or office; a bedroom; and then a smaller cabinet. Three of the rooms were located in the western wing overlooking the gardens, and then four more found in their respective north and south wings (you can see this in the floor plan, shown previously). The apartments on the main floor connected to the ground floor through a ceremonial stairway.

A corner in the Abundance Salon, one of the King’s State Apartments. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

The State Apartments were richly decorated, and their ceilings had paintings with allegorical or mythological themes. To complement Louis XIV’s identification with the Sun God Apollo, each room was dedicated to a planet and its associated Greco-Roman deity (Venus, Mars, Mercury, etc.). Further decoration of the rooms included 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 walls were covered with polychrome marble, and large bay windows filled the rooms with natural light.

The Venus Salon of the King’s State Apartments showing the richly painted ceilings and the marble walls. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

Construction on the château neuf was carried out between 1668-1674. At the same time, Le Nȏtre was busy with further improvements to the grounds of Versailles. He was tasked with making them the most magnificent of their kind in Europe. He embellished the grounds with fountains, statues, flower beds, a labyrinth, and groves of trees. From 1668-1679, Le Nȏtre had the Grand Canal built. With a length of 1,670 metres (5,479 feet, just over a mile) and a width of 62 metres (203 feet), the canal was large enough for all kinds of boats including galleys, gondolas, yachts, barges, and replicas of French battleships. In this period, the grounds of Versailles reached a peak area of 2,473 hectares (6,111 acres)11.

View of the Apollo Fountain and the Grand Canal, circa 1675. Adam Perelle (1640-1695). Image sourced from Wikipedia.
View of the Apollo Fountain and the Grand Canal. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

In the summer of 1674, Louis XIV decided it was time for another big party. The Franco-Dutch War had kicked off in 1672, and Louis XIV wanted to celebrate recent French military successes including the reconquering of the Franche-Comté (a territory that he had been bitterly forced to give up in 1668). The King also wanted to show off the impressive modifications that had been made to the grounds at Versailles, and so most of the festivities were held outside. The Grand Fête was a festival of six parties that took place between July 4 and August 31. Madame de Montspan was once more the festival honouree. The first celebration day was held on July 4 and featured an opera by Lully, Alceste, staged in the Marble Courtyard. Dinner was served in the Grove of the Marais.

First Day: Performance of Alceste, a musical tragedy, in the marble courtyard of the Château, which is illuminated from the top to bottom by an infinite number of lights. Jean Le Pautre, 1676. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On July 11 (the second celebration day), the Porcelain Trianon hosted a ballet performance by Lully, L’Eclogue de Versailles (for more on the Porcelain Trianon, read this post on the history of the Grand Trianon). A dinner illuminated by 150 candles was held in the Grove of the Feast Hall. On July 19 (the third celebration day), the Thetys Grotto served as a backdrop to a comedic ballet, Du Malaide Imaginaire, by Molière and composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier. A meal was supplied in the Menagerie. Guests also took turns boating on the Grand Canal in two gondolas that had been gifted to Louis XIV by the Republic of Venice. The gondolas and the four gondoliers sent to man them were housed in a series of buildings at the end of the Canal, which became known as “Little Venice.”

Third Day: Performance of Du Malaide Imaginaire in the Park of Versailles in front of the Thetys Grotto. Jean Le Pautre, 1676. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Design of a gondola for the use of Louis XIV in the Grand Canal of Versaille. Jean Berain (1640-1711). Image sourced from Gallica.

On July 28 (the fourth celebration day), a lyrical pastoral performance of La Fête de l’Amour et du Bacchus was staged at the Dragon Fountain. The audience was treated to a rich selection of fruit, ice, wine, liqueurs and jams. A light snack was served in the Grove of the Water Theatre, and then guests were serenaded by violins and oboes while enjoying their dinner in the Marble Courtyard. A fireworks display also lit up the Grand Canal.

Fourth Day: Feast with tables set around the fountain of the marble courtyard. Jean Le Pautre, 1676. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On August 18 (the fifth celebration day), the tragedy Iphigéne by Jean Racine was performed in front of the Orangery. Food was available in the Grove of the Girandole. Later that night, guests crowded around the newly finished Apollo Fountain to watch a fireworks show that consisted of at least 5,000 rockets. The fireworks lit up an obelisk created by Le Brun, which was topped by the figure of a sun—Louis XIV’s personal emblem (seen in the picture below).

Fifth Day: Fireworks on the Canal. Jean Le Pautre, 1676. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On the sixth and final evening, August 28, the Grand Canal was the centre of the entertainment. Courtiers once more took turns riding in the gondolas, accompanied by boats of musicians. The entire canal was also illuminated, as seen in the picture below.

Sixth Day: Illuminations around the Grand Canal of Versailles showing the palace, the fountains, and the statues. Jean Le Pautre, 1676. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

Louis XIV was increasingly spending more time at the Château de Versailles and, with him, so too was the French Court. In 1677, he decided that he wanted to move the court and government there permanently. This was a revolutionary idea, as European kings and their courts had always lived life on the move, dividing their time and presence between different residences and regions in their territory. Versailles would have to be significantly enlarged12,13 in order to permanently house all the members of the royal family, the members of the court and their retinues, as well as all their servants. Louis XIV hired architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart to conduct this third round of building expansion at Versailles, which he began in 1678. Mansart’s additions increased the capacity of the Château five-fold, and made it possible to accommodate a further 4,000 people. He built two new stables (1679-1682) that were located at the foot of the Place d’Armes: the Petites Écuries in the south was for the cart horses, and the Grandes Écuries in the north for the saddle horses (used for riding and hunting). Two new wings containing living quarters were built to the south (1679-1682) and north (1685-1689) of the residence. Two new Ministers’ Wings (1679-1682) containing offices for the four Secretaries of State (Foreign Affairs, War, King’s Household, and Navy) were built on the north and south sides of the Cour d’Honneur. The Grand Commun14 (completed in 1684) was built in the south to house service rooms (such as kitchens and pantries), servants, and secondary officers. I’ve indicated the location of the new structures on the map below.

Map sourced from the official Château de Versailles guide book. S ←→ N

In 1678, Mansart demolished the outdoor terrace that had been located in the middle of the western wing of the residence and replaced it with what would become the Château’s most famous feature: the Galerie des Glaces, the Hall of Mirrors, which was completed in 1684.  

The Hall of Mirrors. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

At the time, mirrors were among the most expensive items that one could possess. The Republic of Venice had a monopoly on their manufacture. Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, had a requirement that all items used in the decoration of Versailles be made in France. He convinced a few Venetian glassmakers to come to France to design the mirrors for Versailles15. The Hall of Mirrors is 73 metres (239.5 feet) long by 10.5 meters (34.4 feet) wide by 12.3 meters (40.4 feet) high. It is flanked by the Salon de la Guerre (War Room) on the north side and the Salon de la Paix (Room of Peace) on the south. Three rooms from the Queen’s suite of State Apartments and three rooms from the King’s suite of State Apartments (the ones that had been located in the west wing), were absorbed into the new design, which you can see in the map below.

Image sourced from the official Château de Versailles guidebook. S ←→ N.

The Hall of Mirrors contains 17 mirror-clad arches that reflect 17 arcaded windows. Each arch contains 21 mirrors, for a total of 357. Marble pilasters topped with gilded bronze capitals are located on either side of the arches; the capitals are decorated with fleur-de-lys and roosters (France’s national animal). The room was originally illuminated by thousands of candles, and contained silver furniture (later melted down to fund Louis XIV’s army during the War of the League of Augsburg from 1688-1697).

The mirrors and marble pilasters in the Hall of Mirrors. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

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. The room was designed to impress, and during weddings and diplomatic events Louis XIV’s throne would be placed on a platform at the south end of the room in front of the Salon de la Paix.

Le Roi Gouverne par Lui-même (the King Governs Alone). Charles Le Brun, 1661. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

On May 6, 1682, Versailles was declared the official residence of Louis XIV, his court, and the government of France. There had always been royal courts, but the way Louis XIV structured court life and power at Versailles was truly innovative for several reasons. The first was that he had the court and government permanently housed and centralized at the Château de Versailles. Louis XIV exercised his power by making his people come to him, rather than going to them by moving his court between different regional bases as had been the tradition of royal households for centuries. To make this work, he mandated that his nobles spend time every year at Versailles and was strict about their consequent attendance. He took note of which courtiers were present and absent, and treated them accordingly. He saw everyone, especially those who were hoping to escape his attention. His subjects felt compelled to be at Versailles as much as possible, with the threat of royal disfavour hanging over them if they weren’t. “He is a man I never see,” the King once commented of a courtier, the chill in his words akin to a harsh judicial blow. 

Louis XIV, Protector of the Academy. Henri Testelin, 1667. Photo by Leah, June 2017. I like the King’s fancy shoe ribbon!

Housing the government and royal court in its entirety at Versailles allowed for the second of Louis XIV’s innovations, which was his ability to centralize power to a degree that no monarch had ever enjoyed before. All favours of land, titles, offices, pensions, and more were granted through him. Honour and income were all dependant on him. Louis XIV’s royal approval had the ability to make or break not only an individual, but also their family for generations to come. He was truly the “Sun King”, the centre of power around which all of France revolved. This was a lot of responsibility, and the King needed a system in which he could effectively manage all of that expectant energy. And so he made Versailles a stage upon which he was the focus as well as the master of spectacle. Every moment of Louis XIV’s day became a performance and an act of state, and he made his courtiers desperate to play a part in it. Elaborate ceremonies were made of his most private moments: hundreds of courtiers and members of the general public watched him eat his evening meal (the Grand Couvert), and his bedroom was filled every morning and evening with nobles who helped him perform the rituals of “getting up” (lever) and “going to bed” (coucher). The lever and coucher ceremonies were so involved that they were divided into two: the Petit Lever/Coucher and the Grand Lever/Coucher. Nobles were admitted into the King’s Bedchamber and the ceremonies were based on rank. For example, with the lever, the first to enter the King’s Bedchamber were those with the right to see Louis XIV still in his bed (the Petit Lever). Then those with the right to see the King in his dressing gown, seated in a chair, would be given admittance. Finally, the entire court would enter as he was being dressed (the Grand Lever). By the end of the ceremony, almost 150 people would be in the room. This same sequence of events took place in the evening but in reverse, with the crowd eventually dwindling to those privileged few who had the right to see the King in bed once more. 

In the Bedchamber of Louis XIV. Paul Philippeoteaux, circa 1875. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

The degree to which rank and rituals of etiquette were connected was the third of Louis XIV’s innovations with Versailles. Strict rules of court etiquette served to establish and maintain a hierarchy that held Louis XIV at the top. Everyone else became obsessed with where exactly they were slotted in beneath him. Prestige, rank, and appearance were crucial. Extravagance was compulsory; trying to keep up with the expensive court lifestyle led to nobles depending on handouts from the King and/or the state treasury. Political tension and satisfaction fixated on who had the honour of sitting on a chair in the King’s presence and who was required to stand. At the Grand Couvert, only twelve titled ladies had the right to be seated on stools before the royal table while hundreds of other courtiers had to stand and watch as the King ate his evening meal. Further, your rank determined whether your chair had a backrest or armrests, effectively setting up how comfortable you would be while basking in the glory of the King’s presence. But there was always hope for advancement! Maybe today would be the day in which one would have the privilege of holding the King’s mirror or wash basin as he shaved! The man who held the candlestick that illuminated the King as he undressed held one of the highest positions of all. Louis XIV reasoned that if he kept all of the powerful people in his country at Versailles and focused all of their attention on him, making them compete with each other for his favour, then they would be too busy to scheme against him. According to French political theorist Henri de Saint-Simon, Louis XIV’s granting of distinction was proof that “the king possessed before all men the art of giving importance to trifles.” It may seem crazy to contemporary audiences, but it seems to have been effective: Louis XIV reigned for an impressive 72 years. At the beginning of his rule, Louis XIV’s kingdom had almost been torn apart by violent civil war. The centralization of power at Versailles with mandatory courtier attendance combined with the fixation of rank through exercises of etiquette seems to have managed to tame the dissident impulses of his people, as well as preventing the regional concentrations of power that could have effectively challenged his own. There may be some truth to the adage of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.  

Louis XIV receiving Louis II of Bourbon, called the Grand Condé, after the Battle of Senef in November 1764. Charles-Augustin-Victor Doerr, 1857. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

A fourth innovation of court life at Versailles was how visible and accessible the monarch made himself to the people, courtiers and commoners alike. I’ve already mentioned how Louis XIV transformed many aspects of his personal life into public ritual. In addition to this, Louis XIV opened most of the Château and its gardens to the general public. Any well-dressed individual could walk past the Écuries and through the first entry gate of the Château into the Place d’Armes. Beggars, monks, sex workers, and smallpox victims were the only people specifically turned away at this point. Visitors would then approach the Gate of Honour. If the individual was wearing a sword, indicating their upper-class status, the person was permitted to continue. No sword? No problem! You were allowed to hire one on the spot. The now-armed visitor was duly granted access to the residence and its grounds. Consider the irony the next time you’re standing in the long security line to enter the Château. Rules of etiquette did bar commoners from entry into certain rooms when the King was in them, but they would be allowed in the moment after the monarch had stepped out. An English writer, Arthur Young, was shocked to see this exact thing happen in Louis XVI’s Bedchamber when he visited Versailles in 178716. People gathered in the Hall of Mirrors on a daily basis in order to catch a glimpse of the King as he made his way from the State Apartments to the Royal Chapel. There were also opportunities to see the King exercising in the gardens, or watching him eat at the Grand Couvert. Louis XIV took his public accessibility seriously. When his daughter-in-law, Dauphine Maria Anna Victoria of Bavaria (1660-1690), asked to be excused from a ball because she felt unwell, he refused, saying: “We are not like private individuals. We owe ourselves entirely to the public.” Louis XIV’s predecessors would increasingly retreat from living such a public life, and their popularity suffered as a result.

Perspective view of the Palace of Versailles on the Place d’Armes and the Stables. Jean-Baptiste Martin the Elder, 1688. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

A fifth and final innovation of court life at Versailles was that Louis XIV made it fun. I’ve already mentioned the grand entertainments and firework displays. In addition, there were thrice-a-week parties in the State Apartments with dancing, music, gambling, and tables heaped with food, wine, and desserts (for more information on these soirées d’appartement, see my second post about touring the Château de Versailles which includes the State Apartments). Louis XIV was a great patron of the arts, and courtiers were kept entertained by numerous plays, operas, concerts, and ballets—some in which the King himself performed! The court life at Versailles was so exciting and rich with social and cultural opportunities that one could almost forget that being there was more a requirement than a choice. 

Walk of Louis XIV, the Grand Dauphin, and Marie-Thérèse in the gardens of Versailles, the procession passing in front of the basin of Ceres. 1601-1700. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

On any given day 3,000-10,000 courtiers could be present at Versailles, with 6,000-7,000 being the average. Slightly more than half of Louis XIV’s court lived outside the Château. Around 3,000 of them either lived in or stayed nearby with acquaintances in the new town of Versailles, which had been relocated and specially built by Louis XIV from 1671 onwards (see footnote 12a for more information). Another number of courtiers known as les galopins (the gallopers) made the daily trip from Paris to be at the Versailles court. Around 4,000 members of this daily assembly of courtiers had lodgings in the Château itself or one of its dependencies. Living at the Château had benefits that came hand-in-hand with drawbacks. On the one hand, lodging was free as it was provided to courtiers at the state’s expense. On the other hand, it had a high moral cost: Louis XIV believed that the courtiers who resided at Versailles owed everything of value in their lives to him as their monarch. On the plus side, there was a certain prestige attached to those who lived at the Château in a world where rank and esteem were very important. On the down side, the honour of residing at Versailles was in sharp contrast to the actual lived experience of those who stayed there. Even with the recent renovations and expansions, space at the Château was still at a premium. Courtiers who weren’t royal or titled enough to be considered deserving of anything but the most basic accommodation were only given two rooms, which was not a lot of space for someone to house their whole family and any servants they had in their employ. The rooms lacked a hearth or any basic kitchen facilities, which was a problem because the windows were drafty and meals were not supplied by the King. Courtiers had to figure out how to feed themselves at their own expense, usually through the hiring of outside catering. The rooms could also be smelly thanks to the latrines found further down the hallway or in the staircases. Overall, the living conditions at Versailles paled in comparison to what a courtier would be used to in their own home. A person would actually live more comfortably if they were able to maintain their own separate lodgings either in the town of Versailles or Paris, where they could keep all their servants and their carriage. But this was definitely more inconvenient, especially since ladies were required to change their outfit three or four times a day.

