Do gardens and
ballets form an expression of a particular historical period? And if that is
indeed so, then what is the meaning of the Baroque garden? This essay
explores the significance of palace and gardens of Versailles. I will try to
resolve the dualism of description and explanation by overlaying Versailles,
quite literally, with an analogous structure, a ballet. This additional
level offers us more insight into the meaning of the palace and its grounds.
The exercise consists of superimposing the choreography for the Balet
Comique de la Royne by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, which dates from 1581,
upon the somewhat later gardens of Le Nôtre and the Sun King.
Panofsky presented a more or less comparable explanation in his earlier
analysis of the Gothic in 1951. He demonstrates that between roughly 1130
and 1270, a connection was made between the Gothic style and the philosophy
of Scholasticism. That link was much more concrete than a mere ‘parallel’
and much more general than the individual ‘influences’, which were of course
also important, that painters, sculptors, and architects experience.
Nevertheless, the field of art history has not reached a consensus on this
method. Sedlmayr, to take one example, found this application of analogy to
be methodologically absurd. As far as he was concerned, Panofsky’s method
was fruitless. Why would a cathedral have to be explained in terms of
Scholasticism instead of any of the other forms of expression prevailing in
the twelfth century? To Sedlmayr´s mind, Panofsky´s approach in research was
not a productive methodological direction. His critique is applicable to
many architectural interpretations as far as comparison is concerned. After
all, ‘comparaison n´est pas raison’. After confining the
interpretation in an abstract sense to formal criteria, many scholars go on
to ascribe meaning in terms of intent. Thus, formalism and spirituality hold
each other in a delicate balance, what is in the end not a very productive
embrace. This distinction cannot be maintained. Yet, in my opinion, this
critique does not really apply to Panofky´s work, for it is precisely the
description of form that is continuously being transgressed by the meaning
of the ascribed significance which points toward fields of scholarship other
than historical research.
In the present study I do not follow Panofky´s method closely, though I must
admit I always found it inspiring. Moreover, I do not think that ‘method’ is
the right term here. Agreeing with Rorty, I am of the opinion that the term
creates more difficulties that it resolves. My use of Panofsky´s way of
working comes close to Rorty´s notions on the ‘rational’ and the
‘methodical’ in the humanities. If the humanities are to be viewed as
rational activities, rationality will have to be thought of as something
other than the satisfaction of criteria which are stable in advance. In the
case of this study, the overlay of the gardens of Versailles and the ballet
structures that were performed roughly between 1581-1664 in Italy, France,
the Netherlands and England, are only stable as a provisional frame. Along
the way, many more problems of interpretation arose and needed to be
resolved. The rationale of the method comes closer to Rorty´s notions on
‘sane’ or ‘reasonable’ rather than ‘force’. Investigating the many books and
essays on Versailles and the French Sun King, I have added this ballet
structure as a layer because this method reveals the sometimes hidden and
sometimes very explicit desires of this period which will in turn inform us
a little more about both gardens and ballets.
Islands play an important role in the ancient myths of both Asia and Europe.
The island as the terra firma rising up out of the infinite seas is a
model of the creation of the world and becomes the place in which
everything must become new. Not only new life was presented in this way;
death as birth, as transition to a different existence, was also connected
to the island. Advancing Christianity replaced these images of a naive and
yearning hedonism, spirituality exploiting the traditional dream islands by
making them frightening. Dream islands became models of both positive and
negative perfection, becoming guiding models for the Christian life.
The island as the place of renewal and yearning was first given a geographic
depiction in the fifteenth century in Italy and in the sixteenth century in
North Europe. The opening up of new continents, new sea roads which revealed
new experiences, made this geographic view possible. The drive to spatial
expansion and experience determined the images. In Francesco Colonna's
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the 'Isola di Citera' stands for the
place where everything forms a strict geometric whole.
The circular island with twenty radial streets, intersected by concentric
roads, probably had its origin in Plato's description of Atlantis in the
Critias. Poliphilo´s description is of an earthly paradise: It ‘was so
benign and pleasing to the senses, so delectable and beautiful with unusual
ornamental trees, that the eye had never seen anything so excellent and
voluptuous….There was no place for mountains or deserts; all unevenness had
been eliminated, so that it was plane and level up to the circular steps of
the wonderful theatre’.
The island was three miles in circumference, with periodic inlets of limpid
salt water. Fountains gave a refreshing atmosphere, and
...inside it were three gilded hydra’s whose tails crept along the bottom,
straddled upwards, then entwined themselves tightly in beautiful knots…there
were innumerable other well known plants, aromatic and most welcome in their
fragrance…On the rivers are boats and skiffs rowed by many maidens with
lovely hair interwoven with various scented flowers, wearing flimsy, crêpe
tunics or shifts of saffron yellow slashed or eyeleted with gold, trimmed
and belted over their nymph-like nakedness with lascivious ornaments, and
voluptuously offering their rose-tinted flesh to the unimpeded
gaze,...revealing with voluptuous grace the whole breasts shaped like half
an apple, as far as the round nipples, elegantly encircled with an
embroidery of gems set in gold.
