From the time when Louis XIV established himself at Versailles to Louis-Philippe’s ultimate transformation of the palace into a museum in 1837, the royal residence was essentially a “permanent building site”. Countless projects, of varying degrees of scale and innovation, were instigated at the behest of the King and the managers of the King’s buildings or devised in the architects’ imagination in order to adapt the palace to new uses, simplify daily life, decorate it in the style of the successive eras, highlight its magnificence or make it more architecturally coherent.
Colbert, the superintendent of the King’s buildings, and the Comte d’Angiviller, France’s director-general of buildings, the arts, gardens and manufacturing, both issued calls to architects – in 1669 and 1780, respectively – to put forward ideas. The King’s architects, and Jacques-Ange Gabriel in particular, came up with a steady stream of spectacular plans for extending the palace. However, because of changes in either the monarchs’ tastes, the political circumstances or the kingdom’s finances, not one of these grand transformational projects came to fruition.
Numerous items have been provided on loan from France and overseas for the exhibition, which brings together more than a hundred drawings, architectural plans and elevations, general projects and one-off and fanciful designs, with particular focus on the palace "Envelope" and the facade on the city side, which was the subject of hundreds of proposals. The exhibition will also evoke the successive projects for a chapel or performance space, as well as several examples of garden architecture.
It also benefits from the newly digitised palace plans, which were completed as part of the Verspera project led by the Centre de Recherche du Château de Versailles and implemented together with the National Archives, the French National Library and the ETIS laboratory, under the aegis of the French Science and Heritage Foundation.
A multimedia system will also allow visitors to better understand some of the projects designed by the architects. Aspiring architects today can even use their imagination to design their own Palace of Versailles. Members of the public will be able to discover Versailles “as it never was but could have been”, thus gaining a new perspective on the palace and a true appreciation of its enduring uniqueness.
This exhibition is part of the first Architecture and Landscape Biennial organised by the Île-de-France Region, held at Versailles from 3 May to 13 July 2019.
Elisabeth Maisonnier, Curator at the Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Assisted by Clara Terreaux, Art Historian
Design: Going Design - Cédric Guerlus
Lighting: Lionel Coutou