Perspective view of the city and the palace of Versailles from the Mountbauron Hill; visit of the King of November 14, 1685. Jean-Baptiste Martin the Elder, around 1690. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

After Maria-Theresa’s death in 1683, Louis XIV had modifications done to the Private Apartments. He had some of the rooms from the Queen’s Private Apartments reallocated into a third set of apartments for him, the Petit appartements du roi (Small Apartments of the King). Unlike the King’s State Apartments and the King’s Private Apartments, which were largely open to courtiers and members of the general public alike, access to the King’s Small Apartments was provided only through personal invitation. In the illustration below, the King’s State Apartments are shown on the far right, in dark purple. The King’s Private Apartments are shown to the right of the Marble Courtyard in light purple. The new King’s Small Apartments are shown to the left and above the Marble Courtyard in medium purple. The Queen’s State Apartments are shown to the far left in yellow. The Queen’s Private Apartments were reduced to the ones that are shown in dark pink. No further need to have symmetrical his-and-her apartments, I guess, now that his preferred candidate for Queen of Spain was gone.

Plan of the main floor in the central part of the Chateau, circa 1742. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

In 1683, Louis XIV also married his third official mistress, Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, in secret. Françoise came from an impoverished background17. Her inferior social position meant that she was not openly acknowledged as Louis XIV’s wife nor did she become Queen. Nonetheless, she did have a powerful influence on the King and was one of his closest advisors.

Portrait of Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon. Pierre Mignard, 1694. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

In 1699, Louis XIV had Mansart begin work on a new Royal Chapel. It was the fifth, and final, chapel built at Versailles since the reign of Louis XIII. It would also be the last grand project that both Louis XIV and Mansart undertook at the Château. 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.

The Palace of Versailles, the Chapel Courtyard. Jacques Rigaud, early 18th century. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
The upper floor and ceiling of the Royal Chapel. Photo by Leah, June 2017.

In 1701, Louis XIV had his Ceremonial Bedchamber moved from its location in the State Apartments to a more central position in the residence. He had it placed on the main (second) floor, overlooking the Marble Courtyard, and backing against the Hall of Mirrors.

Image sourced from the website of the Château de Versailles.

Louis XIV passed away on September 1, 1715. His reign of 72 years was so long that he survived his son Louis, the Grand Dauphin (who died in 1711 at the age of 49), and his grandson, Louis the Petit Dauphin (who passed away in 1712 at the age of 29). He was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV. Louis XIV is the figure who played the most prominent role in the creation of Versailles, and so it seems fitting to end part 1 of the Château’s history at this point. I’ll continue part 2 in my next blog post, covering the history of the Château under Louis XV and Louis XVI (until 1783). Thanks for reading!  


¹ Numerous palaces throughout Europe have been inspired by the magic and grandeur of Versailles: the Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia (constructed 1714-1723, nicknamed “the Russian Versailles”); the Palacio Real de Madrid in Spain (constructed 1738-1755); the Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria (built in the 1740s-1750s); Karlsruhe Schloss (first built in 1715, rebuilt entirely of stone in 1746); the Reggia di Caserta in southern Italy (1752- around 1773); and King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s Schloss Herrenchiemsee (1878-1886).  

² This distinction between a rural and urban grand estate is not made in the English language the way it is in French, so in English it is most often referred to as the Palace of Versailles. For more information on the difference between châteaux, palaces, and castles, see my post on the Loire Valley.

3 The website for the Château de Versailles contains a page with a video that shows the changes made to the structure over time. Click here to see Versailles from the time it was first built in 1624 as a hunting lodge by Louis XIII through its major construction periods under Louis XIV, up until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1792.

4 Maria-Theresa is also the subject of Diego Velázquez’s famous painting, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour), 1656. The figure of a young Maria-Theresa in this painting (shown below) with her wide hooped dress inspired an art installation that appeared on the streets of Madrid, which Neil and I got to see when we were there! These Las Meninas (from the Meninas Madrid Gallery) are a series of 80 identical sculptures of a female figure with a wide hooped dress and a cropped hairstyle. (I would argue that the hairstyle comes from Velázquez’s painting of Maria-Theresa when she was fifteen, which I already used in the post above). Sculptor Antonio Azzato designed the Meninas and recruited a group of artists, fashion designers, and singers to help decorate them. The Meninas were auctioned off for charity in July 2018.

Las Meninas. Diego Velázquez, 1656. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
Las Meninas Street Installation in Madrid. Photo by Leah, April 2018.

5 Louis Le Vau and Charles Le Brun also worked together on the renovations of the Louvre and the Tuileries Palaces, which began in 1659. See my post on the Louvre for more information about that project.

6 Orlando Furioso was written by Italian poet Ludivico Ariosto (known as “Ariosto”) from 1505-1532. In one of the episodes of the poem, the knight Ruggiero arrives on an enchanted island that belongs to the magician Alcina and her sister Morgana. Alcina falls in love with Ruggiero and casts a spell on him to keep him on the island. Later, Ruggiero’s fianceé, Bradamante, comes to the island disguised as a man (Ruggiero’s brother, Ricciardo) in search of him. Morgana then falls in love with “Ricciardo” and many spectacular magical antics ensue.

7 Below is an image of Louis XIV dressed as Apollo, a role he played in 1653 in The Ballet of Night by Giacomo Torelli, based on verses by Isaac de Benserade. The ballet called for over 100 costumes, designed by Henri Gissey. Louis XIV played the role of the rising sun dressed in golden feathers. He would reprise his role as Apollo in several court ballets.

Royal Ballet of the Night, Louis XIV as Apollo. Anonymous, 17th century. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

8 Louise was the first maîtresse-en-titre (chief mistress) of Louis XIV. This was an official position that came with its own apartments. The title came into use during the reign of Louis XIII’s father, Henri IV. Louis XIV had three official mistresses who would hold that title: Françoise-Louise de la Baume Le Blanc, Duchess de la Vallière (1661-1667); Françoise-Athénaïse de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan (1667-1681); and Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon (1680-1715). Of course, a chief mistress does not mean the only mistress. Louis XIV had relations with at least two dozen other women. I would almost think it’s weird that their names all began with “Françoise” but there’s a lot of women with “Marie-othername”and “Maria-othername” coming our way soon; Maria-Theresa was just the warm-up.

9 In 1659, France and Spain ended 24 years of war with the Treaty of Pyrenees. Philip IV of Spain agreed to marry his daughter, Maria-Theresa, to Louis XIV on the condition that the marriage voided her inheritance rights to her father’s Spanish throne. To compensate her for this, a dowry of 500,000 gold crowns was promised, but never actually paid, to Louis XIV. When Philip IV of Spain passed away in September 1665, Louis XIV claimed that since Maria-Theresa’s dowry had not actually been paid, his wife’s renunciation of her inheritance rights was invalid. Maria-Theresa was born out of Philip IV’s first marriage, whereas the underage Spanish heir Charles II (four years old at the time) was the result of Philip IV’s second marriage. Thus, Louis XIV argued, the estate of Philip IV properly “devolved” to Maria-Theresa. This led to the War of Devolution, which broke out on May 24, 1667. Louis XIV and his armies quickly conquered the Hapsburg-controlled Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium) and other surrounding territories. Louis XIV wanted to conquer as many Spanish territories as possible. He planned to use them as bargaining chips for peace negotiations. The Spanich Franche-Comté, a region in eastern France, was one of them. He tasked Louis II de Bourbon, the Prince de Condé (known as the Grand Condé), with the military action. Condé invaded on February 4, 1668 and, a short 17 days later, all of the Franche-Comté was successfully occupied. However, Louis XIV’s plans were halted when he was informed that an alliance had been formed against him by Spain, the Netherlands, England, and Sweden. He knew that France was no match for this coalition. The Peace Treaty of Aix-Chapelle was signed on May 2, 1668. Louis XIV was allowed to keep some of his conquered Flemish territory, but he had to give up most of his conquered territories in the Spanish Netherlands and the Franche-Comté. He was angered by this result. In particular, he felt that he had been betrayed by the Dutch, as France had provided assistance to the Dutch during their war of independence from Spain (the Eighty Years’ War of 1568-1654). Tensions would lead later to the Franco-Dutch War of 1672-1678. ANYWAY. The Grand Entertainment of July 1668 was meant to paint a bright, victorious face on what could have been otherwise considered a military and political disappointment. Charles II (Maria-Theresa’s younger half-brother) ruled Spain until he died, childless, on November 1, 1700. Charles II named Philip of Anjou as his successor. Philip of Anjou was the grandson of Louis XIV and Maria-Theresa. Philip’s father, Louis the Grand Dauphin (son of Louis XIV), could not claim the Spanish throne since he was in the line of succession for the French one. So too was Philip’s elder brother, Louis the Petit Dauphin. So the second son is up! Of course, other European countries were not a fan of having the Spanish throne in the hands of the French as that would have meant a major power imbalance. So this kicked off the War of the Spanish Succession (1700-1714). Philip V of Spain ruled from 1700-1724, and then again from 1724-1746 (with a brief seven month interruption in which his son, Louis I, ruled until he died of smallpox).   

10 in Europe, the numbering of floors is done in a different sequence than in North America, so it can be a little confusing. In North America, the ground floor is called the “first” floor. In Europe, the ground floor is equal to floor “0.” In North America, the next floor up would be called the “second” floor. In Europe, this would be called the “first” floor. The three wings of the chateau neuf contained three separate floors. Instead of calling them (in accordance with North American custom) the “first”, “second”, and “third” floors, I’m referring to them respectively as the “ground floor”, the “main floor”, and the “upper floor.”

11 Under Louis XIV, the grounds of Versailles reached a peak area of 2,473 hectares (6,111 acres). Compare that with the 2.5 acres that Louis XIII started out with for his hunting lodge!. The grounds of Versailles are now only 815 hectares (2,014 acres)—roughly ⅓ the size they were during the time of Louis XIV.

12 It was at this point in his plans to expand the Château de Versailles and its grounds that Louis XIV found he had run out of room. Do you remember that earlier painting of the Château dating to 1667-1668? (Included below, once more). You can see the old medieval village of Versailles in the left corner (note the church steeple of the parish church of Saint-Julien; that is where the Grand Commun is now located). But Louis XIV was not the kind of man who would let something simple like a pre-existing town deter him. Louis XIV had Hardouin-Mansart and Le Nôtre design a new town that would be located on a new site farther away from the Château. He would then have the old town demolished to make way for his new building projects. In 1671, a royal charter offered up plots of land in this new area with the condition that the houses built there had to use pre-approved building materials and conform to a pre-determined size and style that would complement the Château. A micro-manager to the extreme, Louis XIV even regulated the colour and exterior decoration of these houses. Many of these new houses were destined to become Hôtels Particuliers for the incoming nobility. In 1673, Louis XIV had the old buildings of Versailles razed to the ground. Le Nôtre then laid out three wide, large tree-lined avenues that extended from the Château eastward into the town like sunbeams (a purposeful symbolic detail): the Avenue de Saint-Cloud, the Avenue de Paris, and the Avenue de Sceux (seals). These streets were similar to the wide pedestrian boulevards that Louis XIV was having built in Paris in place of its old (now demolished) city walls. The streets and squares found in the rest of the new town of Versailles were laid out in an orderly, rectilinear grid. A new neighbourhood was created on the northern flank of the Château to house the 20,000 construction workers and artisans of every description who came to make Louis XIV’s plans a reality. By the latter years of Louis XIV’s reign, the urban population of Versailles numbered 45,000 people.

The old town of Versailles can be seen in the lower-left side of the painting below.

The Château de Versailles. Pierre Patel, circa 1668. Image sourced from Wikipedia. (S ←→ N).

The new relocated and rebuilt town of Versailles can be see in the foreground of the painting below (the Château de Versailles is in the background).

Perspective view of the city and the palace of Versailles from the Mountbauron Hill; visit of the King of November 14, 1685. Jean-Baptiste Martin the Elder, around 1690. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.
Optical view, the castle and city of Versailles. 1701-1800. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

13 In 1668, Louis XIV purchased the hamlet of Trianon, which was situated within the estate of Versailles. He also razed the buildings of this little town to the ground and rehoused the inhabitants. He then directed Le Vau to build him a one-storey summer house (which you can read more about here). The Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon are named after this lost village. In Patel’s painting above, you can maybe see the hamlet if you look really close; it was located northwest of the main residence.

14 From 1832-1986, the Grand Commun was used as a military hospital, later called the Dominique Larrey hospital. Then it lay empty and abandoned for a decade. Remarkably, much of its window glass remained unchanged from when Louis XIV had built it three hundred years earlier! In 1996, the army handed ownership of the Grand Commun to the National Estate of Versailles. A huge alteration and restoration project began. In 2006 and 2007, archaeological digs were carried out in the courtyard of the Grand Commun. That Merovingian cemetery I mentioned at the beginning of this post? It was found here; so too were traces of Louis XIII’s tennis court.

15 Legend has it that assassins were sent to poison these glassworkers to punish them for revealing the secrets of their trade. An interesting story, but it sounds apocryphal. I’d have to do a bit more digging to find out if that was true.

16 In his 1792 travel book, Travels in France, Arthur Young commented: “In viewing the King’s apartment, which he had not left a quarter of an hour [before], with those slight traits of disorder that showed he lived in it, it was amusing to see the blackguard figures that were walking uncontrolled about the palace, and even in [the king’s] bedchamber; men whose rags betrayed them to be in the last stage of poverty, and I was the only person that stared and wondered how the devil they got there.”

17 Here are a few more details concerning the background of Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, because they are interesting. Her father, Constant d’Aubigné, was imprisoned from 1629-1639 for conspiring against Cardinal Richelieu (Louis XIII’s Chief Minister). Françoise was born during this time period in 1635; her mother was Jeanne de Cardilhac, daughter of Constant’s jailer. When Constant was released in 1639, the family moved to the island of Martinique in the west Indies. Constant died destitute in 1647, and Françoise was sent to live with her aunt. She was then educated in a convent. Madame de Neuillant, the mother of Françoise’s godmother Suzanne de Baudéan, introduced Françoise to higher society. Françoise married French poet and novelist Paul Scarron in 1652 (he was 25 years her senior), but was widowed in 1660. Through her connections she met Madame de Montespan in 1666, Louis XIV’s current lover. In 1669, when Madame de Montespan’s second child by Louis XIV was born, Françoise was hired on as a governess. This led to her meeting Louis XIV, who was initially put off by her strict religious disposition. His feelings had softened by 1675, when he gave her a title—the Marquise de Maintenon. It is unknown when Louis XIV and Françoise began having an intimate relationship, but by the late 1670s he was spending a lot of his spare time with her. In 1680, Louis XIV gave her a prominent position in his daughter-in-law’s household (the Dauphine Maria Anna of Bavaria, who was married to Louis, the Grand Dauphin). Soon after, Madame de Montespan left court. Françoise, Madame de Maintenon, had a strong (some would argue good) influence on Louis XIV. She was also kind to Maria-Theresa who, for years, had been rudely treated by Madame de Montespan.

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France Museums Paris

A Comprehensive Guide to the Louvre Collections

If you are interested in finding out about the history of the Louvre, please check out my earlier post here.

Now, it’s time to explore the collections! Neil and I did a skip-the-line highlights tour of the Louvre, which was led by a really personable young Canadian, who had just finished work for his Ph.D. at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie. I would definitely recommend taking a tour such as this one, as the Louvre is massive. (Also, all the information signs are in French!) There are so many amazing things to see, and it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. Our guide gave us a lot of context and historical reference, which I think added a lot of value to our experience.

After the tour, we were able to go off and explore on our own for as long as our feet held out. In this post, I’m going to share the highlights of what we saw in this order: paintings, sculpture, antiquities from Egypt and Mesopotamia, historic armour, items from the collection of French Crown Jewels, and the apartments of Napoleon III.

A view of the Louvre from inside the glass pyramid.

Below is a selfie taken outside of that glass pyramid. 

leah and neil at the louvre 2

Below is another selfie taken in front of the Louvre. 

leah and neil at the louvre

We’ll start with the Louvre’s most popular painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Please accept my apologies for all of the reflections in the photo below. The painting is protected behind a sheet of bullet, fire, and explosion-proof glass!

Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci, 1503.

The Mona Lisa is a portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giacondo, an Italian noblewoman. She was born in Florence on June 15, 1479. She was the eldest of seven children, and named after her paternal grandmother. On March 5, 1495, at the age of fifteen, she married Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo. The couple had five children. Francesco was a cloth and silk merchant of modest means, who later became a city official. Giocondo is thought to have commissioned the portrait of his wife in 1503, to celebrate the birth of their third child and the purchase of a new family home.

