scenes from Versailles

As promised, photos of the gardens of Versailles, the apogee of the French formal garden style, designed by landscape architect Andre Le Notre for King Louis XIV of France (September 5, 1638 – September 1, 1715). With itinerant photographer MB Maher in town briefly for a friend’s wedding, I was able to shake his coat upside down and turn the pockets out for photos from his recent travels. He’s already back to England, then again to France, so do contact him here for any inquiries or just to chat about projects, or if even just for a drink in the local tavern, where he’ll probably leap over the bar and take over mixology duties. He’s an omnivorous fellow interested in just about everything.

Ready for a stroll? Properly attired, bewigged, perfumed, and powdered? Ladies should be outfitted something like this, give or take a few decades in the evolution of costume:


http://costumedramasheaven.blogspot.com/2008/05/dangerous-liaisons-costumes-merteuils_7907.html
Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons, image found here.

Cue the rustle of satin and taffeta swishing over gravel walkways, the whispered plans for afternoon trysts, the rhythmic, metallic clipping and snipping by fleets of gardeners as they maintain the miles of hedges and topiary (presaging a somewhat more reactionary use of sharp cutting instruments to be used upon Louis XIV’s descendants).


Prepare to be awed at what the Sun King has wrought.

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By the beginning of the seventeenth century, with a Medici as Queen of France, the royal palace gardens in Paris were largely Italian in plan.”
— Hugh Johnson, The Principles of Gardening

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Sheer scale alone made his [Le Notre’s] work revolutionary…
— Hugh Johnson, The Principles of Gardening

when Mme Polignac heard the news, she ran down the wide allee sobbing...

He always deliberately pushed back the planting from the building…He took the Italian principle of an axial plan and used it to the limit, with a vast clearing as the main axis, walled with trees in perfect symmetry.”
— Hugh Johnson, The Principles of Gardening

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Le Notre: “I cannot abide a limit to a view.”
— Hugh Johnson, The Principles of Gardening

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[I]t is interesting to note that the great straight avenues were intended not for dull, fatiguing walks but, as the king showed in his directions, for those crossing them to fully comprehend the dimensions of man’s mastery over nature.”
— Matteo and Virgilio Vercelloni, Inventing the Garden

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Louis XIV was a hydromaniac, if there is such a thing. Never were fountains so many, so massive, or so marvelous. There was never enough water for the King’s desires. Thousands of troops were added to the builders labouring on endless aquedacts to bring more.”
— Hugh Johnson, The Principles of Gardening

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But as time went by the fashion did begin to shift away from a sense of total control.”
— Hugh Johnson, The Principles of Gardening

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Designed for a man who already ruled a nation and thought he ruled the world, the park at Versailles was a metaphor for his dominion over nature as well. It was the greatest work, in terms of both quality and quantity, of garden architect Andre Le Notre…who worked for both Louis XIII and Louis XIV, came from a family of gardeners and was the fountainhead of French garden design.”
— Matteo and Virgilio Vercelloni, Inventing the Garden

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It manages to be a great work of art, built with overweening pride and callous brutality, yet with extraordinary imagination and love.”
— Hugh Johnson, The Principles of Gardening

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7 Responses to scenes from Versailles

  1. I didn’t expect to find these as beautiful as I do.

  2. Peter says:

    Nice place to visit but would you want to live there? I recently phoned the nearby military base to see if they could send a regiment over to do some work in my garden but for some reason, they turned me down.

  3. Denise says:

    Loree, I had the same reaction. And I completely endorse keeping plants away from buildings, like Le Notre.
    Delphine, I hope Paul and Mitch meet up in Paris…shhh, I’ll say no more.
    Peter, just tell them you’re the Sun King.

  4. Kacky says:

    Incredible photos. Mesmerizing. I have visited but it has been several years…. several….. and more beautiful than I remembered it. Dangerous Liaisons, what a great movie!

  5. Hoov says:

    I understand the scale is staggering, and that the fountains were turned on just as Looey was about to see them, then turned off after he passed through the area, because there wasn’t enough water pressure to run them all at once. Gorgeous photos–this MB person knows his stuff.

  6. MB says:

    Lorrie/Delphine — I think the major advantage to these images is the work in winter — Versailles is absolutely designed for spring, fecundity at large — but to see these megalomaniacal designs and alleés with trees stripped bare brings a certain honesty/oddity/remarkable quality to the plantings. These kinds of images would look absurd in bloom — they are best spare. And I’m positive that my lens responded to this place so lovingly only because it was in the off season — Versailles in full bloom with the fountains gushing is only porn — with the waters turned off it’s a quite look at excess, man’s unreasonable attempt at control over nature, and so much winter mist as to double the impact. I vote for the cold.

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