In the center of
the island there is a round amphitheatre with a spring marking the place
where Venus appeared.
The divine Venus stood naked in the middle of the transparent and limpid
waters of the basin, which reached up to her ample and divine waist,
reflecting the Cytherean body without making it seem larger, smaller,
doubled or refracted; it was visible simple and whole, as perfect as it was
in itself. And all around, up to the first step, there was a foam that gave
the scent of musk. The divine body appeared luminous and transparent,
displaying its majesty and venerable aspect with exceptional clarity and
blazing like a precious and coruscating carbuncle in the rays of the sun;
for it was made from a miraculous compound which humans has never conceived
of, much less seen.
Not only this image, but the entire book is characterized by a nostalgia for
the past, both the classical and the Christian. The lovers' quest amidst
architectural fantasies and gardens was very appealing. Probably because in
many respects it resembled its medieval predecessor, the Roman de la Rose,
written by Guillaume de Lorris in 1235, a medieval meditation on love in
which battle is joined between sensual desire and Christian asceticism.
John Summerson has called Colonna’s vision the romantic, haunted,
introverted side of the Renaissance. In Colonna's epic, the pagan gods of
the ancient world remain alive in the cultural setting and ritual of the
late Middle Ages. Classical fantasies of architecture become the setting for
Christian ritual in Colonna's garden. The medieval 'Fountain of Salvation'
becomes the backdrop of a garden love scene and the nympheum of
antiquity, is a Platonic baptistery according to Adams.
The plan of the island reveals the image of the ideal city of fifteenth
century Italy. France is the only country in Europe which kept this ideal of
beauty alive until the seventeenth century. This idea of the island was
realized in the garden, the 'Ile Enchantee'. The island motif and
hydraulic installations for fountains and cascades are linked. The motif of
the artificial island occurs in three different forms, as the naturalistic
but inaccessible wooded island in Versailles (le Marais), as stylized
Salle du Conseil where the geometry is universally predominant, and
as an island surrounded by a moat, as in Liancourt. Until the
nineteenth century, actual isolation by water in a pond was called an Ile
Royale, Ile d'Amour, or Ile de Mars. Hamilton Hazlehurst
sees bosquets like Le Marais as an intimate spot in the middle of the
formal lay-out of the gardens. The bosquets were literally 'hewed
out' of the trees. The Marais is the first bosquet, probably invented
by the King's mistress, Louise de la Vallière.
Here, too, the island motif is linked to the water, the Theatre d'eau
emerged at the Marais; here, water is the chief protagonist. During the
Spring of 1664, the first great festivities took place; les plaisirs de
l'Isle enchantee. The spectacle occurred in the middle of the great
quatrefoil basin at the foot of the garden. Shortly afterwards, in 1668,
came the second feast. By 1674, the ponds and bosquets were ready for
the greatest festivities ever held in Versailles. The festivities only
lasted a day, but they far surpassed the previous two. The festive entourage
was devised by Le Brun and Carlo Vigarani. The climax of the spectacle was a
boat trip on the Canal in the dead of night. The trip was flanked by the
groups of sculptures along the Canal, with at the terminus a picturesque
castle specially built for this occasion, as described in the
Hypnerotomachia Poliphilli. In the eyes of André Felibien, the
historiographer of the royal buildings (appointed by Colbert in 1662) 'un
palais de cristal basti dans l'eau', was a prototype of the 'lieu
The Circe Ballet
The Ballet Comique of 1581 is often seen as the beginning of known
ballet history. The large-scale study L'Art du ballet de cour en France,
1581-1643, by Margaret M. McGowan in fact begins with it.
McGowan later published a reprint of the original manuscript with an
Zur Lippe also goes extensively into this ballet.
Both scholars examine the work of the choreographer of this ballet, Baltazar
de Beaujoyeulx (his Italian name was Baldassarino da Belgiojoso). The
central theme was the subjugation of the sensual enchantress Circe to the
principles of the new absolutist state power. In the letter offering the
ballet to the court, Beaujoyeulx refers to the religious disputes in France
and offers his ballet as a remedy.
Choreographic details of the dancing were not recorded, and the costumes of
those who actually danced were not illustrated in the book.
The ballet symbolized the subjection of those who resist the modern
centralist state power. At the same time, the king is alternatively depicted
as both liberator and conqueror. In artistic terms, the ballet brought
together poetry, music and dance in the mythological form usual at that
time. But in political terms, the theme was about the deepening and
broadening of the state power of the French king, Henry III (1551-1589).
Rousset characterizes this age (from 1580-1670) as being in flux –
changeable and unstable. His book about the baroque centers upon two
characteristic events: one being Circe, the metamorphosis and instability,
the other is le Paon, le decor.
Together they form the characteristics of the baroque.