Leonardo da Vinci worked on the portrait between 1503-1506, but considered it unfinished. He did not end up giving Lisa and Francesco their commissioned work, and so he was not paid for it. Instead, he carried the portrait with him for the rest of his life. He brought it to the Loire Valley in 1516 when he was invited to live there by François I, and that is where (and when) he is said to have finished painting it. When the artist passed away in 1519, François I purchased the painting (as well as several others) from the executor of Leonardo da Vinci’s estate. This  is how the Mona Lisa ended up in France and part of the Louvre’s collection.

You can see the protective panel of glass, as well as a few of the painting’s many admirers, in the photo below.  There is a rope that keeps everyone a few steps back from the wall. Our guide told us that the wall is equipped with a motion-sensitive alarm so that if anyone tries to tamper with the painting, the wall will descend into the floor—taking the painting with it. The doors to the room will close, trapping the would-be-perpetrators within. A loud alarm and flashing lights will alert the Louvre’s security team. It sounds very dramatic!

Our guide told us that the Mona Lisa is considered to be literally priceless. The Mona Lisa is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having the highest-ever insurance value for a painting, citing an assessment value in 1962 of $100 million USD. Adjusting for inflation, that value would have been $830 million in 2018. Some people argue that this number underscores the Mona Lisa‘s actual worth, saying it would be more appropriate to consider its value lying closer to a billion dollars. Suddenly, the motion-triggered sliding wall and the bullet-proof glass seem entirely appropriate.

Why is the Mona Lisa so famous and worth so much money? It’s a nice painting, sure, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in particular that distinguishes it to the tune of one billion dollars. For centuries after its creation, the Mona Lisa remained largely unknown. In the 1860s it began to achieve a little acclaim when art critics started to hail it as a masterpiece of Renaissance painting. But its renown was still restricted to an elite academic circle.

All of this changed on the morning of August 12, 1911, when three Italian handymen smuggled it out of the Louvre under a blanket. The painting wasn’t even missed until 28 hours later, when a still-life artist noticed its absence and brought it to the attention of a security guard. The Mona Lisa made international headlines when the Louvre announced its theft. American tycoon and art lover J.P. Morgan was questioned, as was Pablo Picasso. The Louvre was closed for a week, and it was mobbed by the curious upon its reopening.

The actual perpetrator was later discovered to be Vincenzo Perugia, who had worked as a handyman to install the Mona Lisa‘s protective glass case. He was probably hoping to sell it, but all the attention made the Mona Lisa too hot to move. Perugia hid the painting beneath the false-bottom of a trunk in his Paris boarding-house. Two years later, he was caught when he tried to sell it to an art dealer in Florence. Perugia plead guilty to the theft and served eight months in prison. By the time the Mona Lisa returned to the Louvre, she had become legendary.

A lot of people express surprise at how small the Mona Lisa actually is when they see it in person. I’m certain nobody has the same criticism when they see The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese, which hangs on the wall facing it. This painting is the Louvre’s most expansive piece, measuring 6.77 metres (22.2 feet) x 9.94 metres (32.6 feet) and weighing 1, 500 kilograms (1.5 tonnes).

The scene depicts the biblical scene of the Marriage at Cana, where Jesus was said to have conducted his first miracle by transforming water into wine. The painting was commissioned on June 6, 1562 by the Venetian Black Monks of the Order of Saint Benedict. They wanted it to decorate the wall of their new dining hall.

Veronese completed and delivered the painting in September 1563. On September 11, 1797, it was taken as war booty by Napoleon’s French soldiers. They cut the canvas and rolled it up like a carpet to transport it to Paris, where it was re-stitched and reassembled. The Venetians tried to get the painting back after Napoleon’s downfall in 1815, but the Louvre’s then-Director Dominique Vivant Denon (who had been appointed by Napoleon) claimed the painting was too delicate to move. A painting by Charles Le Brun, Feast at the House of Simon (1563), was given to Italy as recompense.

The Wedding Feast at Cana. Paolo Veronese, 1562-1563.

Our guide led us on a short tour that provided an overview of the development of Western art as seen in thematic portraits of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus. The tour began with this painting by Cimabue, which was painted around 1280. Although beautiful, our guide pointed out that the subjects of the painting are relatively flat and two-dimensional. There is not a lot of depth to the scene, nor do they look all that realistic.

The Virgin and Child in Majesty Surrounded by Six Angels. Cenni di Pepe, called Cimabue. Around 1280.

What distinguishes some of the Renaissance painters as true masters of their craft was the complexity and depth with which they painted their subjects. In the painting below, done by artist Alessandro Filipepi (known as Botticelli), the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus look fuller in dimension and more realistic. The figure of Saint Jean the Baptist may have been painted by another artist collaborating with Botticelli, which explains why it looks a little different and arguably of lesser quality.

The Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint Jean the Baptist. Sandro Botticelli, around 1445.

You can see also the advance in painting technique below in La Belle Jardinière (the Beautiful Garden), also known as Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist by Raffaello Santi (known as Raphael).

La Belle Jardinière. Raphael, 1507.

We’ll finish this mini-series on the Virgin and Child with an expansion on the theme by Leonardo da Vinci. Again, you can see the progression in painting technique through the use of perspective and richer detail. The scene below features Jesus, his mother, and his grandmother Saint Anne, who died prior to Jesus’ birth. Leonardo began this piece in 1503 and worked very slowly on it, leaving it unfinished at the time of his death in 1519.

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne. Leonardo da Vinci, 1503.

Everything about the painting shown below is a bit of a mystery: the artist, the title, the model. It was most likely painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century, and it is usually attributed to him. If it wasn’t painted by Leonardo, then it was done by someone else in his Milanese circle. The title of the painting, La Belle Ferronnière, is even less clear. It wasn’t assigned to the painting until the 18th century. It translates into English as “the beautiful iron worker.” However, the woman in the painting doesn’t look like she’s about to build us a bridge. Some people have proposed that the title refers to the fact that the woman is a wife or daughter of an iron worker. Others say that the title references the headband with its central jewel. That style of headband was originally popular in Italy in the late 15th century, at the time that this painting was made. As fashion is cyclical, it experienced a comeback in the late 19th century (1875 onward). Some say that at this point the headband style was christened a “ferronnière“, taking its name from this painting. Still others (including the Louvre’s catalogue) say that the painting is so named because the woman is wearing something that was already called a ferronnièreIt’s a chicken-egg situation; which came first? Another theory posits that the painting is named after someone who may have been its model: a woman who was a reputed mistress of François I, who was married to a man known as Le Feron.

La Belle Ferronniere. Leonardo da Vinci, 1490-1496.

Further muddying the situation is the fact that the title of the above painting, La Belle Ferronnièrehas also been used to refer to the painting below. The painting below is known to be by Leonardo da Vinci, and is usually called Lady with an Ermine (this painting can be found at the National Museum in Kraków, Poland). As you can see, the women in the two paintings look very similar, and may even possibly be the same person. They are also both wearing a ferronnière. If both portraits are by Leonardo and they feature the same woman, who was the model? There have been a couple of other suggestions, in addition to François I’s purported mistress. The model could be Cecilia Gallerani or Lucrezia Crivelli; both women were mistresses of Ludovico Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan. The model may also be Beatrice d’Este, Sforza’s wife. Sforza was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci, and is most famous for commissioning Leonardo’s mural painting of The Last Supper.

Lady with an Ermine. Leonardo da Vinci, 1489-1490.

The fresco below, Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman, originally came from the Villa Lemmi, a property near Florence that belonged to the Tournabuoni family. Botticelli may have been commissioned to create this work to celebrate the marriage of one of these family members. The “young woman” referred to in the title and depicted in the mural in a red dress may be Nanna di Nicolò Tournabuoni or Giovanna Albizzi. Venus, the goddess of love, is shown dressed in pink. She is attended by the Three Graces, who are each meant to represent an aspect of generosity: the giving, receiving, and returning of gifts. Venus is placing a bouquet of flowers into a white cloth that is being held out by the woman in red. Cupid can be seen on the right.

Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman. Sandro Boticelli, 1483-1486.

Liberty Leading the People is a famous French Romantic painting by Eugène Delacroix that commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which saw the overthrow of Charles X of France. Liberty is depicted as a woman of the people, leading them over the barricades and the bodies of the fallen while hoisting the symbols of revolution: the French tricolour flag, a Phrygian cap, and a musket. In France, this personification of Liberty as a woman and/or goddess is a popular national symbol, and she has been given the name Marianne. This painting inspired Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, popularly known as the Statue of Liberty. On the subject of this painting, Delacroix said (in a letter to his brother): “And if I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.” Note how the fighters depicted seem to be of different social classes, and how the colours of the French tricolour are repeated in the clothing of the man who can be found at Liberty’s feet.

Liberty Leading the People. Eugène Delacroix, 1830.

On July 2, 1816 the French naval frigate Méduse ran aground on a sandbank 97 kilometers (60 miles) off of the coast of Mauritania, a country in northwest Africa. Although the ship was carrying 400 people, there was only space for 250 in the lifeboats. A raft was hastily built to carry the rest, with the intention that it would be towed by the lifeboats. On July 5, 147 people climbed onto the raft. It became partially submerged as soon as it was loaded. After only a few miles, the raft was turned loose from the boats. Only 15 people of the 147 who originally climbed onto the raft survived the thirteen days it took for them to be rescued (which happened July 17). They endured starvation, dehydration, and resorted to cannibalism. The event became an international scandal, with blame falling on the incompetence of the French captain, Viscount Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys, who had been given the appointment despite having scarcely sailed in 20 years. Artist Théodore Géricault was fascinated by the event, and set about painting The Raft of the Medusa. He depicts the moment when the fifteen survivors, on the thirteenth day, glimpse a ship approaching in the distance. Géricault interviewed two survivors and built a scale model of the raft to assist with his extensive research into the subject. The painting, extremely controversial, became an icon of the French Romantic movement.

The Raft of the Medusa. Théodore Géricault, 1818-1819.

Another view of the painting.

Napoleon’s coronation took place on December 2, 1804 at Notre Dame Cathedral. Although Pope Pius VII was present and part of the events, Napoleon broke with tradition by crowning himself and then crowning his wife, Josephine. By doing so, he meant to show that he was becoming Emperor based on his own merits and the will of the people, rather than as an act of religious consecration. The painting below was completed in 1807 by Napoleon’s official painter, Jacques-Louis David. It depicts Napoleon crowning his wife, Josephine.

The Coronation of Napoleon. Jacques-Louis David, 1805-1807.

The painting is large, measuring almost 10 metres (33 feet) wide by a little over 6 metres (20 feet) tall. Below is a closer detail view of Napoleon and Josephine.

I didn’t know this at the time we were visiting the Louvre, but David’s work was actually originally painted to show Napoleon crowning himself. It was repainted at some later point in the process. If you stand in front of the painting and look closely, you can see the original outline. A prepatory sketch (also at the Louvre), shown below, indicates what that original figure would have looked like.

Sketch of Emperor Napoleon Crowning Himself. Jacques-Louis David, 1805-1807. From Wikipedia.

The Portrait of Louis XIV is a painting of the famous Sun King at the age of 63 in his coronation robes. The King was so pleased with the work that it became his official portrait, and a number of copies were made. The original piece is on display at the Louvre. Note that in his time, Louis XIV was considered to be the epitome of power and masculinity. Modern viewers might be taken aback when we see the high heels and the bold display of his legs, but this is more a reflection on how fashion and the performance of gender changes over time.

Portrait of Louis XIV. Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701.

It’s now time to move onto sculpture! The Louvre has a large and diverse collection of statues that are displayed in several beautiful galleries and sculpture terraces, such as the one below.


Athena, daughter of Zeus, was the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. She was the protector goddess of the Greek city state of Athens. When the Parthenon was completed in Athens in the 5th century B.C.E., a large statue of Athena standing 12 meters (39 feet) tall was placed in the temple. She was the focal point of the temple, designed by Geek sculptor Phidias (whose sculpture of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). The original statue was destroyed at some point, possibly looted for the gold and ivory that decorated it. However, the Romans had made several copies of it, one of which is on display at the Louvre. The statue is named after the wide collar she is wearing, which features an image of the Gorgon Medusa. She would have been originally armed with a lance in her missing right arm, and holding a shield with her missing left arm. This statue was purchased from the Borghese collection in 1807.

Athena Parthenos, called “Minerva with the necklace.” Unknown artist, 1st or 2nd century B.C.E.

The statue of Joan of Arc shown below was originally commissioned in 1845 to be a part of the series of “Queens and Illustrious Women” on display at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Instead, it was displayed as part of the Salon of 1852. The statue shows Joan of Arc (1412-1431) “listening to her voices.” According to her own testimony Joan, at the age of 13, heard the call of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Marguerite urging her to go and deliver France from the English; at this point in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), the English had invaded France as far south as the Loire Valley. In 1429, Joan was sent to the Siege of Orléans as part of a relief army. When the siege was lifted only nine days later, she became a national hero. There was a surge in French morale that led to continued victories and the coronation of Charles VII. Sadly, Joan was captured in 1430 by a group of pro-English French nobles, and turned over to the English. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431, at the age of nineteen. Joan was canonized in 1920, and is a patron saint of France.

Joan of Arc Listening to Her Voices. François Rude, 1852.

Below are some of Joan’s neighbours on the sculpture terrace.

The statue below, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, is one of the highlights of the Louvre. According to legend, Psyche was a young and beautiful mortal who was worshiped like a goddess. This made Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, jealous. Venus ordered her son, Cupid, to get rid of Psyche. But when Cupid saw Psyche, he fell hopelessly in love with her. The two became lovers, with Cupid visiting Psyche each night. However, he forbid her from seeing his face. One night, Psyche was overcome by her curiosity and lit a lamp while Cupid was sleeping so she could look at him. Cupid woke up and caught her. Feeling betrayed, he fled. Psyche tried to find him, and sought Venus’ help. Venus made Psyche perform several challenging ordeals, including sending Psyche to see Proserpina, the goddess of the underworld. Psyche’s mission was to bring back a flask that she was told not to open. Of course, Psyche submitted to her curiosity once more and opened the container to smell it. The fumes caused her to faint into a deep, deathlike sleep. Cupid saw this happen and rushed to her, pulling Psyche into his embrace. This is the moment depicted in the sculpture. The gods were moved by the couple’s devotion, and granted Psyche immortality as the goddess of the soul. This permitted the lovers to be together forever. In Greek, psukhē means soul and butterfly.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Antonio Canova, 1777.

Another angle.

The bust shown below is that of Maria Barberini, niece of Pope Urbain VIII and wife of Tolomeo Duglioli. In 1621, Barberini died in childbirth at the age of 22. Her uncle ordered this portrait of her, as well as that of other deceased members of his family, by Gianlorenzo Bernini. The bust was carved around 1626 by one of Bernini’s collaborators, Giuliano Finelli.

Maria Duglioli Barberini (1599-1621). Giuliano Finelli, 1626.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called The Nike of Samothrace, was created around the 2nd century B.C.E. to commemorate a sea battle. It depicts the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, in flowing drapery, as if she has just landed on the prow of a ship and is standing in a rippling breeze. It is believed that prior to the loss of her arms the goddess was portrayed raising a cupped hand around her mouth to give out a cry of “Victory!” It is not known for certain who the sculptor was or what sea battle the goddess was meant to be celebrating. One of the most likely theories put forward is the Battle of Cos (fought somewhere between 262-255 B.C.E.), in which Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedonia defeated the fleet of Ptolemy II of Egypt. The Greek island of Samothrace, which is where the statue was found in 1863, was an important sanctuary for the Hellenistic Macedonian kings.

Winged Victory of Samothrace. Unknown artist, circa 190 B.C.E.

The statue is one of a small number of major Hellenistic (323 B.C.E. – 31 B.C.E) works to survive in the original, rather than as a Roman copy. Some have described The Winged Victory of Samothrace as the “greatest masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture.”

The statue’s right wing, shown below, is a symmetrical plaster version of the original left one.

The left wing, shown below, is original to the sculpture.

In 1950, the missing right hand of the statue was found. It had slid out of sight under a large rock near where the sculpture had been discovered. The tip of Nike’s ring finger and her thumb were recovered from the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna, where they had been placed in a storage drawer. The finger fragments have since been reunited with the hand, as can be seen in the picture below.

Below is the Venus de Milo, one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. It was created sometime between 130-100 B.C.E. by Alexandros of Antioch. The sculpture depicts Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (known as Venus by the Romans). However, there are some scholars who say that the statue is of Amphitrite, the Greek goddess of the sea, who was worshiped on the Greek island of Milos where the sculpture was discovered in 1820.

