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Vaux-le-Vicomte and the Famous Fête which Sparked Versailles

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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Photo: Jebulon / CC

Of the dozens of castles around Paris, the château de Vaux-le-Vicomte holds a very special place in French history, not only because of its innovative design, but also for the legendary palace it inspired: Versailles. Commissioned by Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finance under Louis XIV, for the first time a castle’s architecture, decor and gardens were designed in unison, resulting in an architectural masterpiece of the Baroque era. The splendid castle was unveiled during a sumptuous fête which took place on August 17th, 1661 in the presence of the King. However, the young Sun King was not one to be outshined and Fouquet would not be able to enjoy his exquisite residence. We journey back to that fateful night to discover how reaching for the stars led to Fouquet’s downfall.

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Surprising Stories: Marie-Antoinette at the Hameau de la Reine

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Maison de la Reine and the Tour de Marlborough. Photo: Daderot / Wikipedia

One of the most unexpected visits when touring the gardens of Versailles is the discovery of the Domaine de la Reine where queen Marie-Antoinette commissioned a fake village, called le hameau or the hamlet. Built to resemble vernacular architecture with half-timbered houses, thatched roofs, and stucco walls, the queen entertained friends and family, sometimes impersonating a milkmaid, serving cheeses, milk and creams from her farm. Today’s visitors marvel at the incongruous setting: how did the queen fail to understand that her countrified farm was a parody of most of her subjects’ villages?  This Surprising Story reveals a different interpretation of the queen’s hamlet, suggesting that she built a model village in order to demonstrate her trendsetting good taste and the prosperity of the nation.

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Surprising Stories: Monet’s Water Lilies, from Giverny to the Musée de l’Orangerie

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With the arrival of spring blossoms and warmer weather, it is all the more challenging to be confined to our homes. It was the goal of many Impressionist artists to capture this moment of nature’s splendor and few achieved this as gloriously as Claude Monet. Dreaming of his radiant gardens can offer some respite from our newly restrictive daily lives, especially his meditative water lily panels. These masterpieces have made the Musée de l’Orangerie one of the most famous museums in Paris, however, few know that the museum would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Georges Clemenceau; then the Prime Minister of France and friend of Monet. This edition of our Surprising Stories series reveals how Clemenceau, one hundred years ago today, succeeded at this impressive feat.

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Surprising Stories: Dining at Versailles: What happened to the Leftovers?

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Antichambre du Grand Couvert de la Reine ©Chateau de Versailles

Louis XIV was the most conspicuous diner at Versailles.  His meals represented the bounty of France, and his appetite was considered a sign of his good health and the well-being of the nation. Dining was a ceremonial occasion and was regulated according to a strict etiquette established during King Louis XIV’s reign.  In the latest of our Surprising Stories series, we join the Sun King at his extravagant evening meal and then see what happened to the leftovers of his copious feasts.

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