The Circe ballet was performed in a rectangular room in the Louvre, de
Grande Salle de Bourbon.
In this palatial room, everything has its symbolic place. The short sides
had a special significance: on one side was the place where the King Henri
III sat in the middle; on the other side, a stage of sorts was constructed.
The spectators sat on the long sides and behind the King. Under the
galleries, approximately in the middle, in the King's line of sight, a 'Hain
de Pan', was constructed, and opposite it a place for musicians and
singers, camouflaged by clouds. Although there was no water present, and no
mention was made in the manuscript either, the symbolism was clear – the
entire field served as a stretch of water. Circe's castle was on an island,
as are Pan's woods and grotto. In the course of the ballet this becomes
clear; the springs were pulled by sea horses, and the naiads in the spring
had fish tails. The entire field was representing a vast sea. The fact that
it was also possible to walk and to dance on it presented no real disruption
of the island theme for the spectators. The whole was lit so cleverly using
oil lamps, torches and fires that it was like a summer's day. The castle of
Circe alone was illuminated by a hundred torches. The innumerable series of
torches in the hall produced 'le plus beau et serein jour de l'annėe',
as Beaujoyeux called it.
The environment made manifest two poles - two antagonistic directions are to
be seen in the proceedings. The whole must be seen in perspective and is
calculated in terms of particular position of the spectator. In fact, the
whole stage was erected from the point of view of the monarch's field of
The spectator feels himself to be behind the King and identifies him with
his frontal view of the scenes. The spectators are selected by the guards at
the entrances; only people of 'marque et cogneuses' are allowed to be
present, the audience itself becoming a conspicuous object. Beside the King
sits the Queen Mother, Catharina de Medici, who with her special influence
over the King, confirms a charged relationship with him. On the little stage
opposite the King, all the wealth of sensory perception is present. This is
a typical renaissance motif – as a genuine ‘cabinet de curiosités’
all earthly treasures are spread out before the royal eyes. The royal gaze
is an act of appropriation, a privilege meant chiefly for him. The garden in
front of the imitation castle unites everything in itself, rare plants (with
medicinal effects), fruit, flowers, strawberries, melons, lemon trees –
everything which nature has to offer, sparkling jewels and exotic animals.
Here dwells the goddess Circe.
Circe – 'qui changez de leurs corps en forme monstreuse'
– her name is nature. As daughter of the sun god Helios and Perse, goddess
of the sea, she represents the mingling of the elements of fire and water,
through which all things are formed (she is causa formalis and
est fille du Soleil
qui est la chaleur,
& de la fille de
la mer qui est l'humidite:
pource que toutes choses sont creees de chaleur &
Circe donc est la mistion des elements,
que ne se peut faire que par le mouvement du Soleil qui
est le pere &
et Perseis la mere & la matiere.
The performance served two ends: the disciplining of those groups who
attempted to resist the modern, centralist power, the sacrifice of Circe;
and on the other hand, to portray the King as liberator and conqueror. Circe
represents human nature, inclined to everything evil. Odysseus stands for
that part of man which implies reason. To break the power of Circe, a whole
collection of counter-forces is needed: 'Pour combattre le pouvoir de
Circe il fallait non seulement les Vėtus, l'ėloquence de Mercure, mais la
raison de Minerve et la puissance de Jupiter et du roi.'
Music announces the beginning of the ballet and links the dance to the
poetry according to the principles of the Academie of Baif. Odysseus,
the narrator, rushes on from behind the castle. Out of breath, he stands
before the King who is sitting in the center of the hall. He tells how Circe
changed him and his companions into wild animals, but ultimately returned
him to his original form.
Et en corps le
Lyon mes membres transforma,
Et entre ses troupeaux dans un parc m'enferma:
Mais quelque occasion adoucit la sorciere.
Oui m'a fait retourner en ma forme premiere.
The narrator Odysseus throws himself at the feet of the King and begs him
for help. The chamberlain of the Queen Mother acts as a knight who has fled
from the garden of Circe. The meaning is clear: Henri III is the central
actor in the whole. He is the only human figure to take the place of
Odysseus. Only the sovereign is immune to the magic power of Circe. Because
Circe is the chaotic natural state of the world, the state back into which
man threatens to subside if he heeds his own nature.
Why ever did desire and lust cohabit there with wisdom, power and will? By
Jupiter, its was so pleasurable to my amorous eyes that I desired nothing
else than to be able to gaze perpetually at these splendid nymphs – so
beautiful, so shapely and so delightful with their lively glances, decked
out so sumptuously and lasciviously, with their snow-white garments
radiantly shining. With such enticement, a man could give himself up
willingly to cruel death, [Poliphilo sighed in the Hypnerotomachia.
The captured animals/men are like ‘prisonniers au palace de Circe (qui)
montrent la servitude miserable de ceux mênes du désir brutal de la volupté.