Venus de Milo. Alexandros of Antioch, 130-100 B.C.E.

The statue measures slightly larger than life-size at 2.03 metres (6 feet, 8 inches) in height. The statue was in ruins when it was found, and there were fragments of an arm and a hand accompanying it. As the statue was being reassembled, these pieces were discarded, possibly because they were in rougher shape. The now-lost left hand was holding an apple.

Holes in the marble indicate that the statue was once decorated with a bracelet, earrings, and a headband. The accessories were probably stolen, especially if they contained gold or precious gems.

Why is the Venus de Milo so famous? Previously, Napoleon had looted the Venus de’ Medici from Italy, and France was forced to give it back in 1815. In 1820, the Venus de Milo was gifted to Louis XVIII. The Louvre wanted to fill the hole that the absence of the Venus de’ Medici had created, and so it claimed that the Venus de Milo was the better sculpture. Worked like a charm!

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, and Michelangelo’s Slaves were sheltered together at the Château de Valençay during World War II, after being evacuated from the Louvre.

The Venus of Arles is a 1.94 metre (6 foot, 4 inches) sculpture of the goddess Venus. It was created in the 1st century B.C.E. by an unknown artist, and may be a copy of an earlier work known as the Aphrodite of Thespiae by Praxiteles. This statue was discovered in a Roman theatre in the French city of Arles. She was found in 1651, and gifted to Louis XIV in 1681. The statue was seized from the royal collection during the French Revolution, and has been on display at the Louvre since it first opened on August 10, 1793.

Venus of Arles. Unknown sculptor, 1st century B.C.E.

The Athena of Velletri is a 1st century Roman copy of a lost Greek bronze sculpture; the original was possibly made around 430 B.C.E. by Greek sculptor Kresilas. It towers at 3.05 meters (10 feet) in height. It was discovered in the ruins of a Roman villa in a vineyard near the Italian town of Velletri in 1797.

Athena of Velletri. Unknown artist, 1st century C.E.

All right, with the sculpture covered, let’s move onto a few exhibits from the departments of Egyptian and Near-Eastern Antiquities!

The Great Sphinx of Tanis is a granite sculpture of a sphinx, a creature who has the body of a lion with a human head. It dates to the 26th century B.C.E. It was discovered in the ruins of the Temple of Amun-Ra in Tanis, which served as the capital of Egypt during the 21st Dynasty (1069 B.C.E. – 945 B.C.E.) and the 23rd Dynasty (837 B.C.E. – 728 B.C.E.). Sphinx is actually a later Greek term that was applied to these statues; the Egyptians referred to them as a shesep-ankh (living image). The statue was a symbolic representation of the close relationship between the human king (the head) and the sun god, Ra (the lion body). The statue was thus a “living image” of the king’s power and association with Ra. A sphinx was positioned as a recumbent guardian and protector in places where the gods appeared, such as at the entrances to temples.

Great Sphinx of Tanis. Unknown artist, 26th century B.C.E.

Mesopotamia is a historical region of Western Asia that roughly corresponds to most of modern Iraq, Kuwait, parts of northern Saudi Arabia, the eastern parts of Syria, southeast Turkey, and regions along the Turkish-Syrian and Iran-Iraq borders. It was dominated by the Sumerians and Akkadians (including Assyrians and Babylonians) from 3100 B.C.E to the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.E, when it was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire (also known as the First Persian Empire). That empire then fell to Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E. Upon Alexander’s death, it became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire. Around 150 B.C.E. it became part of the Parthian Empire, and then the Romans and the Parthians fought over it for a few centuries. It is an area extremely rich in human history, and could be considered one of the cradles of human civilization. It was the site of many of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution around 10,000 B.C.E, in which humans transitioned from their hunting and gathering lifestyle towards one of agriculture and settlement. This is where the wheel was invented, where cereal crops were first planted, and where mathematics, astronomy, agriculture, and cursive script were developed. The Louvre had a few fascinating displays that touch on the history of this area.

The lion below was part of a processional way that led from the Temple of Marduk to the Temple of Akitu. The lion was associated with the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. A group of priests would pass by this lion during their New Year’s Eve ceremonies, which took place during the Spring Equinox. The processional path, which was uncovered during the German excavations of Babylon, is partially reconstructed at the Vorderasiatisches Museum of Berlin.

Brick panel of Lion. Unknown artist, circa 604-562 B.C.E.

In 716 B.C.E., Sargon II of Assyria (reigned 722-705 B.C.E.) ordered the construction of a new city that he wanted to serve as his new capital. Over the next decade, the city of Dur-Sharrukin, which translates as “Fort Sargon”, was built (present-day Khorsabad, located in northern Iraq). The city had a rectangular layout, and measured 1.7 by 1.6 kilometers (1.05 by 1 miles). An area of three square kilometers (1.86 square miles, or 288 hectares) was enclosed by a massive brick city wall that contained seven entrance gates and 157 towers. A walled terrace contained temples and the city palace, the Cour Khorsabad.

A reconstructed model of Dur-Sharrukin.

From Wikipedia.

The Cour Khorsabad palace was richly decorated with sculptures and wall reliefs. The gates of the palace were flanked by a pair of protective genie guardians known as shedu or lamassu. These guardians had bodies that combined the features of men, bulls, and birds. Two of these winged bulls are on display at the Louvre, shown below. They were excavated in 1843.

Winged Bull from the Cour Khorsabad of Sargon II. Unknown artist, 713-706 B.C.E.

The winged bulls stand more than 4 metres (13 feet) high by 4 metres wide, are 1 meter (3.28 feet) in depth, and weigh up to 40 tons. They stood at the Androcephalus Wing of the Cour Khorsabad, at city gate number 3. The shedu/lamassu guardians were a characteristic decoration of Assyrian palaces, making their first appearance at the city of Nimrud during the rule of Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883 – 859 B.C.E.); two of the winged bulls from this palace are on display at the British Museum.

Winged Bull from the Cour Khorsabad of Sargon II. Unknown artist, 713-706 B.C.E.

Below are some wall reliefs from the Cour Khorsabad. In the scenes below, ceremonial furniture is being paraded before the King.

Relief from the Cour Khorsabad of Sargon II. Unknown artist, 713-706 B.C.E.

Below is a detail from a larger scene depicting the transportation of timber. Assyria lacked the quality building timber it needed to construct its monumental palaces, and so had it imported from Lebanon. Transport of the wood from Lebanon’s famed cedar forests took place by boats that sailed north along the Phoenician coast. In the frieze below, boats loaded up with timber are sailing over seas swarming with sea creatures. Each boat features a horse’s head at its prow and a fish’s tail at the stern.

Detail from Frieze of the Transportation of Timber. Unknown artist, 713-706 B.C.E.

One of the most interesting things we saw in the Department of Near-Eastern Antiquities was the Code of Hammurabi. The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian code of law from ancient Mesopotamia, dating to around 1754 B.C.E. A nearly-complete copy of the code was found carved onto a 2.25 metre (7.5 foot) tall stone slab (known as a “stele”), shown below. The stele was discovered in 1901 in the ancient city of Susa, located in the Khuzestan province of modern-day Iran.

Code of Hammurabi. Unknown artist, circa 1754 B.C.E.

The code was enacted by Hammurabi, a Babylonian king who reigned from 1792 -1750 B.C.E. It is one of the first forms of law, and also one of the oldest deciphered writings of significant length in the world. The code consists of 282 laws that contain scaled punishments, which are graded depending on social status and gender. It contains one of the earliest examples of presumption of innocence, and suggests that both the accuser and the accused have the opportunity to present evidence. The principle of “an eye for an eye” is first referenced in the Code of Hammurabi, which predates the Hebrew Bible. In addition to the legal content, the code is also an exceptional source of information about the society, religion, economy, and history of this period. It also contains a catalogue of the towns and territories annexed to the kingdom of Babylon.

Many copies of the Code of Hammurabi were placed in cities throughout his kingdom. The code is divided into three parts. The first section consists of a prologue that details Hammurabi’s list of achievements and the formation of his empire, setting him in his role as “protector of the weak and oppressed.” The second section is the main text, and lays out 288 laws and legal decisions. The third section is a lyrical epilogue that sums up Hammurabi’s legal work and prepares for its use in perpetuity. The code was a political testament aimed at future princes, for whom Hammurabi wanted it to serve as a model of wisdom and equality. It also became a literary model for scribes, who would make copies of it for the next one thousand years.

An excerpt from the prologue reads: “When the sublime Anu, King of the Gods, and Entil, the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth […] had pronounced the revered name of Babylon and made it preponderant among the regions of the world […] so they named my name, Hammurabi […] to serve justice in the country, to eliminate the wicked and the perverse, to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak, to rise as Shamash, the sun above men, to illuminate the country […] First among Kings, I am […] the mighty King, the sun of the city of Babylon, who spreads the light over the land of Sumer and Akkad […] When Marduk ordered me to bring justice to the people, I established truth and justice […] I assured the well-being of the people.”

The legal text uses simplified, everyday language because Hammurabi wanted it to be understood by everybody. Criminal and civil laws are covered. Prices and salaries are set out. A large section on family deals with engagement, marriage, divorce, adultery, incest, children, adoption, inheritance, and the duties of children’s nurses. Slavery is discussed. Professional, commercial, agricultural, and administrative law are covered. Hammurabi sets out a selection of the wisest legal decisions that he has made or ratified.

A few example Sentences of Justice:

1 – If a man accuses another man and charges him with homicide, but can not bring evidence against him, his accuser will be put to death.

22 – If a man commits a robbery and is caught, he will be put to death.

129 – If a man’s wife is caught sleeping with another male, they will be bound and thrown into the water. If the owner of the wife allows her to live, then in turn the King could save his servant.

196 – If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man’s bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one destroy the eye of a man’s slave or break a bone of a man’s slave he shall pay one-half his price.

An excerpt from the Epilogue reads: “Such are the rulings of justice that Hammurabi, the competent King, has established to engage the country in accordance with the truth and the just order […] That the unjustly treated man, who is implicated in a business, should come before the image of myself, the King of justice, and have my stele read to me, that he should thus hear my precious ordinances; that my stele tells him his business, that he sees his case, that his heart is alleviated […] I am Hammurabi, the King of Justice, to whom Shamash has granted the truth.

Our final exhibit from the department of Near-Eastern Antiquities is another stele, shown below. This particular kind of stone stele is known as a kudurru, which is carved with inscriptions that record gifts of land made by Babylonian rulers to members of their family or high-ranking civil or religious dignitaries. The kudurru below, dated to 1186-1172 B.C.E, commemorates a gift of land made by King Meli-Shipak II to his son, Marduk-Apal-Iddina. Like the Code of Hammurabi, this kudurru was found in the ancient Iranian city of Susa.

Kudurru of King Meli-Shipak II. Unknown artist, 1186-1172 B.C.E.

The back of the kudurru.

The Louvre has a few really cool exhibits of armour on display. Below is a set of parade armour that features scenes from the history of Roman leader, Pompey the Great (106-48 B.C.E.), as part of its decoration. It was made around 1560, possibly for Henri II (1519-1559) of France or one of his sons.

A side view.

Close-up of a battle scene.

From Wikipedia.

Below is another set of parade armour made in France or Flanders around 1570-1590, perhaps for Henri IV (1553-1610).

A close-up of the detail on the chest.

A close-up of the visor.

Another angle.

The helmet below was made for Charles IX (1550-1574, reigned 1560-1574) by Pierre Redon, a renowned goldsmith. It is decorated with war scenes from antiquity.

Morian of Charles IX. Pierre Redon, 1572. From Pixabay.

Now it’s time for something really fun: gladiator armour recovered from the gladiator’s barracks in Pompeii! There were different types of gladiators based on the various weapons and fighting techniques they specialized in. Some were prisoners of war, others were professional fighters. They wore different styles of armour as well.

The first photo below is that of a bronze Thracian gladiator’s helmet, dated to 79 C.E. A Thracian/Thraex gladiator was a prisoner of war who had been captured while the Romans were fighting the Thracian people of eastern and southeastern Europe (northeast Greece, in particular). Thracian gladiators often squared off against another type of gladiators who were also prisoners of war, the Mirmillones/Murmillo, who came from Gaul (France and Germany). Thracian gladiators wore these distinctive broad-rimmed helmets that covered their entire head. The helmets contained a stylized griffin; griffins were the companion creatures of Nemesis, the goddess of fate. Nemesis was venerated by gladiators, and there was a chapel dedicated to her inside the amphitheatre at Pompeii.

The helmet, shown again in a photo below from the Louvre’s official website, also features the decoration of a gorgon head on the front. The helmet was probably used by Thracian gladiators during the parades preceding the games in the amphitheatre at Pompeii, just before Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E. Plume holders are located on either side of the helmet, which would have held large, fancy feathers. This bronze helmet is one of a number of pieces of armour given in 1802 to Napoleon by Ferdinand IV, King of Naples. They were buried when Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 C.E, and discovered during excavation work on the gladiator’s barracks at Pompeii in 1766-1767.

From the Louvre’s official website.

Thracian gladiators also wore bronze leg protectors, known as greaves. A pair of them are shown below. They were also discovered in the gladiator barracks at Pompeii, and date close to 79 C.E.

Another picture of them.

From Wikipedia.

A Thracian gladiator is depicted in the mosaic below on the left, wearing a distinctive Thracian helmet and greaves. He is fighting a Murmillo gladiator.

Detail of a Gladiator Mosaic. A Thraex (left) fighting a Murmillo (right). From the Museum Roemerhalle Bad Kreuznache in Germany. From Wikipedia.

A Retiarius/Retiarii gladiator was a type of gladiator who fought with the stylized equipment of a fisherman. The Latin word retiarius translates variously as net-man, net-fighter, or fisher-man. He carried a weighted net, a dagger, a three-point trident, and was only lightly armoured with an arm guard (a manica) and a tall shoulder guard (a galerus), the latter of which is shown below. The defensive armour was worn on the left/non-dominant arm and, by putting that shoulder forward, offered the fighter some protection for his head behind the curved sheet of metal. Three examples survive from the gladiator barracks of Pompeii, each weighing about 2.5 pounds. The one on display at the Louvre has a decorative medallion that features the head of Hercules, who was famed for his strength.

Another picture of the galerus.

From the Louvre’s official website.

The back of a Retiarius gladiator is shown on the right in the mosaic below. He wears a galerus on his left arm.

Detail of a Gladiator Mosaic. A Secutor (left) fighting a Retiarius (right). From Wikipedia.

Below is a bronze Corinthian helmet that dates to the beginning of the 7th century B.C.E. This style of helmet provided maximum protection with its fixed nasal and broad cheek plates. It was made in southern Greece, perhaps in the city of Argos.

Below are a couple of panels of stained glass from the 16th century that depict knights in their armour, holding pennants.

I like this guy’s billowing red sleeves. 

Here are some decorative details spotted around the Louvre. 

Beautiful floral tapestries. 

I can’t remember what this was, but it’s pretty. 

Some lovely doors. 

Next up is the Apollo Gallery, which is one of the most impressive spaces in the Louvre. When a fire broke out in the Petite Galerie in 1661, Louis XIV had the area rebuilt and richly decorated. When work was completed in 1677, this rebuilt area became the new Apollo Gallery and Cabinet du Roi, the latter of which makes up seven rooms that can be found west of the former. The Apollo Gallery and the Cabinet du Roi became the first part of the Louvre to exhibit artwork as a proto-art gallery/museum known as the Royal Gallery. The Apollo Gallery would serve as inspiration for Louis XIV’s famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

The Apollo Gallery, shown below, has a wealth of paintings and gilt decoration on the walls and ceiling.

Detail from the ceiling.

Louis XIV, the Sun King, doubtless approved of his association with Apollo, the Greek god of the sun.

A portrait of Louis XIV.

One of the many paintings on the ceiling.

You’re flying too close to the sun there, Icarus. 

The Sun or The Fall of Icarus. Merry-Joseph Blondel, 1819.

If the decoration of the Apollo room itself wasn’t enough to awe you, it also has the French Crown Jewels on display. As you can imagine, France’s turbulent political history has meant that many of the historic crowns, jewelry sets, and other shiny objects that were used to convey the wealth and power of the monarchy have been destroyed, stolen, and/or dispersed. The French Revolution in 1792 saw the disappearance of most of the French Crown Jewels. They were the spoils of a corrupt, inequitable, and oppressive system; the fledgling democratic republic had no use for them.

However, the pendulum soon swung back and the 19th century saw the return of authoritarian rule in the figure of Emperor Napoleon and then the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy¹. Jewelry has long been a key signifier of status and privilege, and new Emperors and restored Kings had a lot to prove. Most of the pieces that now make up the French Crown Jewels were added during this time.

