The “Visitors to Versailles” exhibition is on at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from Monday, April 16, through Sunday, July 29. I had the chance to check it out.
From 1682—when Louis XIV transformed his father’s hunting lodge into the seat of the French Court—until 1789 when the royal family were forced to leave, Paris’s Versailles was the place to see and be seen. French and international visitors were granted permission to peruse the palace, walk the gardens, visit the gaming tables, attend daily mass with the sovereign, and even stand at the same table the king dined at if they were dressed appropriately .
At the Met, I enjoyed the collection of paintings, sculptures and even memoirs from travel writers who visited Versailles at the time. Allow at least two hours to tour the galleries, as the immersive surround-sound audio tape (free of charge and contributed by Bloomberg Philanthropics) performed by many world-class international actors is a show in itself.
I’m a big fan of Louis XIV, having studied him in interior design school and drama history classes. I’ve had the pleasure of touring Versailles and Le Petit Trianon (Marie Antoinette’s private palace on the grounds of Versailles). I also had dinner at Pavillon Henry IV, the birthplace of Louis XIV! More recently, the racy BBC show Versailles may have sparked in me a new interest in the Sun King.
Back in the day, a trip through the forest from Paris to Versailles took two hours. Now of course you can take the Metro and be there in thirty minutes.
Among the visitors to the palace were Benjamin Franklin (who lived in France for nine years), Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart (who joined the court for two years).
Visitors could enjoy the gardens designed by Andre Le Nôtre and the 39 fountains inspired by “Aesop’s Fables” (the wolf fountain is on display), as well as nightly concerts and sometimes fireworks.
I loved the exhibition’s period costumes and small swords encrusted with gems, which were an essential component of the dress code for gentlemen visitors. Also on display were the contrasting drab clothes from England, which would not have been lavish enough to wear to Versailles. Once these visitors arrived, they would employ the seamstresses, wigmakers and shoemakers to create for them the outfits required to attend the French court. King Louis XIV was a brilliant businessman and knew the art of public relations, too.
If you can’t get to France right now, this is a great alternative!
For more on the Met’s “Visitors to Versailles” exhibition, visit its page here.