The Palace of Versailles and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art have jointly produced the exhibition Visitors to Versailles. Travellers, princes, ambassadors. 1682-1789. It will first be on display at Versailles from 22 October 2017 to 25 February 2018, and will then go on to New York from 9 April to 29 July 2018.
With over 7 million visitors every year, the Palace of Versailles is one of the most popular historic sites in the world. The palace and its gardens have always attracted visitors ever since the small hunting lodge built by Louis XIII was transformed by Louis XIV into one of the most stunning residences in Europe, open to everyone as the King wished.
French and foreign travellers, princes and ambassadors, artists, writers and philosophers, architects and scholars, tourists on the “Grand Tour”, day trippers, they all crossed paths at Versailles, the ultimate cosmopolitan destination throughout the 18th century. While some came to catch a glimpse of the King or win his favour, others were received officially during diplomatic visits.
The Palace of Versailles was both a royal and a public space, it was the backdrop to the daily spectacle that the King put on for the Court and all his subjects. Visitors flocked to this palace which became the most accessible in Europe. All of society was invited to come to Versailles, with no distinction.
At the same time, memoirs, journals and literary diaries kept track of the arrival of important visitors and the festivities that were held for them. From the ambassadors of Siam in 1686 to the visit from the ambassadors of the Indian Kingdom of Mysore in 1788, representatives from every continent came to Versailles and admired its magnificence. Every visit was also an opportunity to see the colourful national costumes worn so proudly and discover the originality and wealth of the gifts they brought.
The exhibition is the first to cover this subject and turns the spotlight on these visitors to Versailles through more than 300 works from the late 17th century to the Revolution. Juxtaposing portraits and sculptures, Court attire, travel guides, tapestries, Sevres and Meissen porcelain, ceremonial weapons and snuffboxes, it shows examples of what travellers discovered on arriving at Versailles. How were they received? What were their impressions? What gifts or memories did they take back with them? Visitors today will discover the Palace through the eyes of those that went before.
Bertrand Rondot, Head curator at the National Museum of the Palace of Versailles and the Trianon, in charge of furniture and objets d’art
Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide, Curator at the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art