Key figures behind these items on display at the Louvre include (in chronological order): Louis XV (1710-1774, reigned 1715-1774); Empress Marie-Louise (1791-1847, reigned 1810-1814), the second wife of Emperor Napoleon I; Marie-Thérèse (1778-1851), Duchess of Angoulême, daughter-in-law of Charles X (1757-1836, reigned 1824-1830); Marie-Amélie (1782-1866, reigned 1830-1848), wife of Louis-Philippe I; and Empress Eugénie of Montijo (1826-1920, reigned 1853-1870), wife of Napoleon III.

In 1885, the Third French Republic (1870-1940) voted to auction off most of the French Crown Jewels, opting only to keep a few pieces that were deemed to have significant historic value. Once more, a democratic republic decided it wanted to rid itself of the excess of a previous regime; this time, with less bloodshed. The sale eventually took place in 1887. Since then, some of the pieces that were sold have found their way back to France and the collection on display at the Louvre.

Below is one of the display cases in the Apollo Gallery that holds the current collection of the French Crown Jewels.

The Crown of Louis XV is the sole surviving crown (of a documented 20) from the Ancien Régime, which had ruled France from 1453-1789. This crown was made for Louis XV in 1722. It was used at his coronation and embellished with diamonds from the Royal Collection. It was made by jeweler Laurent Ronde. The Sancy diamond was placed in the fleur-de-lis at the top of the crown, and the Regent diamond took centre stage at the front of the crown. The crown also featured eight of the famous Mazarin diamonds that Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister to Louis XIII and Louis XIV, had bequeathed to the French crown upon his death in 1661 (there were 18 in total). The Mazarin diamonds were set in the fleur-de-lis that decorate the sides of the crown. Hundreds of other diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires also made up the decoration.

All of the other crowns from the Ancien Régime, which had been kept in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, were destroyed in 1793 during the French Revolution. The Crown of Louis XV was the only one to survive. When the French Third Republic decided to auction off the French Crown Jewels in 1885, they decided to keep the Crown of Louis XV due to its historic value. However, all of its precious stones were sold and replaced with coloured glass.

The Sancy diamond, shown below, is a pale yellow diamond of 55.232 carats. The cut of the diamond indicates that it likely originated in India. Its known history begins in 1570 when it was acquired by Nicolas Harlay de Sancy, Superintendent of Finance for Henri IV, the man for whom the diamond is named. de Sancy sold the jewel to James I of England in 1604. The jewel was inherited by James I’s son, Charles I. After Charles I was beheaded in 1649, it became the property of his son James II. James II was forced to flee England in 1688 and then again in 1690, where he sought shelter under Louis XIV. James II, destitute, had to sell the diamond to Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of Louis XIV. Upon Mazarin’s death in 1661, Mazarin bequeathed the Sancy diamond to Louis XIV. The jewel was used in the Crown of Louis XV (1722), as previously mentioned. It was also used in the Crown of Louis XVI (1775), which did not survive the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette wore it on May 4, 1789 for the procession of the Estates-General of France. 

The Sancy diamond disappeared during the French Revolution when the Royal Treasury was raided. The Regent diamond and the French Blue diamond (known today as the Hope Diamond) were also stolen. Over the years, the Sancy diamond would occasionally show up in a few different private collections before disappearing again. In 1906, it was purchased by William Waldorf Astor from a Russian collector. It was sold by William Waldorf Astor III, the 4th Viscount Astor, to the Louvre in 1978 for $1 million USD.

Today, the Sancy diamond is estimated to be worth over $100 million USD.

The Regent diamond, shown below, is a 141 carat diamond that is considered by many to be the purest and most beautiful diamond in the world. It was discovered in India, and began its documented history in 1702 when it was acquired by Thomas Pitt, Governor of Fort St. George. The diamond was purchased by Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, in 1717. Philippe II was the nephew of Louis XIV, and served as Regent of France until his cousin, Louis XV, reached his age of majority in 1723. This is why it’s mainly known as the Regent diamond, although it has also been called the Pitt diamond. The Regent diamond was used in the Crown of Louis XV (1722) and the Crown of Louis XVI (1775). Louis XVI wore it on May 4, 1789 for the procession of the Estates-General of France. It has also been used in the Sword of the First Consul (1801) and the Sword of Napoleon I (1812). It also featured in the crowns of Louis XVIII (1814), Charles X (1825), Napoleon III (1852), and the Greek diadem of Empress Eugénie. The Regent diamond was stolen during the French Revolution, but later recovered from the attic roof timbers of an old house in the Halles district of Paris, along with the Hortensia diamond. It was not sold off during the sale of 1887 due to its historic value. As of 2015, it was estimated to be worth more than $63 million USD.

The Hortensia diamond is an orangey-pink diamond of 21.32 carats. It was mined in India, and acquired by Louis XIV in 1643. The diamond was used in an epaulette braid by Napoleon I, which is an ornamental shoulder piece on a uniform. The diamond is named after Napoleon I’s step-daughter, Hortense. Hortense was the daughter of Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife². Hortense and Napoleon had a good relationship. She later married Napoleon’s younger brother Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland, and they had a son who would later become Napoleon III. The Hortensia diamond also served as the centrepiece of a diamond-encrusted comb/headband that was worn by Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III. Like the Regent diamond, the Hortensia diamond was not sold off in 1887 with the rest of the French Crown Jewels due to its historic value.

Louis XV had a diamond cross, shown below, made around the middle of the 18th century. The cross served as a badge for the Order of the Holy Spirit, which was a French order of chivalry founded by Henri III in 1578. This new order was reserved for princes and powerful nobles. Henri III dedicated it to the Holy Spirit in recognition of the fact that he had been elected King of Poland (in 1573) and had inherited the throne of France (in 1574) on two Pentecosts. Pentecost is the seventh Sunday after Easter, and is when the Holy Spirit, in the shape of a white dove, was said to have descended upon the Apostles. The white dove is the symbol of the Order, and is used in the badges that represent it. Louis XV’s diamond cross contains 400 diamonds and 1 ruby. He had the cross made to give to either his son-in-law Philippe, who was made a Knight of the Order in 1736, or his grandson Ferdinand, who was made Knight of the Order in 1762.

Louis XV is shown wearing the diamond cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit in the painting below.

Portrait of Louis XV bearing the cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit. Louis-Michel Van Loo, 1763.

All right, we’ve covered the oldest pieces of the French Crown Jewels that Neil and I saw while we were at the Louvre. This included a crown, a diamond cross, and three individual diamonds that were all acquired prior to the French Revolution of 1792. Next, we’re going to move onto the jewelry sets that were added to the French Crown Jewels collection after the Revolution. The first is an emerald set that was acquired during the First French Empire of Napoleon I (1804-1814; part of 1815). Napoleon I gifted the emerald necklace and matching earrings shown below to his second wife, Marie-Louise of Austria, on the occasion of their wedding in 1810. The original jewelry set also contained a matching emerald diadem and comb.

The necklace contains 32 emeralds cut in alternating oval, lozenge, and pear-shapes. The large central emerald is 13.75 carats. The necklace contains 1,138 diamonds, 874 of which are brilliants and 264 are rose diamonds. Each earring consists of a large pear-shaped emerald surrounded by brilliant diamonds and two smaller emeralds. They were made by jeweler François-Regnault Nitot. Marie-Louise bequeathed the emerald set to her cousin Leopold II of Habsburg, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and it remained in his family until 1953. Then the set was sold to a jeweler. The emeralds in the diadem were sold off individually and replaced with turquoise. An American collector, Marjorie Merriweather Post, purchased the diadem and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1971³. The comb was disassembled, but the necklace and earrings were kept in their original state. In 2004, the Friends of the Louvre were able to purchase and add them to the museum’s collection.

The Bourbon Restoration saw the return of the monarchy in 1814 after Napoleon’s downfall. Louis XVI’s younger brother, Louis XVIII (1755-1824), reigned from 1814-1824 (give or take 100 days in 1815). Upon Louis XVIII’s death in 1824 another younger brother, Charles X (1757-1836), ascended to the throne. He reigned from 1824-1830.

While Charles X had no wife to adorn with jewels during his reign (Maria-Theresa of Savoy had died in 1805), he did have a daughter-in-law. In 1799 his son, Louis-Antoine, the Duke of Angoulême, married Marie-Thérèse of France. Marie-Thérèse (1778-1851), also known as Madame Royale, was the eldest child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and the only one to reach adulthood (her three younger siblings died before reaching the age of 11). When she married Louis-Antoine she became known as the Duchess of Angoulême. Yes, her father Louis XVI was the brother of her husband’s father, Charles X (ie: Marie’s uncle), making Marie-Thérèse and Louis-Antoine first cousins. ANYWAY. MOVING ON.

In 1816, a ruby jewelry set was made for Marie-Thérèse by Paul-Nicols Menière. The design for the set came from Menière’s son-in-law, Évrard Bapst, and reused rubies that had been part of an earlier jewelry set that had been made for Empress Marie-Louise (Napoleon I’s wife) in 1811. This new ruby jewelry set originally contained a large tiara, a small tiara, a belt, three necklaces, a pair of bracelets, earrings, and several brooches*. Sadly, the set was broken up during the sale in 1887. Only a pair of bracelets have made their way back to the Louvre, shown below.

The bracelets contain 72 rubies and 420 diamonds.

The tiara shown below was a gift from Louis-Antoine to Marie-Thérèse. It was made by jewelers Évrard and Frédéric Bapst in 1819-1820. It contains 40 emeralds that total 77 carats, and 1,031 diamonds that add up to 176 carats. It was a crown fit for a future Queen! But, wait, not so fast…

The July Revolution of 1830 resulted in the forced abdication of Charles X**. Charles X, Louis-Antoine, and Marie-Thérèse were out. Louis-Philippe I, cousin of Charles X, was now in. The tiara remained in France when Marie-Thérèse and her husband went into exile. It was sold in 1887, and made its way to Britain where it was displayed for a time in the Victoria & Albert Museum. In 2002, the Louvre purchased it and added it to their collection.

Louis XV’s cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit and the Duchess d’Angoulême’s bracelets are displayed together, shown below.

Louis-Philippe I (1773-1850) reigned as King of France from 1830-1848. His wife was Maria-Amélie of Naples and Sicily, whom he wed in 1809. Below is a sapphire jewelry set that belonged to her. It’s unknown when the jewelry set was made or whom it was made by. It may contain sapphires that originally belonged to Empress Josephine, the first wife of Napoleon I, because there is a record in 1821 of Louis-Philippe purchasing sapphires from Josephine’s daughter, Hortense.

The diadem contains 24 sapphires and 1,083 diamonds. The tiara is made up of five distinct sapphire and diamond elements. The tiara can thus be taken apart, with each part worn as a separate brooch. (In fact, this is how the diadem was made, by combining these brooches to make a tiara).

The necklace consists of 8 sapphires and 631 diamonds.

The earrings consist of 2 sapphires and 59 diamonds. The large brooch, on the lower left, contains 4 sapphires and 263 diamonds. There is a pair of small brooches, located on the bottom right, that each contain one large sapphire and 25 diamonds.

The February 1848 Revolution saw the forced abdication of Louis-Philippe I. Mindful of what had happened to Louis XVI, Louis-Philippe I and Marie-Amélie quickly skipped town with their family. The National Assembly of France had initially planned for Louis-Philippe’s nine-year-old grandson (Philippe, Comte de Paris) to take the throne. However, public opinion had once again turned against the monarchy and the French Second Republic was established instead. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was elected President on December 10, 1848 for a term that was meant to last until 1852. In 1851, when it looked like he wasn’t going to be re-elected, Louis-Napoleon seized power through a coup d’état and declared himself “President for Life.” In 1852, he became Emperor Napoleon III and the Second French Empire was established. The next few items in the collection of the French Crown Jewels belonged to the wife of Napoleon III, Empress Eugénie of Montijo, whom he married in 1853. We’ll go through them in mostly chronological order. 

The pearl diadem below was a wedding gift from Napeolon III to Empress Eugénie. It was made by Alexandre-Gabriel Lemonnier. It made use of stones that had been earlier worn by Empress Marie-Louise and Marie-Thérèse, the Duchess of Angoulême. The crown contains 212 pearls and 1,998 diamonds. It was auctioned off in 1887 with the rest of the Crown Jewels. In 1890, it was gifted by Prince Albert of the Princely House of Thurn and Taxis (a German noble family) to his new wife, Archduchess Margarethe Klementina of Austria, on the occasion of their wedding. The diadem stayed in the Thurn and Taxis family for generations. In 1992, the Friends of the Louvre purchased it for the museum’s collection.

The pearl shoulder brooch, shown below, was one of four identical brooches that were made to match Eugénie’s pearl wedding diadem. It was created by jeweler François Kramer. It consists of 7 pearls and 25 diamonds. 17 of the diamonds and all of the pearls were one part of a piece that belonged to Empress Marie-Louise. In 1887, this brooch was sold to Clementine of Orléans, the Princess of Saxe-Cobourg. She bequeathed it to her son Ferdinand I of Bulgaria.

The Reliquary Brooch was made by Frédéric and Alfred Bapst in 1855 for Empress Eugénie. It consists of 85 diamonds, including two of the famous eighteen Mazarin diamonds that were bequeathed to Louis XIV by his chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, in 1661. Diamonds #17 and #18 are the pair that are positioned like butterfly wings at the centre of the brooch. The third largest diamond in the brooch was once a fourth button on a jerkin (a sleeveless jacket) belonging to Louis XVI, before it was made into an earring for Marie Antoinette.

The Diamond Bow Brooch was made for Empress Eugénie by François Kramer, for the occasion of the 1855 Exposition Universelle. Originally, the brooch consisted only of the diamond bow and was made to be worn as a buckle on a belt of diamonds. However, Eugénie asked to have the brooch transformed into something larger that would work as ornamentation on a stomacher (a decorated triangular panel located on the torso of a woman’s formal gown). Two long diamond tassels and five diamond fringes were added to the piece. The brooch was sold with the rest of the French Crown Jewels in 1887, and ended up in the collection of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, better known as The Mrs. Astor who acted as New York society gatekeeper during the Gilded Age. In 2008, the Friends of the Louvre arranged to purchase the brooch for the museum’s collection. It consists of 2,438 old fashioned brilliant diamonds, and 196 small pink diamonds.

Although neither Eugénie or Napoleon III had a coronation ceremony, a pair of crowns were made for them in 1855 for the Exposition Universelle. Eugenie’s crown, shown below, was made by Alexandre-Gabriel Lemonnier. It contains 2,490 diamonds and 56 emeralds. In 1887, Eugénie’s crown was sold off while Napoleon III’s was destroyed. However, Eugénie’s crown was eventually given to her while she was living in exile. She bequeathed it to Princess Marie-Clotilde Bonaparte, Countess of Witt, the granddaughter of one of Napoleon III’s cousins. The crown came up for auction in 1988, and was donated to the Louvre by Roberto Polo.


Below is a better picture of the crown. 

From Wikipedia.

Below is a reproduction of the destroyed Crown of Napoleon III.

From Wikipedia.

There are a few miscellaneous items in the French Crown Jewels collection that I also photographed. 

The brooch in the shape of a Polish eagle, shown below, entered the collection during the time of Louis XIV in 1669. The white eagle is the emblem of Poland, and symbolized the close links between the French and Polish monarchies in the 17th century. The brooch is probably the work of a Parisian goldsmith. The wings are set with 38 rubies. 

The elephant pendant below is the insignia of the Danish Order of the Elephant. The Order was founded by King Christian I in 1478, to commemorate the marriage of his son to the daughter of the Duke of Saxony. The Order was modified in 1693 by Christian V, and he took inspiration from the ceremonies of the French Order of the Holy Spirit. The elephant was regarded as a symbol of chastity, modesty, and religious devotion. The elephant pendant was worn on a necklace during ceremonies. Louis XVIII was made a member of the Order. Évrard Bapst, jeweler to the French king, made the pendant  in 1822. It features enameled gold, rubies, and diamond brilliants.

Below is the Watch of Dey d’Algiers. It was made by Daniel de Saint-Leu, who served as clockmaker to the Queen of England. It consists of 265 diamonds and was made around 1815-1816. It was gifted to Charles X by Husseïn ben El-Husseïn, the Dey of Algiers.  

At long last, we’ll move onto the Apartments of Napoleon III. You’ll (hopefully) recall from my post on the history of the Louvre itself that Napoleon III finished the construction of the north wing that connected the Louvre with the Tuileries. This was done between 1852-1857. This building is now known as the Richelieu Wing, which is where you’ll find the apartments. It should be noted that the apartments were never personally used by the monarch; he and Empress Eugénie had their own suite of rooms at the Tuileries Palace. Rather, the rooms at the Louvre were used by Achille Fould, the Minister of State. After the Paris Commune of 1871, these rooms were allocated to the Finance Ministry.  