When Odysseus has told his story, Circe appears for the first time,
searching for her fled subject. She is furious and resolves to act much more
cruelly and uncompromisingly in the future. After her appearance, she
withdraws into her castle. The power of the King is represented by sea gods
and monsters. In a dialogue with the musicians, the Sirens sing of his
power. On their procession, they pass the naiads, played by the Queen,
bride, and ladies-in-waiting. Together with eight Tritons they form the
train of Glaucus and Thetys. Glaucus complains of being under the spell of
Circe and asks his wife for help. She is powerless because she has
transferred her powers to the earthly goddess, the French Queen Louise.
Then, three springs are brought in, drawn by sea horses, on which are seated
twelve naiads. The whole is a model of a garden, a symbol of the flowing
kingdom of le Grand Roi. The monarch's wife, Louise, does not sit
next to him, but is one of the leading actresses. The dance which now
follows, consists of the twelve naiads dancing twelve different geometric
models. At the end, everyone takes the same position again as in the
beginning, formed by two triangles with the Queen at the apex, the triangle
pointing toward the figure of the King.
Au premier passage de l'entree estoyent six de front,
toutes en un rang du travers de la salle,
& trois devant en un triangle bien large:
duquel la Royne marquoit la premiere pointe,
& trois derriere de mesme.
The naiads represent the powers which are visualized by the garden and the
spring. Their social function confirms that they are on the King's side. But
not only that. The French duchesses and the Queen herself dance as
white-clad naiads a dance for the King. That is to say, the open staging of
the subjection of the female productive power as the court imagines this.
How could Theweleit have missed it: what Zur Lippe misses is precisely his
The new construction of the bourgeois absolutist state
concentrates on the principle of a new formation of the sexuality of the
'lofty woman', which will stand as model for all the others. The flow of
the streams is imprisoned in a fountain which for the benefit of
pleasure in the garden of the man spouts de-sensualised 'white' water,
good for the irrigation of the new organizing state.
Nature is there
to be exploited, what sensual pleasure implies is combated, at the same time
the sensual woman is controlled. Seldom is the consolidation of power in the
patriarchy as tangible as here.
Circe waits until the naiads in a semi-circle have abandoned their geometric
forms in order, together with the musicians, to become rigid, unmoving
figures. Now Mercury, Jupiter's messenger, makes his appearance, bringing
the antidote, the mixture of herbs 'moly', which Odysseus needs as a defense
against the magical powers. Mercury himself says in his opening song about
the historical forces he personifies: 'I have taught people to obey the law,
the sciences, the arts and also the cities belong to me, and with the
treasures I bestow the art of speaking. In order to heal the disarmed spirit
of reason which, abandoned by virtue, has been enchanted by desires, I bring
'moly', the noble drink derived from roots. Mercury's remedy awakes the
naiads once more to well-organized movement. The geometric ballet and music
revive. But Mercury is nevertheless no match for the magic powers of Circe,
and she brings everything to a standstill once again.
Seule cause ie suis de tout ce changement
Qui suit de rang en rang, de moment en moment:
Mon pere, sans repos qui se meut et se tourne,
La fin d'une saison d'un nouveau siecle bourne,
Le Soleil fait tout seul ces ages varier.
In a long song she paints the natural state of affairs which prevailed in
paradise. Her second appearance ends in a victory over Mercury, whom she
takes by the hand and brings into her garden. Her animals come and take him
into their midst. These animals are the men whom Circe had earlier
transformed into beasts. The fear of the man for the sensual woman is also
symbolized. The woman as 'instrumentum diaboli', who can also be the
woman as prostitute, the woman as 'femme fatale'. Only now is it
really clear how great her power is. Until now the largest part of her world
was hidden by a curtain, at this moment it falls and the beauty of her
garden is visible.
Eight satyrs then come on, led by the Sieur de Saint Laurent. He interprets
an emotion which is pervasive in the hall when he sings the praises of
Jupiter and the French King, both famous for their power and virtue. While
they move through the hall they pass the woods of Pan which is also
inhabited by four dryads. Pan's help must be enlisted to defeat Circe. He is
very suitable for this because he too changes everything. The alliance which
he enters into with Minerva joins his micro-cosmos to Minerva's
macro-cosmos, one of the important themes of Neo Platonic thought from that
While the forest god promises to come and help, the four virtues enter. The
god Pan, whose nature is the opposite of Circe's, and the four royal virtues
of Prudence, Temperance moderée, Fortitude, and Justice reinforce the battle
forces against Circe. With every new entry a greeting is given to the King.
Finally, Minerva, played by Mlle de Chaumont, comes on in a war chariot. Her
words to the King, to Pan, and her appeal to Jupiter the god of thunder
occupy much space. 'Hope and fear lie at the heart of human weakness, and
such fallible states can be counteracted not by the mere eloquence of
Mercury, but by reason itself. The glorious deeds of the King have freed
France from most trials, and Minerva proposes to liberate the country from
its last source of strife – Circe.'
