The Palace of Versailles, or simply Versailles, is a royal chateau in Versailles in the lle-de-France region of France. In French it is the Chateau de Versailles. When the chateau was built, Versailles was a country village; today, however, it is a suburb of Paris, some 20 kilometres southwest of the French capital. The court of Versailles was the centre of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.
Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Regime. The earliest mention of the name of Versailles is found in a document dated 1038, the Charte de l'abbaye Saint-Pere de Chartres (Charter of the Saint-Pere de Chartres Abbey) (Guerard, 1840), in which one of the signatories was a certain Hugo de Versailliis (Hugues de Versailles), who was seigneur of Versailles. During this period, the village of Versailles centred on a small castle and church and the area was governed by a local lord. Its location on the road from Paris to Dreux and Normandy brought some prosperity to the village but, following an outbreak of the Plague and the Hundred Years' War, the village was largely destroyed and its population sharply declined (Bluche, 1991; Thompson, 2006; Verlet, 1985)
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In 1575, Albert de Gondi, a naturalized Florentine who gained prominence at the court of Henry II, purchased the seigneury of Versailles. In the early seventeenth century, Gondi invited Louis XIII on several hunting trips in the forests surrounding Versailles. Pleased with the location, Louis ordered the construction of a hunting lodge in 1624. Designed by Philibert Le Roy, the structure, a small chateau, was constructed of stone and red brick with a based roof. Eight years later, Louis obtained the seigneury of Versailles from the Gondi family and began to make enlargements to the chateau (Batiffol, 1913; Bluche, 1991; Marie, 1968; Nolhac, 1901; Verlet, 1985). Louis XIV had played and hunted at the site as a boy. This structure would become the core of the new palace.
As a result of Le Vau's enveloppe of Louis XIII's chateau, the king and the queen had new apartments in the new addition, known at the time as the chateau neuf. The grands appartements, which are known respectively as the grand appartement du roi and the grand appartement de la reine, occupied the main or principal floor of the chateau neuf. Le Vau's design for the s'ate apartments closely followed Italian models of the day, as evidenced by the placement of the apartments on the next floor up from the ground level-the piano nobile-a convention the architect borrowed from 16th and 17th century Italian palace design (Berger, 1986; Verlet, 1985).
Le Vau's plan called for an enfilade of seven rooms, each dedicated to one of the then known planets and their associated titular Roman deity. Le Vau's plan was bold as he designed a heliocentric system that centred on the Salon of Apollo. The salon d’Apollon originally was designed as the king's bedchamber, but served as a throne room. During the reign of Louis XIV (until 1689), a solid silver throne stood on a Persian carpet covered dais on the south wall of this room (Berger, 1986; Dangeau, 1854-1860; Josephson, 1926; 1930; Verlet, 1985).
The configuration of the grand appartement du roi conformed to contemporary conventions in palace design (Baillie, 1967). However, owing to Louis XIV's personal taste and with the apartment's northern exposure, Louis XIV found the rooms too cold and opted to live in the rooms previously occupied by his father. The grand appartement du roi was reserved for court functions-such as the thrice-weekly appartement evenings given by Louis XIV for members of the court (Berger, 1986; La Varende, 1959; Marie, 1968, 1972; Nolhac, 1911; Verlet, 1985).
The rooms were decorated by Le Brun and demonstrated Italian influences, particularly that of Pietro da Cortona, with whom Le Brun studied while he was in Florence. Le Brun was influenced by the decorative style da Cortona devised for the decoration of the Pitti Palace in Florence, which influenced his style Louis XIV at Versailles. The quadratura style of the ceilings evoke Pietro Cortona's Sale dei Planeti at the Pitti, but Le Brun's decorative schema is more complex (Blunt, 1980; Campbell, 1977). In his 1674 publication about the grand appartement du roi, Andre Felibien described the scenes depicted in the coves of the ceilings of the rooms as allegories depicting the "heroic actions of the king" (Felibien, 1674).
Accordingly, one finds scenes of the exploits of Augustus, Alexander the Great, and Cyrus alluding to the deeds of Louis XIV (Lighthart, 1997; Sabatier, 1999). For example, in the salon d' Apollon, the cove painting "Augustus building the port of Misenum" alludes to the construction of the port at La Rochelle; or, depicted in the south cove of the salon de Mercure is "Ptolemy II Philadelphus in his Library", which alludes to Ptolemy's construction of the Great Library of Alexandria and which accordingly serves as an allegory to Louis XIV's expansion of the Bibliotheque du roi.Complementing the rooms' decors were pieces of massive silver furniture. Regrettably, owing to the War of the League of Augsburg, in 1689 Louis XIV ordered all of this silver furniture to be sent to the mint, to be melted down to help defray the cost of the war (Berger, 1986; Dangeau, 1854–1860; Josephson, 1926; 1930; Marie, 1968, 1972, 1976; Nolhac, 1911; Verlet, 1985).
Museum of the History of France
In the 19th century the Museum of the History of France was founded in Versailles, at the behest of Louis-Philippe I, who ascended to the throne in 1830. Many of the palace's rooms were taken over to house the new collections and the large Galerie des Batailles (Hall of the Battles) was created to display paintings and sculptures depicting milestones battles of French history. The collections display painted, sculpted, drawn and engraved images illustrating events or personalities of the history of France since its inception. The museum occupies the lateral wings of the Palace. Most of the paintings date back to the 19th century and have been created specially for the museum by major painters of the time such as Delacroix, Horace Vernet or Franoois Gerard but there are also much older artworks which retrace French History. Notably the museum displays works by Philippe de Champaigne, Pierre Mignard, Laurent de La Hyre, Charles Le Brun, Adam Frans van der Meulen, Nicolas de Largilliere, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Jean Antoine Houdon, Jean Marc Nattier, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Hubert Robert, Thomas Lawrence, Jacques Louis David, Antoine Jean Gros and also Pierre Auguste Renoir.