The hall leading to the Napoleon III Apartments. 

Below is a corner of the Grand Salon, also known as the State Drawing Room. 

The center of the Grand Salon/State Drawing Room. 

Another corner of the room. 

The room is heavily decorated with gold and crimson furniture, curtains, and wall hangings.  

There are beautifully painted ceilings and amazing chandeliers. 

I really liked the central couch.  

Below is a close-up of the decoration appearing on the walls and the lower ceiling. 

Another corner of the drawing room. 

A portrait of Empress Eugénie can be seen on the wall. 

Here is a close-up of that painting. 

Portrait of the Empress Eugénie. Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1853.

Another angle. 

From Pixabay.

Another corner of the room. 

There were some really interesting furniture pieces!

The sofa shown below, which seated three people, is called an “Indiscreet.” Apparently this style is named in honour of the “indiscreet society gossips” of the 19th century. I say if you make a sofa like the one below, you’re doing your bit to facilitate the spread of gossip.  

A close-up of a chair. 

The State Dining Room seats fifty people. 

Another angle.

From Pixabay.

Below is the bed of Charles X, which he had built for the Tuileries Palace. He asked that it be made to have the same dimensions as the bed of his predecessor, Louis XVIII, so he could reuse the blue and gold silk hangings. These hangings were woven by the House of Grand Frères in Lyon between 1817-1819, after a pattern by Louis de la Hamayde de Saint-Ange. The blue colour of the silk was dubbed “bleu Raymond” after the chemist who invented the process by which they were dyed. 

The bed frame, made of gilded walnut, was carved by Pierre-Gaston Brion in 1824. The canopy is mounted to the wall, rather than being supported by bedposts. The headboard bears the arms of France topped by a crown. 

The bed of Charles X was placed in the former bedroom of Napoleon I on the first floor of the Tuileries Palace. It stood on a raised dais, and was used for ceremonial purposes rather than for sleeping. In France, the royal bedchamber has always been a place of symbolic significance.  

Below is the Dressing Table of the Duchess of Berry. It was made by Marie-Jeanne Rosalie Desarnaud-Charpentier. It was presented at the Exhibition of French Industrial Products of 1819, where Desarnaud-Charpentier earned a gold medal. It consists of cut crystal fit on an iron frame, with rings and moldings of gilded bronze. 

Another angle. 

Following are a few pictures of some beautiful chairs that were on display in the apartments. 

I feel like an elaborate gown is necessary to sit in one of these. It would feel sacrilegious to be wearing something as casual as a pair of jeans (not that you’re allowed to sit on these chairs!). 

Whether dressed in a gown or denim, one would certainly feel very regal!

Below is the Sewing Box of the Countess of Mailly, made in Paris in 1816. 

Another angle. 

That is it for the Louvre! I hope you enjoyed this tour of the collections. Thank you for reading! 

 


¹ It should be noted that the Bourbon monarchy was restored on the condition that they were expected to be a constitutional monarchy. However, some royals were more on board with that idea than others. (Charles X was not, his cousin Louis-Philippe was, hence why the former was replaced by the latter in 1830). So the restoration of the monarchy was a mixed bag of democracy and authoritarianism. Two steps forward, one step back. There were a few kinks to work out. Still, we have Kings, and they wanted their wives to have pretty, shiny things. 

² Josephine was first married to Alexandre de Beauharnaise. They had a son, Eugène, in addition to their daughter Hortense. Josephine and Alexandre separated shortly after Hortense’s birth. Alexandre was executed during the French Revolution. Josephine was imprisoned during the Revolution as well, and narrowly escaped the execution block herself! 

³ Below is the tiara that belonged to Marie-Louise. The missing emerald stones were replaced with turquoise. It is now located at the Smithsonian Institution. More information can be found here.

From the official website of the Smithsonian Institute.

*Below are some pictures of other items from Marie-Thérèse’s ruby jewelry set. First up is a black-and-white picture of the complete set, taken prior to its sale in 1887. 

From Wikipedia.

Below is a picture of the necklace.

From Wikipedia.

The large tiara.

From Wikipedia.

**Charles X didn’t want to be a constitutional monarch, even though that had been part of the agreement when the Bourbon monarchy was restored in 1814. Charles X was a radical monarchist, and some of the actions he took while in power were a little troubling, and deeply unpopular. On August 2, 1830, he was forced to sign a document of abdication. He signed it with the intention of passing the throne onto his ten-year-old grandson, Henri. Henri was the son of Charles X’s youngest son, Charles-Ferdinand, Duke of Berry (who was assassinated in 1820). Louis-Antoine, Charles X’s oldest son, was not as keen on that idea. He initially refused to sign the abdication, and had a loud argument with his father. After twenty minutes had passed, he then signed the abdication as well. Technically, Marie-Antoinette’s daughter Marie-Thérèse, was Queen of France for twenty minutes. 

Categories
France Museums Paris

From the Louvre’s Medieval Fortress Beginnings Until Now

The Louvre, located in the 1st arrondissement along the right bank of the Seine River, is the world’s largest and most visited art museum. It contains more than 550,000 objects that span the course of prehistory to the 21st century; its collection of Western art dates from the Middle Ages up to 1848. More than 35,000 works of art are exhibited across an area larger than 72,000 square meters (783,000 square feet).

In 2018, more than 10 million people visited the Louvre to view its sculptures, paintings, drawings, ceramics, archaeological finds, and other works of art. Its collections are divided into eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near-Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; and Paintings, Prints, and Drawings.

Although the Louvre itself consists of many individual building areas (each with their own names), the building is largely organized through three main wings: the Sully Wing (the oldest part of the Louvre, which includes the remains of the medieval Louvre fortress), the Denon Wing (which houses many prominent works of art such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and The Winged Victory of Samothrace), and the Richelieu Wing (which contains the apartments of Napoleon III, two sculpture terraces, antiquities from Mesopotamia and ancient Iran, as well as paintings and decorative arts).

A view of the Louvre from inside the glass pyramid.

The Louvre began its life as a medieval fortress built in the 12th century, but most of this building was demolished to make way for the construction of a new Renaissance-style palace. The majority of the present structures of the Louvre were built over a long series of construction projects beginning in 1546 and finishing mostly by 1876 (with a notable renovation in 1989 that saw the construction of the Louvre Pyramid). The Louvre Palace ceased being a royal residence in 1682 when Louis XIV moved to Versailles, and it was officially opened as a museum for the first time on August 10, 1793. Some of the prominent figures who have featured in its history include Philippe-II-Auguste, Charles V, François I, Henry IV, Louis XIV, and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon crowns his wife, Josephine, below. This famous painting is part of the Louvre’s collection.

The Coronation of Napoleon. Jacques-Louis David, 1807.

The story of the Louvre begins with Philippe-II-Auguste (1165-1223, reigned 1180-1223). In 1190, Philippe-II-Auguste ordered the construction of a city wall to protect Paris from potential invaders. The biggest threat lay less than 100 kilometers west of Paris, where English soldiers were based in Normandy¹. The Wall of Philippe-II-Auguste was constructed on the right (north) bank of the Seine from 1190-1209, and the left (south) bank between 1200-1215. It was 2.4 metres (8 feet) thick, and protected by wide and deep ditches. It contained 500 towers. The walls enclosed an area of 253 hectares, and included both the present limits of the city as well as vegetable fields and vineyards (to supply the residents with food in case of a long siege). Philippe-II-Auguste had the Louvre fortress built to reinforce his new wall at its weakest point, along the western side of the wall (facing Normandy) where it intersected with the Seine river on the right (north) bank.

Below is an illustration showing the Wall of Philippe-II-Auguste. The right (north) bank of the Seine is the top half of the illustration, the left (south) bank is the bottom half. You can see how the area inside the wall contains both developed urban areas and rural fields. The Louvre fortress is located on the left side of the picture, just outside the main wall, north of the river.

Wall of Philippe-II-Auguste, circa 1223. Detail from The Plan of Paris, 1705. From Wikipedia.

The Louvre fortress was built between 1190-1202. It is not known whether this was the first building on the site, as Philippe-II-Auguste may have modified an already-existing tower. The source of the word “Louvre” is also unclear. The fortress was square, measuring 78 metres by 72 metres (256 feet by 236 feet). It was enclosed by a 2.6 metre (8.5 feet) thick curtain wall pierced with defensive arrow slits, and surrounded by a 10 metre wide (32.8 feet) moat whose water was sourced from the nearby Seine River. There were ten defensive towers, which were spaced so there was no more than 25 meters (82 feet) of distance between them; at the time, this was the effective firing range of a bow. There was a tower located in each corner, a tower in the centre of the north wall, a tower in the centre of the west wall (facing Normandy), and two towers flanking each of the narrow gates in the south and east walls. These gates provided the only two entrances to the fortress. The main entrance gate faced south, towards the Seine river. The other entrance gate faced east, into the city. Each entrance contained a drawbridge. A central keep, the Grosse Tour (Big Tower), was built in the courtyard. The keep was 30 meters (98 feet) high, 15.6 metres (51 feet) in diameter, and contained a wall that was 4.25 metres (14 feet) thick. The keep had a dungeon that contained a well and a large water tank, which would be helpful in the event of a long siege. The dungeon was meant to serve as a refuge for the King, and also housed the royal treasure and archives; it was also used as a prison until the 14th century. Both the dungeon and the keep were surrounded by a 9 metre wide (30 feet) dry ditch (like a moat, but not flooded with water) that was 6 meters (20 feet) deep and filled with irregular stones (to prevent the use of ladders to scale it). Access to the keep across this dry ditch was provided by a drawbridge. At this point, the Louvre was not yet a royal residence as the French monarchs resided at the Palais de la Cité.

You can see the central keep, its dry ditch, the curtain wall, its towers, and the moat in the illustration below. You can see the Seine river at the bottom left corner of the illustration, which indicates which way is south.

Illustration from The Dictionary of French architecture from the 11th-16th century. Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, 1856. From Wikipedia.

The remains of some of the medieval foundations can be seen on the lowest floor of the Sully wing in the Louvre museum. They were discovered during construction work for the museum in the 19th century.

The illustration below is from the 1800s, and imagines what the medieval Louvre would have looked like.

The Louvre in the Time of Philippe Auguste, around 1200. Louis-Pierre Baltard, circa 1800. From Wikipedia.

In the 13th century, Saint Louis IX of France (1214-1270, reigned 1226-1270) had new rooms built in the Louvre without paying mind to the fortress’ original defensive function. This includes the Salle Saint-Louis, built from 1230-1240, part of which which can still be seen at the Louvre today. The Salle Saint-Louis contains a collection of everyday objects such as small games, jugs, and flasks from the medieval castle that were found during excavation work for the Musée Louvre. This room is all that remains of the interior of the medieval structure. (Saint Louis IX of France was also the man who had Sainte-Chapelle built).

From Wikipedia.

By the 14th century, Paris had grown beyond the walls that Philippe-II-Auguste had constructed from 1200-1215. The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) and the threat of English invasion meant that the growing city needed further protection. In 1356, a second city wall was begun by Étienne Marcel, the Provost of the merchants of Paris, along the right (north) bank of the Seine a few hundred yards beyond the earlier Philippe-II-Auguste Wall. Charles V (1338-1380, regent in 1356, official reign 1364-1380) had this earthen rampart extended. It was finished in 1383. The Philippe-II-Auguste Wall on the left (south) bank of the Seine was unaffected by the new construction.

You can see both of the walls in the illustration below. The blue line reflects the earlier Wall of Philippe-II-Auguste². The new city wall built by Charles V can be seen on the left side of the illustration. The illustration has been rotated 90° to the left so that N (right bank) ← → S (left bank).

Map of Sebastian Münster, 1572. From Civitates orbis terrarum. Map author Braun & Hogenberg, 1572. From Wikipedia.

This new fortification extended westward beyond the Louvre (which you can see outlined in blue in the illustration above, towards the bottom of the picture and to the left of the river), and so the fortress no longer needed to maintain its defensive function. Two years after the new rampart was begun, the Louvre would become an official royal residence. On February 22, 1358, a revolt by French tradesmen (led by Étienne Marcel) saw an army of 3,000 force their way into the Palais de la Cité where Charles V and his family were living. The group murdered two of Charles’ marshals in front of him. Charles was able to pacify the crowd and the tensions were later sorted out, but he was shaken by the event. He abandoned the Palais de la Cité for the Louvre, which he transformed into a royal residence from 1360-1380. The curtain wall was given new windows, new wings were added to the courtyard, and new chimneys, turrets, and pinnacles were added to the castle. He also repurposed the northwest tower into the first Royal Library, which contained over 900 manuscripts. This building glow-up led to the fortress becoming known as le joli Louvre (“the pretty Louvre”).

Below is an illustration made in 1826 showing the Louvre after Charles V’s modifications in 1380. The Seine river is located on the right side of the illustration, indicating N←→S.

Bird’s-eye view of the medieval Louvre, approximate reconstruction by the comte de Clarac, 1826. From Le Louvre et les Tuileries: histoire architecturale d’un double palais. Yvan Christ, 1949. From Wikipedia.

Below is a detail from a contemporary illustration³ of the Louvre made in the 15th century.

October: Louvre Castle. From Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Limbourg brothers, 1412-1416. From Wikipedia.

I’m now going to explain how the medieval Louvre fortress was progressively torn down, renovated, and rebuilt until it became the complex we know it as today. I won’t cover everything, but I will focus on the most historic and important structures. It’s a bit complicated, so bear with me.

Below is a bird’s eye view of the modern Louvre. The grey lines indicate its main buildings. The long stretch of buildings located at the top (north) of the diagram that run west from the Jardin des Tuileries to the Jardin de l’Oratoire in the east is the Richelieu Wing. The long parallel stretch of buildings that face it in the south along the bottom of the illustration, spanning the length of the Seine river, is the Denon Wing. You’ll notice the Louvre pyramid is located between these two wings, set in the Cour Napoleon (the Napoleon Courtyard). To the right of the Louvre pyramid and both the Richelieu and Denon wings is a grey, square building: this is the Sully Wing. Note the courtyard that lies within it, the Cour Carrée (the Square Courtyard), as this will also come up in our discussion.

The Sully Wing contains the oldest parts of the Louvre, and this is where we’ll first focus our attention. The lower left (south-west) corner of the Sully wing is where the medieval Louvre fortress used to sit. This fortress (which we’ve been discussing) was slowly torn down and its four walls rebuilt over the centuries as it was transformed into a Renaissance-style palace. Eventually, this palace reached the current dimensions of the modern Sully Wing. As the medieval fortress was being rebuilt, a second palace was built to the west. This palace, known as the Palais des Tuileries, spanned the area between the two ends of the Denon and Richelieu wings (in the illustration below, it was situated to the right/east of the “Avenue du Général-Lemonnier”). Although the Tuileries no longer exists (it burned down in 1871), it remains important to our story because it guided the construction of the Denon and Richelieu Wings of the Louvre. These two wings were built to connect the Louvre with the Tuileries.

From the Louvre’s official website.

First, we’ll focus on how the smaller medieval Louvre fortress began to transform into a larger Italian-style Renaissance palace. To do this, I’m going to examine small, successive parts of a bigger image that I’ll refer to as “the Sully diagram.” Each part will represent an individual step in this process, there being seven steps in total. These steps will be interspersed with other pictures and information. I’ll make it clear when I’m returning to the Sully diagram to illustrate the next step.

Sully Diagram Step One: The black lines in the illustration below show the outline of the original fortress building as it existed under Philippe-II-Auguste and Charles V from 1200-1525. The solid line indicates the original walls of the fortress, and the small circles interspersed along those walls show where the defensive medieval towers were located. The white space in the middle indicates the original medieval courtyard. The black circle in the middle of that courtyard is the location of the big central keep and its dungeon, the Grosse Tour. Layered beneath the depiction of the original fortress is a pair of blue squares made up of dotted lines: this reflects the boundaries of today’s Sully Wing and its larger courtyard, the Cour Carrée. Note that both the building and the courtyard would growto a size four times larger than the original. You can see both the modern Sully wing and the Cour Carrée in the illustration above.

From Wikipedia.

In 1528, François I (1494-1547, reigned 1515-1547)* decided to make the Louvre his primary Paris residence. But the medieval look of the old fortress was not to his taste. He wanted a structure that looked more like the beautiful châteaux that were springing up in the Loire Valley. His first order of business was to get rid of the ghastly looking keep that was taking up all the real estate in the Louvre’s central courtyard.

