Versailles: Art at its finest, propaganda at its essence.


There’s distinct quietness amid the maze of Versailles’s carefully manicured gardens. A tranquil sense of peace that surrounds the grand palace and its grounds—one the eye grasps as your gaze travels along the gold gilding of the palace to the intricate design weaved into the spiraled pattern of the grass below. There’s an awe to the expanse of the landscape: the pyramidal bushes, the immensity of the man- made lakes, the sculptures surrounding the gardens—each with a story to tell, an image to represent.

But it’s then that you stop. Stop because this sense of peace, of tranquility, of escape is anything but real. There’s a purpose behind the symmetry of the grounds and palace of Versailles, a purpose to the harmony of the deliberately designed and forever maintained landscape. It’s here that Louis XIV moved the center of the Parisian government to in order to gain greater control of the nobility and people under his rule. It’s within the grounds of Versailles that Louis XIV created a world, an artificial one as such, that would stand as a symbol of power, a physical reflection of his right to rule-- It's art at its finest and propaganda at its essence.

The baroque palace and its gardens blend a sense of harmony and symmetry into its design—a reflection of the capability of architecture to manipulate. The idea is reflected in Versailles’s hundred step staircase. The design of the staircase, which actually consists of 103 stairs, gives an impression that, as you descend, nothing is below. It’s an effect that, from below, completely masks the palace, leaving the sky as the sole backdrop seen from the bottom of staircase. And so when Louis XIV would appear at the top of the staircase, he would look grand, larger than life, as if he appeared out of the skies-- a divine presence far superior, far capable of the others physically below him. Power is what he sought to reflect—and the art within Versailles’s architecture only serves to emphasize the point.

The meticulous and order framing of the gardens also symbolize the emphasis on power, order and harmony. Versailles’s gardens are anything but natural—from the water, which had to be pumped in from miles away seeing as Versailles had (and still has) limited water supply, to the trees and grass, so particular in their carefully shaped designs. The structured order of his creation reflects Louis XIV’s power to also control nature, a metaphor, in its own way, for his capability to control his rule, the people, the city.

Yet, among the order of design, it’s the chapel that deviates from the structured sense of symmetry reflected in the rest of the palace and its gardens. The chapel is positioned on the right of the palace’s front entrance, slightly jutting out from the otherwise straight edge the other buildings fuse to create. The chapel stands as a conscious break in symmetry of the palace’s architecture—a touch onto the awareness and respect Louis XIV had for the greater powers above him. While the king used Versailles as a means of propaganda to validate his divine right to rule, he never once he claimed he was the divine. The divine, merely backs his role as ruler.

The use of architecture is by no means a new concept in history’s tale. It’s one that traces the course of history, from the Greek temples built as a reflection of society’s democratic ideals to Christian churches built to impart a sense of the greater powers of above. Art, be it in the form of architecture or paint on canvas, possesses the power to serve an individual’s purpose. It’s this concept of art as propaganda that the kings of France understood well—a concept  Louis XIV applied in the construction, design and order of the grounds of Versailles.

But it’s only time that the people of France cotton on, and it’s on these grounds that influence the stir of the revolution ahead.  


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