When the chariot has come to rest before the King, Minerva stands up and
tells the King why she is a key figure in the struggle against Circe. She is
not born of woman, not from a body, but came forth from the head of Jupiter.
In this manner she symbolizes the theoretical intelligence of man. ‘I
received very rare gifts from his hands, the reason which rules the mild and
human spirit; he gave me the reins with which I can control human
De sort rares presens ie receuz de sa main,
La raison, qui regit l'esprit doux et humain,
Et des vistes pensers il me donna la bride,
Dont sur l'entendement des hommes ie preside.
History, reason and the principle of achievement flow together into one. She
too turns to the King to say she has come to help defeat Circe. When Jupiter
comes on, a new music sounds out, which contains more voices and instruments
than before. Jupiter addresses Henri III as his son.
Ce Roy mon fils, fleur du sceptre de France:
Fay des regards de Meduse changer
Ses ennemis, & son peuple ranger
Sous sa loy juste, humble d'obeissance.
With this reference to the moderator mundi over the battle of the
elements, politics is made concrete. In the sovereignty of Jupiter, that of
the crown is doubled, not reflected. Divine gifts are bestowed on the King,
his person represents a universal order.
The campaign against Circe begins. An imposing machinery is set in motion.
The marvels of technology serve the royal ballet and, also mythological, the
royal state as political technology. Circe's castle is stormed. Circe's army
of transformed men throw themselves furiously at the attackers. She herself
calmly waits. In fact, she fears only one opponent, the King of France.
Et si queldu'un bientot doit triompher de moy
C'est le Roy des Francais et faut que tu luy cedes
Ainsi que ie luy fais, le ciel que tu possedes.
Jupiter throws his lightning. Minerva reaches the vestibule of the castle.
At the moment of conquest, Jupiter extends mercy to Circe. Yet she refuses
and her fortress is destroyed. Fire breaks out. Circe is taken prisoner and
dragged through the hall in triumph to then be handed over by Pallas as a
gift to the King. The battle against chaos is almost over. Minerva and
Mercury throw themselves at the King's feet; Circe is defeated. Le Roi
and la Geometrie are identical. At the end of each passage, the
naiads, with Queen Louise in their midst, turn their gaze on the King. They
dance geometric figures, such as squares, circles, and triangles, Archimedes
could not have defined the proportions better, according to the manuscript.
Finally, the performance went into the 'Grand ballet' (‘geometrique, dont
les figures se formant et se defaisant, symbolisent l'eternit‚ de la matière
et de l'esprit, la transmutation des elements’).
The court danced in the entire space, also the stage, simultaneously arena
and ballroom. The power game is over, ‘it has been resolved predictably in
favor of the monarch.'
Exhaustive and exact as McGowan's description is, however, she overlooks the
micro-politics of the sexes.
It seems preferable to see the Ballet Comique as having a much freer
form than commentators have often allowed, to see it as a kind of continuum
in which forces seeking power, and to impose power, move backwards and
forwards without interruption through verse, song, dance, drama and battle,
towards a final resolution. It has always been difficult to separate the
work into acts and interludes. Commentators cannot even agree on the number
of acts and where they should be divided, since there is no distinction of
subject matter between those parts of the work which are spoken and those
which are sung. In this sense, the Ballet Comique was unique and remained so
for more than a century.
With this explication of the Ballet Comique, the layer can be added
in order to elucidate aspects of the French garden. The giving of a
geometric character to the body, as intended by Beaujoyeux with his ballet,
these 'land reclamations on the coast of femininity', as Klaus Theweleit
says, are also the models and canalizations of the planned absolutist
cities: the geometric town planning of the France of Louis XIV. The round
point structure was used for the first time for a city plan in Versailles
and possibly brought later to Italy by Bernini. Bernini was actually
summoned from Rome. Deeply religious himself, a passionate artist and a
perfectionist, Bernini was struck by Louis´s interest and his ability to
read plans, writes Geoffrey Treasure.
The portrait bust that he left as the single fruit of his mission suggests
that the Roman recognized power when he saw it. Just as his Ecstacy of
St. Theresa draws the spectator into a religious drama, so his portrait
invites reflection on the very idea of royal majesty. Louis was impressed by
Bernini´s baroque designs for the Louvre but a conservative instinct put him
on his guard against the exuberant Roman. He had `some inclination to
preserve what his predecessors had built`- and Bernini would have pulled
down a whole quartier to create his baroque masterpiece. So it did not need
rejection by Colbert, in his capacity as surintendant des bâtiments and his
insistence on a more sober, regular and wholly French design to make him opt
Vitruvius was studied again by Filarete and Alberti, they formed the town
planning background out of which the Renaissance would develop. Filarete
took the Vitruvian circle as point of departure and designed a universally
symmetrical city with a tower in the centre and churches in secondary
positions; Sforzinda, designed for the Sforzas, a powerful merchant family.