Sully Diagram Step Two: In 1528, François I orders the demolition of the Grosse Tour. Goodbye, keep! Now he has room to work with!

From Wikipedia.

In 1546, François I hired architect Pierre Lescot and sculptor/architect Jean Goujon to construct a modern, Italian-style Renaissance palace to replace the medieval fortress. Lescot seems to have been the main force behind the overall structural redesign, while Goujon contributed the artistic sculptural details that made up its beautiful classical style. Lescot’s intention was probably to build a four-sided château that was the same size as the medieval fortress it was replacing, with four nearly-identical wings. He may have planned for the new Louvre Palace to look similar in appearance to the Château d’Écouen**, which was being built at the same time. (Of course, we know now that fate had grander plans in mind for the Louvre, but we’ll get to those later).

Lescot set to his task and in 1547 he arranged to have the west wing of the old Louvre (the one that had been built to face Normandy) torn down. Unfortunately, as soon as he had done this, his work was interrupted by François’ death in 1547. Thankfully, François’ son and successor, Henri II (1519-1559, reigned 1547-1559), approved of moving ahead with Lescot’s plan for the Louvre. Work began again in 1549. Below you’ll again find the Sully diagram, and the third step in the process.

Sully Diagram Step Three: The west wing of the old Louvre is demolished in 1547. In 1549, the construction of a new wing to replace it begins (indicated below in solid blue). This wing is named after its architect. The Lescot Wing is completed in 1551. Today, it is the oldest portion of the Louvre Palace located above-ground (the older portions are the afore-mentioned medieval foundations, located below ground).

From Wikipedia.

The illustration below shows the layout of the modern Louvre building. The red indicates the specific location of the Lescot wing, which is part of what would become the bigger Sully wing. Note that the Lescot wing is located at the western edge of where the medieval fortress would have been formerly located; the rest of the building would have been located to the east.

From Wikipedia.

You can see a current view of the Lescot wing in the picture below. It is located behind the pyramid, to the right side of the central pavilion (this is the Pavillon du Sully, which was built later).

From Pixabay.

Below is the opposite side of the Lescot wing from what we can see in the picture above; this is the interior façade, which looks into the Cour Carrée (not seen in the photo above). Remember that the Lescot wing is the oldest part of today’s modern Louvre and, at the time of its construction, this side would have been facing the rest of the old fortress and its small medieval courtyard (the present Cour Carrée was not built until the 1600s). The Lescot wing contained a ballroom, known today as the Salle des Caryatides (named after a series of four sculptures done by Goujon). The look of the Lescot wing set the tone for many later buildings that were inspired by its French classical architectural style. This would have been the showcase side of the Lescot wing, the one that was meant to be seen. Compare this side of the wing with the one shown in the picture above facing the Louvre pyramid. This side is fancier, whereas the one on the same side as the pyramid is more plain. It’s a trick of history that now the main focus of the Louvre building has switched to the side that is less fancy.

From Pixabay.

The central pediment of the Lescot Wing, located above the middle door in the façade, contains a sculpture by Goujon. Titled Allegory of War, it contains two angels flanking Henri II’s monogram.

From Pixabay.

Below is a photograph taken at night of today’s Louvre, standing by the pyramid in the Cour Napoleon. The modern appearance of the Lescot wing’s exterior façade can be seen in the distance.

From Pixabay.

Below is a reconstruction of what that same exterior façade of the Lescot wing would have looked like around 1555. The illustration contains a medieval tower on the left (now gone, replaced by the Pavillon du Sully) and the Pavillon du Roi on the right. The Pavillon du Roi was not original to the Lescot wing, it was added during the next building phase (more details below). The Pavillon du Roi still exists in a modified form (it is now the same height as the rest of the central building), but you can’t see it in the photo above because there is another wall in front of it.

Reconstruction of the west facade of the Lescot wing. H. Legrand, 1866. From Wikipedia.

Let’s continue with the next phase of major construction on the Louvre fortress.

Sully Diagram Step Four: In 1553, Lescot demolished the south wing of the old Louvre. From 1553-1556 he had a new wing added here that was identical to his earlier Lescot wing. This new southern wing involved the construction of the Pavillon du Roi in the southwest corner of the building. This southwest corner is shared with the Lescot wing, which is why you can see the pavilion in the illustration of the Lescot wing above. The Pavillon du Roi contained the King’s and Queen’s royal apartments. The west Lescot wing and the new south wing, connected through the Pavillon du Roi, are indicated in solid blue in the Sully diagram below.

From Wikipedia.

The location of the Pavillon du Roi is highlighted in red in the illustration below. The illustration also shows how the Pavillon du Roi is hidden by another structure (part of the Petite Galerie) so that if you were standing by the Louvre pyramid facing the Lescot wing, you would be unable to see it (as was the case with the picture shown three images above).

From Wikipedia.

The location of the south wing can be seen in red in the illustration below. (Lescot’s version would have only been half of the red span; it was later doubled).

From Wikipedia.

An illustration of the south wing containing the Pavillon du Roi on the left (connecting it with the Lescot wing) and a medieval fortress tower on the right.

View and perspective of the Louvre where the apartments of the King and the Queen can be seen. Israël Silvestre, circa 1650. From Wikipedia.

Lescot also designed the Petite Galerie, which ran from the southwest corner of the Louvre to the Seine river. The location of the Petite Galerie can be seen in red in the illustration below.

From Wikipedia.

The Petite Galerie also appears in the drawing, below. The south wing of the Louvre is located on the right (with the Pavillon du Roi towering high above the rest).

View and Perspective of the Louvre Gallery. Israël Silvestre, circa 1650. From Wikipedia.

The Petite Galerie today.

From Wikipedia.

Henri II died in 1559, but Lescot’s work continued under Henri’s three sons (François II, Charles IX, Henri III) and the regency of his widow, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589, regent from 1559-1574). Lescot’s plans for the continued renovation of the medieval Louvre fortress into a new Renaissance-style palace changed in 1564, when Catherine de Medici lost interest in it and prioritized the construction of a brand-new palace that was more suited to her tastes. This new château would be built west of the Louvre, located outside of the Wall of Charles V, in what was still the countryside. This palace was built on the site of an old tuile (tile) factory, and became known as the Palais de Tuileries. While Lescot continued his work on the Louvre, Catherine hired her own special architect for this project: Philibert de l’Orme. She also made plans for a grand Renaissance garden (known today as the Jardin de Tuileries).

Below is a model showing a bird’s eye view of the area in question circa 1564. From left to right: the Palais des Tuileries; a moat fed by the Seine and surrounded by the earthen rampart Wall of Charles V; fields, houses, and then the Louvre. Note the location of the Petite Galerie and the Pavillon du Roi.

From Wikipedia.

A later illustration of the Tuileries Palace in the 1600s. Its front façade was 266 metres (873 feet) long.

The Tuileries Palace. Israël Silvestre, 1649-1651. From Wikipedia.

An early photograph of the Tuileries Palace, taken before it burned down in 1871.

The Tuileries, viewed from the Louvre. Author unknown. Taken prior to 1871. From Wikipedia.

The red line in the illustration below marks where the Tuileries Palace was formerly located, in relation to the modern structure of the Louvre.

From Wikipedia.

Work on both the Tuileries Palace and the Louvre stopped completely in the late 1560s, due to the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598). Although construction had stopped, the Louvre became a central royal palace under the rule of (Catherine’s third ruling son) Henri III (1551-1589, reigned 1574-1589). In 1578, Pierre Lescot passed away with only two wings of the new Louvre Palace completed.

Work began again on the Louvre with the ascension of Henri IV (1553-1610, reigned 1589-1610). He was the first Bourbon King of France, as the line of surviving sons on the Valois line from Catherine and Henri II had finally run out. (Henri IV is also known in English as “Henry of Navarre”). Henri IV had a plan, known as the “Grand Design”, to connect the Louvre with the Tuileries Palace by building two long wings between them in the north and south. Henri IV began the project in 1607 with the construction (from east to west) in the south of the Grand Galerie, which ran alongside the Seine river. The Grand Galerie was 400 meters long (1,312 feet or a quarter of a mile) and 30.5 meters (100 feet) wide. At the time of its completion in 1610, it was the longest building of its kind in the world. Henry IV was also a great patron of the arts, and invited artists and craftsmen to live and work on the building’s lower floors. This tradition would continue for the next 200 years, until Napoleon later put an end to it.

You can see the scale of the Grand Galerie in the picture below. The Louvre fortress is in the foreground, and the Tuileries Palace is in the distant background. The Petite Gallerie connects the Louvre fortress at the Pavilion du Roi with the Grand Galerie, which spans the Seine River along the left side of the picture. Some of the buildings in the picture that lie in the space between the two main palaces were demolished by Henri IV. S ←→ N

Grand design of Henri IV (Château du Louvre). Wall map by Louis Poisson, circa 1600-1615. From Wikipedia.

Here is a view from the other side, with the Tuileries Palace in the foreground. Towards the top of the picture you can see the “Pont Neuf” bridge crossing the Seine River, with the mid-span of the bridge crossing over the western tip of the Île de la Cité. Plans for the bridge were begun in 1578 under Henri III, and construction was completed in 1607 under Henri IV. This bridge still exists today, and is the oldest standing bridge across the Seine.

The Louvre, the Tuileries Palace, and the Grand Galerie in 1615. From the Plan of Merian. Matthäus Merian, 1615. From Wikipedia.

The location of the Grande Galerie in today’s modern Louvre structure.

From Wikipedia.

Below is how the Grande Galerie looks today. The tall building at the left/west end of the Galerie is known as the Pavillon de Flore. It connected the Galerie with the now-gone Tuileries Palace. At the time of its construction from 1607-1610, it was known as the Gros Pavillon de la Rivière (Big Pavilion of the River). The pavilion was entirely redesigned and rebuilt in a Napoleon III style from 1864-1868.

From Pixabay.

The location of the Pavillon de Flore today.

From Wikipedia.

As previously mentioned, two of the Louvre’s medieval fortress wings had already been demolished and rebuilt by Lescot. Henri IV had plans to finish the job by tearing down the two remaining medieval wings, doubling the length of the two wings that had already been rebuilt, and then building two new wings that would also be twice their original length. By doing this, he would have quadrupled the size of the Louvre and its courtyard, bringing both in line with the dimensions of the modern Sully wing and Cour Carrée. This was in addition to his plans to construct a north wing that would be identical to the southern Grand Galerie, connecting the Louvre and the Tuileries on its other side. Sadly, Henri IV’s ambitions for the Louvre redesign were interrupted when he was assassinated in 1610. He was succeeded by his young son, Louis XIII (1601-1643, reigned 1610-1643). Henri IV’s ambitions for the expansion of the Louvre would be later taken up by his son and grandson (Louis XIII and Louis XIV), as well as two guys named Napoleon (Napoleon I and Napoelon III).

In 1624, Louis XIII continued on with his father’s plans to enlarge the Louvre palace. He did this by demolishing the northern wall of the medieval fortress. With that gone, he was then free to double the length of the western wall beyond the existing Lescot wing. He did this by adding a large central pavilion, a second wing that was a symmetrical extension of the Lescot, and then an end pavilion. The central pavilion and the wing adjoining it were both named after Jacques Lemercier, the architect Louis XIII had hired. The end pavilion was named after the rue de Beauvais, a nearby street. Work was halted in 1626 due to a lack of funds, and then completed from 1639-1645. To illustrate this expansion, we’ll return to the Sully Diagram.

Sully Diagram Step Five: Demolition of the north wing, then the doubling of the west wing through the construction of the Pavillon du Lemercier, the Lemercier wing, and the Pavillon de Beauvais from 1624-1645.

From Wikipedia.

The location of the Pavillon du Lemercier below, in red. (Today it is known as the Pavillon du Sully).

From Wikipedia.

A pavilion with three names! Below is the large central pavilion today, as viewed from the Cour Carrée. At the time of its construction, it was named the Pavillon du Lemercier. Napoleon III renamed it the “Pavillon du Sully” in the early 1850s. It acquired a third name in 1857, when it had a clock added to it: the “Pavillon de l’Horlage” (the Clock-Tower Pavilion). Today, it is more commonly referred to as the Pavillon du Sully, but you’ll still see it occasionally referred to as the Pavillon de l’Horlage.

From Pixabay.

The Lemercier wing extension is shown in red, below.

From Wikipedia.

The location of the Pavillon de Beauvais.

From Wikipedia.

Below is a picture of the work in progress. The viewer is standing to the north west of the Louvre, looking south, around 1644. You can see the western wing of the Louvre, whose expansion is still incomplete, on the left. The Pavillon de Beauvais is in the foreground and unfinished; only the first levels of it have been built. The Lemercier wing beside it looks nearly complete, as does the Pavillon du Sully in the middle. You can see the Pavillon du Roi at the other end. The Petit Galerie and the Grand Galerie are seen in the distance. The courtyard where the people and building supplies are assembled would later become the Cour Napoleon, where the Louvre Pyramid is today. E ←→ W

The Louvre and the Grand Galerie. Israël Silvestre, circa 1644. From Wikipedia.

Below is the completed western wall of the new Louvre palace as it can be seen today, with the Cour Carrée in the foreground. From left to right: the Lescot wing, the Pavillon du Sully/de l’Horlage, and then the Lemercier wing. You can’t see the Pavillon du Roi (which would be on the left corner) or the Pavillon de Beauvais (which would be on the right) because there are walls in front of them.  S ←→ N.

From Pixabay.

Louis XIII and Lemercier also began the construction of a new north wing, shown at the right in the picture below. This would remain unfinished at the time of Louis XIII’s death in 1643.  S ←→ N

View of the Louvre from the Court Carrée. Israël Silvestre, 17th century. From Wikipedia.

Louis XIII was succeeded by his young son, Louis XIV (1638-1715, reign 1643-1715). In 1659, at the age of 21, Louis XIV kicked off a new phase of construction on the Louvre and the Tuileries Palace. He hired architect Louis Le Vau and painter Charles Le Brun to: remodel and complete work on the Tuileries Palace; finish building the north wing of the Louvre; demolish the fourth and final eastern wall of the medieval Louvre fortress; and double the length and the width of the Louvre’s south wall. This brings us to the next step in our Sully Diagram!

Sully Diagram Step Six: Goodbye, east wall. Hello, new northern wall! Welcome, expanded southern wall! We’re almost at the finish line! I should note that, although Louis XIV and his architects did construct these new sections of the north and south walls, these areas would remain unfinished—they would not be given roofs until a century later, under the rule of Napoleon. Still, we’re making good progress!

From Wikipedia.

In 1668, Louis XIV and his two architects Le Vau and Le Brun added a third architect, Claude Perrault, to their team (known as the Petit Conseil). The team began work on a new eastern palace wall to replace the one from the medieval fortress that had been demolished. Perrault had won an architectural design competition with his proposal for the exterior eastern façade of that new wall. From 1668-1680 work on that façade, known as Perrault’s Colonnade, was undertaken. The Colonnade was completed, but the rest of the eastern wing lying behind it would remain unfinished. Similar to parts of the northern and southern walls, the eastern wall would also go without a roof until Napoleon had one later installed. This incomplete work can be seen in the picture, below. The Seine river indicates which direction is south.

View of the Palais du Louvre on the 1739 Turgot map of Paris. Cartographer Louis Bretez; Engraver Claude Lucas: 1739. From Wikipedia.

We can now witness the final step of the Sully Diagram, shown below.

Sully Diagram Step Seven: The transformation of the former medieval Louvre fortress into the new Louvre palace is now almost complete (give or take a few roofs), with its dimensions now equal to today’s modern Sully wing and Cour Carrée. The former dimensions of the Louvre fortress and its medieval courtyard are indicated in the illustration below by the pair of black rectangles with the dotted lines. Interestingly, it is the foundations of the last two walls to be demolished (the north and east walls) that can now be seen in the basement of the Sully wing. It seems that the foundations of these last two walls were not as thoroughly dug up as the rest. A few surviving pieces from the dungeon of the long-gone Grosse Tour are also on exhibit.

From Wikipedia.

Below is the eastern exterior façade of the Louvre, Perrault’s Colonnade, as it appears today. The design of this façade was widely celebrated, and has served as a model for other buildings such as The Metropolitan Museum in New York and the United States Capitol Building in Washington.

From Wikipedia.

