Gilded and Forgotten: Portraits of Versailles

I couldn’t help but ponder that time-honored question about walls and their voices as I navigated the tourist-plagued halls of Château de Versailles. What would they do with what they had seen and would it change their shape, even if just a little? Fractures, patina, and even embellishments grown out from under the weight of history’s great weathering.

The palace is a spectacle to behold; Baroque shapes curve and twist, and high domes and complex shapes offset further intricacies. Inside the silent walls are yards of brocade spun from red and gold; even more gold is gilded onto molding set against the mottling of marble. It is at once the exemplar of Louis XIV style, and the ruined vignette of an absolute monarchy.

As we wandered the halls I eventually stopped capturing pictures of the rooms at large; from a distance they were gaudy and every detail took something away from the beauty of another. My eyes were drawn to the smallest subjects: little known door fixtures, hidden faces, stories shaped from gold, metamorphosed limestone, and strange, disavowed details.

What stories could they tell us about the royals that lived within and the shapes they made before their great fall—the Women’s March on Versailles, the cries outside her gates, the revolution that followed, and the subsequent movement of the monarchy and their belongings out of these halls and into others. Then, the restoration—a season of forgetting—returning the palace and it’s features back to their original appearance prior to the revolution.

To me, these small portraits were beautiful given their imperfection; and given the history that bent their backs and scratched their faces. Once forgotten, they will never be wholly original, but have been made new again through the art of retelling. 

There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.
— Marie Antoinette (attributed)

Fancy a Visit?

When you make your visit to Versailles don’t miss the palace itself, but the real gems lie outside the palace walls and behind the mass of gardens. Take the little train if you wish—it will allow you further views of the unconquerable gardens and Neptune’s Basin—and stop off at the Grand Trianon. After your visit there, walk through the French Pavilion toward Petit Trianon and then on to the Queen’s Hamlet. Constructed in 1783, the Hamlet was built for Marie-Antoinette as a place of refuge from the pomp of the court and where she could engrain herself back into the country life of her upbringing—it shows quite a different side of the cake-eating Queen we’ve come to know. Wander back from the Hamlet to catch the train outside the Petit Trianon so you have enough time to grab an afternoon glass of wine. It’s what the French would do.