Alberti describes Foucault's institutions of order; prisons, hospitals and
barracks for the soldiers. The nobility who lived on wide, broad streets,
were separated from the vulgus. But nowhere was the new subjugation
of Circe better expressed than in the residence of the absolutist state
power: Versailles, an album in stone and greenery, a dazzling window onto
the French past and irreplaceable compendium of the nations history, or more
precisely, the history of the monarchy, as Le Roy Ladurie writes in the
conclusion of his book on Saint Simon.
The area where Versailles would be founded was in the manor of Villepreux,
around twenty kilometers to the southwest of Paris. In the sixteenth
century, this land was in the hands of an Italian family, the Gondi, who had
immigrated to France. The area consisted of a plateau with three hills; on
one of them the castle of the Gondis was situated. Nearby was the hamlet of
Versailles, 'au val de Galie'. In 1624, Louis XIII (1601-1643)
occupied the area and built a hunting lodge there, having bought the site in
1632 from the Gondis. Louis XIII used the area as a hunting ground and as a
refuge from turbulent Paris. When he died in 1643, Mazarin and Richelieu
ruled as regents for the future monarch Louis XIV (1638-1715). When Mazarin
died in 1661, Louis began to rule. Until then, very little was documented
about the gardens and the castle, but from the time that Louis XIV set to
work, everything was recorded. The earliest plan published by Du Bus was
After a visit to Vaux le Vicomte, the luxurious castle of Fouquet,
the corrupt Minister of Finance, Louis decided to rebuild Versailles and
turn it into his residence. Fouquet himself ensured that he spent the rest
of his life in captivity after the magnificent inauguration of his country
estate in 1661. The architect Louis Le Vau (1612-1670), the painter,
decorator and artistic foreman of the Gobelins Charles le Brun (1619-1690)
and the landscape architect André le Nôtre (1613-1700) were recruited by
Fouquet, patron of artists in that period, to give form to his vision. The
guests on that 17th of August began with a walk in the garden where everyone
could enjoy the ponds and cascades.
Nymphs in gilded gondolas invited them to go boating, musicians hidden under
trees and hedges enticed the guests into the maze, the grottos, marble
niches and other hidden spots.
Yet, unfortunately, the King appeared to have been very displeased.
Fouquet's motto 'Quo non ascendet? (where shall I not rise to?), and
the allegorical painting in which the young Queen could be recognized, were
causes of some displeasure. After a tour around the gardens, a lottery was
held with valuable prizes for all the guests – jewels for the ladies and
weapons for the gentlemen. The supper was of course lavish. After supper,
the company moved to the garden. Steenbergen also describes the illusory
game which was so popular, a big rock turned into an opening shell, out of
which a nymph appeared. She ordered the gods to descend from their marble
pedestals to amuse the King. Here too, this ended in a ballet for the King.
After this ballet, a performance followed – Les Fachaux by Molière,
written for this occasion. When dusk fell, a great display of fireworks lit
up the castle in fire and flame. However, the end of the evening’s
entertainment was also the end of Fouquet's career; three weeks later he was
imprisoned, partly through the agency of Colbert. Ultimately, he was
succeeded by Colbert himself.
The power game was then continued, because on Colbert's advice the same
three artists that designed the Vaux le Vicomte were then employed to
build Versailles. The furnishings of Vaux also fell victim - right
down to the trees, everything was reused for Versailles. Naturally,
Versailles had to become more beautiful than the castles on the Loire, and
more beautiful than Vaux. For these reasons, Versailles is sometimes
called a 'collective concept', the double connection – Richelieu and Vaux le
Vicomte – produced a cross between two models: 'il ne fait aucun doute
que, comme Vaux et la difference de Richelieus, Versailles sera le fruit
d'une conception collective.'
The basic concept of classical form is discipline, the limitation, the
principle of concentration and integration; a theme which Zur Lippe made the
main issue of his book.
Steenbergen terms this form as the illusion of perfect order. His analysis
of Vaux le Vicomte shows that the site was kept under control over a
maximum distance by the Royal gaze. Indeed, the morphology of Vaux is
built up of a linking of various spaces which can only be discovered by
taking a walk. Nevertheless, the space, like the 17th century theatre, is
only completely dominated and understood from a static viewpoint where all
these perceptions melt into a single, perfect, optic illusion. This
viewpoint is from the position in front of the mirrors in the Grand Salon.
From that place, the King could look through, not only the infinite space,
but also keep it under control. The entire construction is that of a
telescope trained on the landscape, bringing the infinite space within reach
of the eye.
In the Renaissance, Alberti's perspective construction was originally
evolved for painters. Painters depict not reality, but a subjective
interpretation of reality. 'All appearance is relative to the subject
seeing', according to Karsten Harries.
Harries makes a connection between Alberti's ideas and those of Casanus.