In addition to these ambitious building projects, Louis XIV was the first to exhibit artwork at the Louvre. In 1661, a fire destroyed a part of the Petite Galerie and it had to be rebuilt. This was done between 1661-1663 with a slight enlargement of the Petite Galerie itself, and its interior was richly decorated from 1663-1677. This area became known as the Galerie d’Apollon (the Apollo Gallery) and the Cabinet du Roi (the King’s Cabinet). The Cabinet du Roi consists of seven rooms located west of the Apollo Gallery. In 1673, Louis XIV had many of his paintings hung up in this beautifully remodeled area, and this first proto-art gallery/museum was called the Royal Gallery. The Apollo Gallery would later serve as a model for Louis XIV’s famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

The location of the Apollo Gallery, shown in red below.

From Wikipedia.

The Apollo Gallery as it appears today.

From Pixabay.

The ceiling of the Apollo Gallery.

From Pixabay.

In 1682, Louis XIV moved his royal household to Versailles. He took 26 of his paintings with him, but around 400 remained behind at the Louvre. These paintings could be viewed by an elite audience of art lovers. In 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture was added to the collection. In that same year, two French academies of learning also moved into the Louvre: the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, which was devoted to the Humanities; France’s premier art institution, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, moved in as well. In 1699, the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture began to hold a series of artistic salons. Both academies remained in the Louvre palace for the next 100 years. With Louis XIV, the Louvre had taken its first steps towards becoming a cultural and artistic institution.

Portrait of Louis XIV. Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701. Part of the Louvre’s collection.

Throughout the first decades of the 18th century, there was growing interest in having a public art gallery. Louis XIV’s successor, his great-grandson Louis XV (1710-1774, reigned 1715-1774), was receptive to the idea. In 1750, the Royal Gallery of Painting was opened in the east wing of the Palais du Luxembourg. This was the first art museum opened to the public in France, and acted as a forerunner to the Louvre’s current function as a museum and art gallery. The gallery at the Palais du Luxembourg remained open until 1779. Louis XV’s successor, his son Louis XVI (1754-1792, reigned 1774-1792), gifted the Palais du Luxembourg to his brother Louis Comte de Provence (later Louis XVIII), who had the gallery closed. You can read more about the Palais du Luxembourg and its surrounding gardens in this post.

The Palais du Luxembourg.

With the closing of the gallery at the Palais du Luxembourg, there were proposals to transform the Grand Galerie of the Louvre into the “French Museum.” Nothing had yet been decided on when the political and social climate changed considerably with the outbreak of the French Revolution. In May 1791 the current government, the National Assembly, declared that the Louvre would become “a place for bringing together monuments of all the sciences and arts.” After the Insurrection of August 10, 1792, Louis XVI was imprisoned, the monarchy abolished, and the royal collection became national property. As the French Revolution progressed, other artistic works were seized from the Church and other members of the nobility who fled France in fear of their lives. In October 1792, a committee dedicated to “preserving the national memory” began the work of assembling the growing collection for public display. On August 10, 1793, on the one-year anniversary of the abolishment of the monarchy, the Louvre was opened for the first time as the Musée Central des Arts de la République (Central Museum of the Arts of the Republic). It contained 537 paintings and 184 other artistic objects. The museum was free to the public three days a week; a truly revolutionary idea.

Development Project of the Grand Galerie of the Louvre. Hubert Robert, 1784. From Wikipedia.

The Louvre’s collection began to expand as the French army traveled through northern Europe during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1804). Beginning in 1794, French successes saw Spanish, Austrian, Dutch, and Italian art pieces make their way into the Louvre as the result of peace treaties or simply as spoils of war. In 1796, a then-unknown General by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) began his first campaign in Italy. Napoleon would have a major impact on the continued development of the Louvre’s buildings and its collections, thanks to his notoriously sticky fingers.

Below is a cartoon of Napoleon directing the French looting of Italian artefacts.

Seizing the Italian Relics. George Cruikshank, 1814. Musée de l’Armée, Paris. From Wikipedia.

In April 1797, the French armies led by Napoleon succeeded in pushing the Austrian/Hapsburg forces out of Italy. The French army looted several churches and palaces, including Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice. A few months later in Paris, a two-day celebration was held from July 27-28 to celebrate the French army and its achievements. Napoleon had his war trophies paraded through the streets. Large floats carried famous items such as the Horses of Saint Mark from Saint Mark’s Basilica; The Wedding Feast at Cana, also from Venice; the Laocoön, the Apollo Belvedere, and the Venus de’ Medici from the Vatican; as well as ancient statuary from Naples and Pompeii. On October 18, 1797, the Treaty of Campo Formio was signed by France and Austria. Under this treaty, Italian cities were required to contribute further works of art and pieces of patrimony (cultural heritage) to France.

Below is a painting depicting the Horses of Saint Mark on display outside of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, prior to their relocation to France.

Cappricio: The Horses of San Marco in the Piazzetta. Canaletto, 1743. From Wikipedia.

Napoleon then embarked on a campaign in Egypt from 1798-1799. A team of 167 artists and scientists known as the Commission des Sciences et des Arts accompanied Napoleon’s army with the purpose of “liberating the works of art” they came across. They brought lists of paintings, sculptures, and other cultural pieces that they were hoping to acquire and ship back to France. Their goal was to make the Louvre the global centre of patrimony and storehouse for cultural heritage. Dominique Vivant Denon, Napoleon’s art advisor, was the head of this group. Under his direction, the Egyptian Valley of the Kings was discovered and studied extensively. One of the most important discoveries made during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was that of the Rosetta Stone***, which was uncovered on July 15, 1799. The stone provided the crucial key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics, a language that had been long lost to history.

The Rosetta Stone.

From Pixabay.

Napoleon returned to France in the fall of 1799. In November, he orchestrated a coup and overthrew the French government (known as the Directory at the time). He appointed himself First Consul of France, and made the Tuileries Palace his official residence.

In 1796, the Musée du Louvre had closed due to structural problems. In 1799, Napoleon appointed Denon as the museum’s first director. Denon oversaw the reopening of the museum on July 14, 1801, with the collections reorganized in a chronological fashion and with better lighting and displays. On November 9, 1802, the Louvre was renamed the “Musée Napoleon” in Bonaparte’s honour.

Salle des Saisons (the Hall of the Seasons). Hubert Robert, 1802-1803. From Wikipedia.

On May 18, 1804, Napoleon crowned himself Napoleon I, the First Emperor of the French. On December 2, 1805, he defeated the combined armies of Russia and Austria at the Battle of Austerlitz. This is considered his greatest victory, and inspired him in 1806 to commission the construction of the Arc de Triomphe d’Étoile and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in 1806. While the former victory arch is more famous (read more about the Arc de Triomphe here), it took thirty years to finish. The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, on the other hand, was finished in a speedy two years.

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel served as a gateway to the Tuileries. It was designed by Charles Percier and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine, based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome (which itself was constructed in 312 C.E.). It is only half the size of the Arc de Triomphe, measuring 63 feet (19 m) high, 75 feet (23 m) wide, and 24 feet (7.3 m) deep. Its exterior contains eight Corinthian marble columns, topped by statues depicting French soldiers. The bas-reliefs on the arch commemorate several of Napoleon’s military and diplomatic successes, the subjects of which were chosen by Denon. Napoleon had the Horses of Saint Mark placed on top of the arch. The four horses were joined in their display by a chariot, a chariot rider, and two gilded statues in order to form a completed Triumphal Quadriga; a quadriga is a sculptural tradition in which four horses are shown pulling a chariot. Thus an infamous piece of victory loot was used to decorate a monument that celebrated Napoleon’s greatest military triumph. The finished quadriga can be seen in the painting below.

A Day of Review Under the Empire circa 1810. Hippolyte Bellangé, 1862. From Wikipedia.

Below is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel as it appears today. The original Horses of Saint Mark were removed from the arch in 1815 and returned to Venice****. The statuary that can be seen atop the arch today is an 1828 copy.

The location of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is indicated in red, below, in today’s modern Louvre structure.

From Wikipedia.

Below is an early photograph of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Tuileries Palace, taken around 1860. In the distance you can see the Arc de Triomphe, which is about 3.5 kilometers (2.17 miles) away. Between the palace and the distant arch is an Egyptian obelisk*****. This obelisk is located at the Place de la Concorde, which is where Louis XVI was guillotined during the French Revolution. There is so much history in this one photograph!

Photograph of the Tuileries Palace. Unknown photographer, circa 1860. From Wikipedia.

Today, the view between the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Arc de Triomphe is unobstructed, as shown in the photo below, due to the destruction of the Tuileries Palace. The two arches lie along the Axe Historique, a long thoroughfare that begins at the Louvre, continues first through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and then the Arc de Triomphe (its midpoint), before finally ending at the Grand Arche de la Défense (built in 1989, not pictured) after a span of 8.5 kilometers (5.28 miles).

From Wikipedia.

After erecting the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Napoleon directed the construction of other building projects at the Louvre. He added roofs to the wings that Louis XIV had left unfinished. Then, from 1807-1812, he had Percier and Fontaine (the architects of the Carrousel) work on a companion building to the Grand Galerie. This new structure, known as the Napoleon Wing, was designed to similarly connect the Tuileries Palace with the Louvre across its northern span. Rather than building east to west, as was the case with the Grand Galerie, the Napoleon Wing was built in the reverse direction from west (starting at the Tuileries) to east (towards the Louvre). This was a continuation of Henri IV’s earlier vision. Napoleon intended to have the extension completed, but the work was interrupted by his changing political situation. You can see the Napoleon Wing in the floor plan of the Louvre below.

Plan of the Ground Floor of the Louvre around 1830, with the Aile Napoleon marked in yellow. Charles Vasserot, 1853. From Wikipedia.

Location of the Napoleon wing in today’s modern Louvre structure.

From Wikipedia.

In April 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate after the combined forces of Prussia, Russia, and Austria invaded France. Louis XVIII (1755-1824), was crowned King and reigned from 1814-1824 (minus 100 or so days). Napoleon temporarily returned to power in February 1815 but was conclusively defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. At this point, the owners of many of the artistic works Napoleon had previously taken sought their return. The administrators of the Louvre did not initially comply with their requests and tried to hide some pieces in private collections, but the British government intervened. Many of the contested items found their way home, some remained in the Louvre collection after compensatory arrangements had been made, and others stayed in France because claims on their ownership weren’t pursued (or they were lost in the confusion). It was a very messy and chaotic time, I imagine, trying to sort out which items belonged to whom, and there were probably a lot of heated emotions. Denon submitted his resignation as museum director on October 8, 1815. The museum was closed on November 15. In that same month, 5,100 pieces of art were returned to their original countries of Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Around 470 paintings remained in France. 420 collection items that had been previously confiscated from religious institutions were returned, but Louis XVIII ordered that the items that had been seized from (fellow) nobles who had fled during the French Revolution would not be relinquished.

The Wedding Feast at Cana, originally taken from Venice by Napoleon’s soldiers in 1797, remains at the Louvre. Denon claimed that the expansive piece, measuring 6.77 metres (22.2 feet) x 9.94 metres (32.6 feet) and weighing 1, 500 kilograms (1.5 tonnes), was too fragile for the return journey from Paris. That was a little rich, considering French soldiers had cut the canvas and rolled it up like a carpet for the original journey. A painting by Charles Le Brun, Feast at the House of Simon (1563), was given to Italy as recompense. The Wedding Feast at Cana can be found in the same room of the Louvre as the Mona Lisa, on the opposite wall.

The Wedding Feast at Cana. Paolo Veronese, 1563. From Wikipedia.

Louis XVIII oversaw the reopening of the Royal Louvre Museum on July 22, 1816. Purchases and donations allowed him and his successor, brother Charles X (1757-1836, reigned 1824-1830) to build the collection back up. Acquisition of The Venus of Milo, a gift to Louis XVIII, was a highlight. This period also saw the creation at the Louvre of the department of Egyptian Antiquities.

The modern Louvre structure was finally accomplished under the direction of Napoleon III. Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-1873) was the nephew of Napoleon I. He became the first elected President of France in 1848. When it looked like he was not going to be re-elected in 1851, he seized power. He ruled as Napoleon III, Emperor of France, from 1852-1870. From 1852-1870, he added an extension to the Napoleon wing that connected it with the rest of the Louvre. At long last, Henri IV’s earlier vision of having two parallel wings of buildings linking the Louvre with the Tuileries was achieved. This new northern structure is the modern Richelieu wing, shown below. It contains the apartments of Napoleon III, two sculpture terraces, antiquities from Mesopotamia and ancient Iran, as well as paintings and decorative arts.

From Wikipedia.

Napoleon III also added other buildings to the southern Grand Galerie, which resulted in today’s modern appearance of the Denon wing, shown below. The Denon wing contains notable works such as the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

From Wikipedia.

The completed Louvre-Tuileries structure did not last long. I’m sure there was still paint drying on some of the walls when, on May 23, 1871, the Tuileries Palace was set ablaze by 12 men acting on the orders of Jules Bergeret, the former chief military commander of the Paris Commune. The fire raged for 48 hours, gutting the building. The palaces’s distinctive central pavilion had been packed full of explosives prior to the fire and erupted in spectacular fashion. The library and other parts of the Louvre were also set on fire by the Communards; although these areas sustained heavy damage, the Louvre itself was saved through the efforts of Parisian firefighters and museum employees.

The ruins of the Tuileries Palace. Unknown photographer, 1871. From Wikipedia.

The ruins of the Tuileries Palace stood in place for eleven years. Although the roof and the interior were beyond recovery, the stone structure of the building remained. It could have been restored, especially since all of the furniture and paintings in the palace had been relocated at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870 to protect them. However, it was decided by the Third French Republic that the Palace was too negative a symbol of the former royal and imperial regimes. The French National Assembly voted for the demolition of the palace ruins, which was carried out from February-September 1883. The damaged sections of the Louvre were rebuilt and, by 1876, the museum reached its modern form. Although the Palais de Tuileries is now gone its 55-acre garden, the Jardin des Tuileries, remains a popular urban space enjoyed by Paris locals and visitors alike.  Interestingly, there has been talk since 2003 of rebuilding the Tuileries Palace. This idea is not totally implausible: Berlin is currently rebuilding the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace), which was destroyed by the government of East Germany in the 1950s; completion is expected later this year, in 2019!. One of the advantages to rebuilding the Tuileries is that the Louvre could expand its collections into the rebuilt palace. It will be interesting to see if this is ever carried out, although I imagine that reconstruction priorities have recently changed due to the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019.

Below is a photo of the Tuileries Garden looking towards the Louvre. The Pavillon de Flore is on the right, the Pavillon de Marson on the left. The Tuileries Palace was once situated between them.

From Wikipedia.

In August 1939, the threat of war and German occupation loomed heavy over Paris. On August 25, the Louvre was closed, supposedly for repairs. What followed was a massive evacuation of nearly 4,000 pieces from the museum’s art collection, in which 203 vehicles were used to transport 1,862 wooden cases to the Château de Chambord. The Winged Victory of Samothrace was the last piece to be moved on September 3. Jacques Jaujard, Director of the French National Museums, was responsible for this plan. He had previous experience evacuating the collections of the Prado Museum in Madrid to Switzerland during the Spanish Civil War, and both his foresight and his skills at diplomacy proved extremely valuable. Nazi Germany had a special task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce), dedicated to appropriating cultural property from other nations. By the time the Nazis marched into Paris on June 14, 1940, the Louvre was mostly empty save for a few items that were too heavy to move or were deemed comparatively unimportant. Jaujard even managed to keep the Louvre’s priceless pieces safe from the Vichy government during the German occupation. They were moved between several châteaux and abbeys throughout the course of the war.

Below is a picture of The Winged Victory of Samothrace being carefully lowered down a ramp during the evacuation of the Louvre’s art collection.

Evacuation of The Winged Victory of Samothrace. Marc Vaux, 1939. From the Louvre’s official website.

I’m sure the Nazis were less than thrilled to find nothing but the giant empty frames that had once contained the Louvre’s priceless paintings. In the picture below, you can see chalk scribbled on the wall behind the enormous frame. The chalk indicates the name of this missing Rembrandt piece.

Name of Rembrandt painting in chalk where the painting once hanged. Pierre Jahan, 1939. From the Louvre’s official website.

The empty Grand Galerie, with nothing but frames on the floor and chalk inscriptions on the walls.

The Abandoned Grand Galerie. Marc Vaux, 1939. From the Louvre’s official website.

The Nazis ordered a partial reopening of the museum in September 1940. This was mostly symbolic, as many of the galleries and viewing rooms were completely empty.

German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt at the Louvre. Unknown photographer, 1940-1944. From the Louvre’s official website.

During the occupation, the Nazis plundered private art collections belonging to prominent Jewish families and art dealers. The Louvre was used as a place to store and prepare these pieces for their relocation to Germany, which can be seen in the photo below.