A scene from the Château de Versailles.
ABU DHABI: Louvre Abu Dhabi has announced its first international exhibition of 2022 titled Versailles & the World (Jan. 26 — June 4). Organised in partnership with Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, with the support of France Muséums, the exhibition showcases the history of the royal court at Versailles.
Visitors will explore more than 100 artworks from the collections of Louvre Abu Dhabi, the UK’s Royal Collection Trust and 17 French lenders, including the Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, alongside a wide-ranging cultural programme.
In the 17th century the Palace of Versailles, the greatest legacy of the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV (1638-1715 CE), became the world’s most opulent royal playground, its size and splendour reflecting the king’s absolute power and influence.
Louis XIV spent 72 years on the throne; during this time, he succeeded in turning France into the most powerful state in Europe and the Palace of Versailles into an international symbol of French sophistication and prestige.
By focusing on the reception, interpretation and appropriation of foreign cultures by the court in an era of scientific emulation, the exhibition also explores how the Palace of Versailles became a crucible for intellectual encounter and cultural exchange between the French monarchy, the court, and foreign ambassadors and diplomatic missions during the reign of three French monarchs: Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI.
Versailles & the World is curated by Hélène Delalex, Heritage Curator and Bertrand Rondot, Chief Heritage Curator at the Department of Furniture and Decorative Arts at the Musée national des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, with the support of Dr Souraya Noujaim, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s Scientific, Curatorial and Collections Management Director.
Manuel Rabaté, Director of Louvre Abu Dhabi, said: “This exhibition sheds new light on the complex network of diplomacy, commerce and creativity that helped shape the culture of a globalising age.
Seven-branched candelabra from the Château de Versailles.
“It is a pleasure to highlight synergies between the historical role played by the Palace of Versailles, a place where people from different cultures came together, and Louvre Abu Dhabi, a museum dedicated to exploring and celebrating the diverse cultures of the world in our capital city of the UAE.”
Delalex and Rondot noted that “curiosity was the driving force at Versailles in the 17th and 18th centuries. Countries beyond Europe were seen as places of wonder but also of scientific discovery.
“This fascination often expressed itself most eloquently in the fine and decorative arts where ideas and motifs were appropriated, not just from the Islamic and oriental worlds, but from other European nations such as England and Italy.”
Noujaim said: “In this exhibition, Louvre Abu Dhabi invites visitors to discover the court at Versailles and its vistas onto the wider world. Designed for those who are familiar with Versailles and those who are not, it shows how the arts were inspired by other lands and reflects the French court’s fascination with those distant countries, as well as the ambivalent, even competitive relations it had with them.”
The exhibition’s narrative is presented in three chapters, namely, A Palace Open to the World: Visitors of Versailles, where Louis XIV made Versailles a theatre of daily spectacle for all his courtiers, subjects and visitors from around the world. Detailed accounts of the receptions given to foreign ambassadors were published alongside images of their outfits, customs and appearance, helping to diffuse a taste for the exotic in fashionable society.
The Orient Revealed and the Orient as a Reverie: Exoticism in Versailles, states that from the first years of Louis XIV’s reign, the taste for exoticism spread through the French court, fuelled by the literature and the stories of travellers who had ventured into the Ottoman Empire, Africa, America and Asia.
The attraction reached its peak between 1704 and 1717 following the French translation by Antoine Galland (1646–1715) of the Thousand and One Nights, and can be seen in the popularity of fashionable styles such as chinoiserie and turquerie, inspired by the cultures of China and the Ottoman Empire.
The general taste for turqueries in the 1770s led to the creation of several Turkish boudoirs at the court, one of the most famous being that of Marie-Antoinette at Versailles, which was laid out between 1774-1776.
Between Heaven and Earth: Discovering the World notes that the European fascination with foreign cultures coincided with a phase of history which saw the European gaze becoming increasingly global.
The Ancient Regime was a time of great exploration, spurred in part by the rivalry between European nations. Commissioned and encouraged by Louis XIV, seaborne expeditions set sail to distant lands and oceans in search of new geographical, botanical, wildlife, cartographic and astronomical discoveries, while inspiring artists and artisans alike.
The objects in the exhibition, which include around 30 paintings, over 40 works on paper, books and manuscripts, sculptures and numerous pieces of decorative art such as porcelain, tableware, silverware, gilt bronze and furniture, have been loaned from France, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
The Palace of Versailles, a famous world heritage site listed by Unesco since 1979, is at the same time a royal residence, a museum of the history of France created by King Louis-Philippe and a national palace that has played host to the French Parliament in Congress.
Besides its three historic residences — the Palace, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon — the estate of Versailles boasts a large Baroque garden designed by André Le Nôtre with groves and fountains, the gardens of Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet, a wooded park located beyond the Grand Canal, and the royal estate of Marly since 2009.
Covering more than 800 hectares, the estate of Versailles welcomes visitors to admire its collections, which are composed of more than 60,000 works, including paintings, furniture, ancient books, drawings, sculptures, prints, objets d’art and coaches.
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