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The restoration of the Apollo room

Open since the 24th of february 2015


The Apollo Room is one of the most sumptuous rooms in the State Apartments and had a prestigious function: having been the King's State Room from 1673, it became the Throne Room in 1682 when the room was turned into a ceremonial apartment. The identity of the Sun King, associated with the image of the god Apollo is evidenced in the central arrangement. The king, identified with the sun, rules over the passage of the seasons (in the centre), the hours (sculpted female characters) and the universe (the four continents in the spandrels). In the arches are antique subjects glorifying the Prince's splendour and the political order.

Charles de La Fosse painted the central part of the ceiling: Le Char d’Apollon. The triumphant quadriga driven by the shining god of light is surrounded by the four seasons. The use of allegory magnifies the greatness of the king: Magnificence and Magnanimity wearing a blue gown with Fleurs de Lys are featured at the foot of the god's chariot. The painter also painted one of the arches: Auguste fait bâtir le port de Misène. Here the main harbour of the Roman flotilla becomes an allusion to the one built by Rochefort upon the orders of Louis XIV. The artist was also the creator of two of the room's spandrels: America and Asia.Gabriel Blanchard (1630-1704) painted the three other arches: Coriolan supplié par sa famille d’épargner Rome, Vespasien fait bâtir le Colisée and Alexandre et Porus, as well as the two other spandrels, Europe and Africa.

The central painting and the arches were painted onto marouflage canvas, while the spandrels were painted directly onto the primer. The ceiling, an imposing structure, is divided into sections and delimited by ornately sculpted gilded stucco by the Marsy brothers.

Between spring 2014 and February 2015 extensive restoration work was carried out in the Apollo Room. The condition of the ceiling had severely deteriorated since its creation in 1679, with structural issues and problems with the pictorial layer as well as deterioration of the stuccos. Thanks to the work carried out over the course of 8 months by 15 restorers, coordinated by their contractor Xavier Beugnot (and his co-contractor Marie-Ange Laudet-Kraft) and under the project management of the curatorship team at the Palace of Versailles (assisted by the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France), the decoration in this prestigious room has been saved. Initial work had been carried out in 1814 by the painter Heim, who restored the backing and the pictorial layer, leaving brushstrokes and the additions of light colours in evidence. Between 1974 and 1977, the central painting by La Fosse was removed, re-mounted, re-affixed with marouflage and the re-painting work was removed. In 2014 the ceiling was in poor condition with blistering, risen areas, cracks, damaged varnish and missing parts, etc: 80% of the central scene of the Apollo room had been re-painted, the face of Winter was distorted and in 1909 the spandrel of Europe had suffered water damage and was riddled with holes. Of all the decoration, the painting in the spandrels had remained closest to its condition of 1679. 

For the central ceiling the restorers chose to undertake relatively simple restoration work including cleaning, removal of certain repainted work and harmonisation of repaints. The support was re-attached. The readibility of La Fosse's masterpiece was restored and the stability of the canvas ensured. The arches and spandrels received more substantial treatment (work on the supports, cleaning of damaged varnishes and repaints, fine alterations) which returned the works to their former glory, revealing in some places hints of the Rubenian style that was so characteristic of the French colourist master.

The restoration operation also concerned the room's stuccos, which are the most impressive in the Palace. Their poor condition and heterogenous appearance, exaggerated by the deterioration of the gilded layer, needed rectifying in order to restore, in all their splendour, the works of the Marsy brothers. The entablature also required significant restoration work. The cracks that ran across it have been filled, some of the mouldings and scultpures were touched up to harmonise the supports and friezes, and the small missing sections have been re-made (egg-and-dart decoration, ovals, petals, leaves etc.). Gilding has been applied to the faux marbling repainting in order to restore a subtle link between the backgrounds and the royal features of the metopes, as well as to bring out the historical and decorative coherence of the room. Sadly, the gilding of the cornice could not be restored: it has been re-gilded and then polished to make it match the stuccos in the vault. These have mostly ancient gilding dating, for the most part, from the end of the 17th century. It has been carefully cleaned and in just a few places has been restored. Cleaning of the backgrounds of the metopes revealed hints of the original royal features that were destroyed during the Revolution and then systematically restored in a simplified manner in 1814. These remains permitted the recreation of an intertwined fleur de lys and the letter 'L' in their 17th-century form and dimensions, in the centre of the south wall.

The current restoration and refurnishing of the Apollo room is part of an ambitious policy led by the Palace's conservation teams. It also allows a tribute to be paid to Charles de La Fosse, at the time of the retrospective exhibition dedicated to him.