The Galerie des Glaces of Versailles is one of the most emblematic places of the castle, it exalts the successes of France.
An emblematic place
The most emblematic place of the Château, the Galerie des Glaces replaces a vast terrace open to the garden that the architect Louis Le Vau had designed. Inconvenient and above all exposed to bad weather, this terrace which separated the King’s Apartment to the north and that of the Queen to the south, was quickly condemned. Le Vau’s successor, Jules Hardouin-Mansart imagined a more suitable solution and replaced the terrace with a vast gallery. Work began in 1678 and was completed in 1684. When it was covered, Louis XIV wanted to retain a view of the gardens and the impression of perception. So he had mirrors installed in front of the windows. He will also send a spy to Venice, Italy, to manufacture mirrors of just as good quality but in French workshops.
What would the Galerie des Glaces be without the somewhat cloudy transparency of its many mercury mirrors? Superb and unpublished at the time, this decoration is the result of a real technical prowess: the manufacture of these mirrors involved a hot mixture of tin and mercury, a very toxic process due to the vapors of this metal. This process has been totally prohibited since 1850. The Galerie des Glaces exalts throughout its seventy-three meters the political, economic and artistic successes of France. Political successes : the thirty compositions of the vault painted by Le Brun illustrate the glorious history of Louis XIV during the first eighteen years of his personal government, from 1661 until the Peace of Nijmegen. Thus, military and diplomatic victories as well as reforms with a view to the reorganization of the kingdom are treated there in the form of allegories to the Antique. Economic prosperity : by their dimensions and their number, the three hundred and fifty-seven mirrors which adorn the seventeen arcades facing the windows attest that the new French manufacture of mirrors is capable of wresting from Venice the monopoly of mirrors, then objects of great luxury. Artistic success : the marble pilasters of Rance are adorned with gilded bronze capitals of a new model called “French order”, created by Le Brun at the request of Colbert, it presents national emblems: a flower of lily surmounted by the royal sun between two Gallic roosters (rooster called gallus in Latin).
Secrets and anecdotes
We can tell here some secrets and anecdotes. The son of Philippe d’Orléans became engaged there in 1701 to his cousin Mademoiselle de Blois, the bastard but legitimized daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. The mother of the future groom, Princess Palatine, furious at this misalliance, interrupts the celebration by slapping her son in front of the assembly. She even dares to leave the room with her back to the king. Philippe, brother of Louis XIV, argued so violently with him that he died of a stroke on returning to Saint-Cloud a few hours later. This is also where Louis XV began his relationship with Madame de Pompadour in 1745. Indeed, he organized the Bal des Ifs for the wedding of the Dauphin and met Madame d’Étiolles there, disguised as a shepherdess. Unknown in his Yew costume, he seduces her. She will be presented at court some time later under the name of Marquise de Pompadour.