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Royal Palaces of the Baroque Age and Versailles


Across Europe, royals used fabulous palaces and Baroque art to demonstrate how their power was divinely ordained. And Louis XIV’s Versailles — with its hall of mirrors, heavenly painted ceilings, and forever gardens — was the ultimate.

Complete Video Script

[87, Palaces: Schönbrunn in Vienna; Royal Palace in Madrid; Drottningholm Palace in Stockholm; Fountainebleau outside of Paris] In the Baroque era, Europe's royals ruled in splendor. Across the continent they built sprawling palaces: from Austria…and Spain…to Sweden and France.

[88, Vaux-le-Vicomte château, 1661, outside Paris] France — for centuries, the richest country in Europe — is strewn with lavish palaces, châteaux, and mansions. After all, until its Revolution, its society was the epitome of that Old Regime notion that some are born to rule and the rest of us…well, just deal with it.

[89] France's capital, Paris, glitters with royal parks…gilded bridges…and, of course, once the biggest palace of all: the Louvre.

[90] And, when those kings and nobles wanted to get out of Paris for some hunting or perhaps an intimate rendezvous, they escaped to their favorite playground: the Loire Valley. Here, they built their get-aways with ever-greater opulence — pleasure palaces like the grandiose Chambord, with over 400 rooms and nearly as many chimneys…the dreamy Azay-le-Rideau which seems fit for a fairy tale…and the romantic Chenonceau — loping gracefully over its river.

[91] Of all the divine-right kings, one was the greatest. And, of all the palaces, one was the grandest. By the 1700s, France was Europe's richest and most populous country…home to Europe's most spectacular palace.

[92, Louis XIV, 1701, Rigaud, Louvre Museum, Paris] And that palace was Versailles, the palace other palaces were modeled after, the one many tried to outdo — but none succeeded. And the palace — a potent mix of art and architecture — is all about this man: the ultimate divine monarch, Louis XIV.

[93] It's said that Louis spent half of France's entire annual GNP to turn his dad's hunting lodge into a palace suitable for Europe's king of kings. It's essentially a long series of lavish rooms, each with its own theme. Louis — portrayed with his capable hand on the rudder of state — was creating Europe's first modern, centralized government.

[94] Throughout Europe, when you said, "the king," you were referring to the French king — Louis XIV. He was symbolized by Apollo, the Greek god of the sun. Here the artist shows Louis with his entire family — all depicted as gods on earth — clearly divinely ordained to rule the masses without question.

[95] Art celebrated how pleasure ruled at Versailles. The main suppers, balls, and receptions were held in this room. The ceiling is like a sunroof opening up to Heaven, filled with action parallel to the action right here in Louis' court. The style is delightfully Baroque — a riot of exuberant figures.

[96] The Venus Room reminded everyone that love ruled at Versailles. Here, couples would cavort, blessed from above by the goddess of love. And, as if to encourage the fun, Venus sends down a flowery garland to ensnare others in delicious amour.

[97] The Hall of Mirrors was the highlight of the palace. No one had ever seen anything like it. Mirrors were a great luxury at the time, and this exquisite ballroom was astounding.

[98] Imagine the scene: lit by countless of candles, filled with elegant guests in fine silks dancing to the orchestra. Under gilded candelabra, servants would glide by with lavish hors d'oeuvres. And whenever you'd look up, you'd see your king doing what he did best…triumphing.

[99] One more way that Louis proved he could rule like a god was by controlling nature. These lavish grounds — elaborately planned, ornamented, and Baroque as can be — showed everyone that their king was in total command.

[100] Only the Sun King could grow orange trees here in chilly northern France. And Louis XIV… he had a thousand.

[101] Fountains were a huge attraction, a marvel of both art and engineering. The Apollo Basin showed the sun god in his chariot rising from the mists of dawn as he starts his daily journey across the sky. Again, it all reminded his subjects that Louis was in control, and the kingdom of France was in capable hands.