Nicholas of Cusa, or Nicolaus Casanus is often credited or blamed for the
destruction of the medieval cosmos. In a world in which centrifugal forces
threatened to tear Church and Europe apart, Casanus laboured for unity, says
Harries. Basing his argument on Casanus's On Learned Ignorance
(1440), he shows that an aspect that remained incomprehensible in classical
antiquity was bound up with the notion of infinity. For Casanus, no
convincing reason exists to place the earth at the cosmic center, but even
further, the idea of such a center is itself no more than a perspectival
illusion, a human projection.
As such, Casanus was considered a forerunner of Copernicus. Casanus's claim
was that our experience of the world is limited by what happens to be our
point-of-view, and that we should not think that such a point-of-view gives
us access to the way things really are. Harries links Casanus's cosmology
with the principle of perspective: to think a perspective, as a perspective,
is to be in some sense already beyond it, is to have become learned about
its limitations. Our human perspective is radically finite and has room only
for what is finite. It follows that we cannot comprehend the infinite and
that means for Casanus, above all, that we cannot comprehend God.
Furthermore, the relative nature of phenomena held also for Casanus's
Casanus had argued that we cannot know the absolute size of things, we can
only know things by comparison. Is there a natural measure in Alberti? The
answer is quite clear: yes, there is. The natural (not the absolute)
measuring rod is the human body. Our arbitrary size provides us with the
measure of all things. The body, to be sure, says Harries, provides Alberti
with something like a natural measure – recall once more his reference to
Protagoras. The perspective construction of Alberti is essentially
anthropocentric in more than one sense, in that the human body provides both
ruler and point-of-view, and human reason provides the framework. Harries
emphasizes the artificiality of Alberti's construction. He quotes Hubert
Damish who writes that Alberti reduces the viewing subject to a kind of
Cyclops that obliges the eye to remain at one fixed, indivisible point; in
other words, it is obliged to adopt a stance that has nothing in common with
the effective conditions of perception. Referring to Dürer's Artist
Drawing a Nude in Perspective Harries writes: ‘Dürer knew very well that
first of all and most of the time we experience space with our moving body
and with all our senses; he knew also that desire is part of such
Alberti's monocular vision of one stationary eye seems to me to be the
architectural representative of Theweleit's 'Panzer-Ich', a
centralized state power in miniature. Harries draws attention to the
distinction between the different languages spoken by the two halves of the
image; the contrast between the way the window on the left opens up to the
promise of the bright world beyond, while in the window on the right a
scraggly potted bush, threatening to burst the prison of its container,
blocks our vision. When the male body is challenged by the female body as in
the Circe ballet, the centralized eye assumes the desire and freezes the
image in a perspective.
**This text is excerpted
from Graafland, Arie; Versailles and the Mechanics of Power: The
Subjugation of Circe. An Essay (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2003).
Colonna, Francesco; Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, The Strife of Love
in a Dream translated and introduced by Joscelyn Godwin (London:
Thames and Hudson, 1999). Originally published in Venice 1499.
Colonna; Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, op cit, p. 292.
cf. Blunt, Anthony; “The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili in
17th century France” in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld
Institute (937/38) pp.117 and 137.
Adams, William Howard; The French Garden, 1500-1800 (New
York: George Braziller, 1979) p. 15.
Hazlehurst, F. Hamilton; Gardens of Illusion (Nashville,
Tennessee: Vanderbilt UP, 1980) p. 90.
Margaret M. McGowan gives a number of other sources, to be found in
Ms.fr. 24352 to 24356, Ms. 15057. She also mentions a list prepared
by Beauchamps: Recherches sur les theatres (Paris, 1735);
Paul Lacroix; Ballets et Mascarades (Paris, 1868);
Bibliotheque de Soleinne (Paris, 1843); Bibliotheque de Pont de
Vesle (Paris, 1847); en M. de La Vallière; Ballets, operas et
autres ouvrages lyriques (Paris, 1860). McGowan’s book, L'art
du ballet de cour en France 1581-1643 (Paris VII : Centre
National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1963) helpfully gives in
the appendix all the sources of the ballets in this period.
de Beaujoyeulx, Balthazar; Le Ballet Comique c. 1581: A
Facsimile, with an Introduction by Margaret M. McGowan, Medieval
& Renaissance Texts & Studies, Center for Medieval and Early
Renaissance Studies (Binghamton, New York: SUNY Press, 1982).
zur Lippe, Rudolf; Naturbeherrschung am Menschen I und II,
Geometrisierung des Menschen und Repräsentation des Privaten im
französischen Absolutismus (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974).
Four years after the Ballet Comique was written, a number of
Catholic members of the aristocracy joined forces against the
extravagance of Henri III. Their aim was to get the Duc de Guise on
the French throne. After the murder of Henri III in 1588, a civil
war broke out between the Catholic league under the leadership of
the Duc de Mayènne and Henri de Navarre, the legitimate successor to
the throne. The bloody religious and political battles lasted five
years. Even after the succession of Henri IV, religious and
political instability continued in France.
Rousset, Jean; La littérature de l´age baroque en France, Circe
et le paon (Paris: Librairie José Corti, 1963) pp. 8 and 181-2.
Leclerc, Hélène; "Paper seven: Circe on Le Ballet Comique de la
Royene (1581), Meta physique du son et de la lumière, in
Theatre Research, Recherches Théatrales, International
Federation for Theatre Research, vol. III, no II, (1961): 101-120.
citation p. 106.
Schöne, G.; "Die Entwicklung der Perspektivbühne von Serlio bis
Galli-Bibiena", in Theatergeschichtliche Forschungen no. 43,
Nendeln/Liechtenstein (1977). citation p. 13.
Ballet Comique de la Royne, fait aux nopces de monsieur le Duc de
Joyeuse & mademoiselle de Vaudemont, sa soeur, par Balthasar de
Beaujoyeulx, … Paris. Par Adrian le Roy, Robert Ballard & Momert
Patisson, imprimeurs du Roy, 1582, p. 8.
Allegorie de la Circe, que natalis comes a retire des commentaires
des poetes Grecs, in Ballet Comique, p. 74.
McGowan, Margaret M.; L'art du ballet de cour en France, 1581-1643
(Paris VII: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique, 1978) p. 47. See also Prunières, Henri; Ballet de Cour
en France avant Lully et Benserade (Paris: Editions Daujourdhui,
de Beaujoyeulx; Le Ballet Comique, op cit, p. 9.
Leclerc; op cit, p. 119.
de Beaujoyeulx; op cit, p. 22.
Theweleit, Klaus; Männerphantasien, Bd. I Frauen, Fluten, Körper,
Geschichte (Frankfurt a. Main: Verlag Roter Stern, 1977) p. 401.
de Beaujoyeulx; op cit, p. 25.
Delmas, C.; "Le Ballet Comique de la Reine, Structure et
signification" in Revue de la societé l'histoires du Théatre
McGowan, Margaret M.; “Introduction” to de Beaujoyeulx, Balthazar;
Le Ballet Comique c. 1581, A Facsimile, with an Introduction
by Margaret M.McGowan, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies,
Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies (Binghamton, New
York: 1982) p. 21.
de Beaujoyeulx; op cit, p. 47.
According to Delmas, op cit, p.153, the King appears as 'un
personnage quasi-divin hors de l'humanite commune' aussi bien son
‚loge est-il chant‚ constamment par des divinites, et par les
enterme des qui sont ‚troitement associes au theme de l'age d'or.
Incarnation nationale de l'ordre universel comme ses predecesseurs,
c'est autour de lui que doit s'operer la reconciliation generale …
laquelle travaillait deja… l'Academie de Baif'. Delmas. See also
Yates, Frances A.; “Charles-Quint et l'idee d'Empire” in Les fetes
de la Renaissance II (1960): 92-97.
Leclerc; op cit, p. 117.
McGowan; op cit, p. 22.
Treasure, Geoffrey; Louis XIV (New York: Longman/Pearson
Education Limited, 2001) p. 183.
Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel; with Fitou, Jean François; Saint Simon
and the Court of Louis XIV (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2001) p. 140.
Steenbergen, C.M.; De stap over de horizon, een ontleding van het
formele ontwerp in de landschapsarchitectuur (Delft: DUP, 1990)
Burlen, K. et al; Versailles. Lecture d'une Ville
(Versailles: 1978). See also Norberg-Schulz, Christian; Late
Baroque and Rococo Architecture (New York: 1974) especially
pages 13 and 28. Also, P. de Nolhac wrote a number of books about
Versailles in the series Versailles et la cour de France. The
most important are La création de Versailles (Paris: 1925),
Versailles au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: 1926) and Versailles,
résidence de Louis XIV (Paris:1925). de Nolhac also wrote a book
about the Trianon (Paris: 1927), and about the art of
Versailles, L'art du Versailles (Paris: 1930) in which
Nattier and Le Nôtre are discussed, among others. Versailles
inconnu (Paris: 1925) is about the secret rooms of the King and
his mistress. The book by Simone Hoog, curator of the Musee National
du Chateau de Versailles, Louis XIV. Manière de montrer les
Jardins de Versailles (Paris: 1982) is interesting for its
illustrations. Also see the general survey Marie, A.; Naissance
de Versailles: Le Chateau et les jardins, 2 volumes (Paris:
Steenbergen; op cit, p. 136.
Harries, Karsten; Infinity and Perspective (Cambridge, Mass.:
MIT Press, 2001) p. 66.
Alberti was born in Genoa in 1404. He travelled to Padua at an early
age to attend the school of the humanist Barzizza. Casanus came to
Padua in 1416. A strong possibility exists that they knew of each
other's existence, according to Harries. Alberti died in Rome in
1472. Both men were friends of the great mathematician, geographer,
and doctor Paolo Toscanelli (1397-1482), who as a friend also of
Brunelleschi, shared their interest in perspective.