The gardens were among the most enchanting delights at Versailles. The original design was by Andre Le Notre, the master gardener of his time. This design was modified and sometimes changed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart on his appointment as First Architect. A rivalry existed between the two, but eventually the integrity of Le Notreís plan was maintained. The list of head gardeners and designers is long and represents an honor role of horticulturists and artists. Michel Le Bouteux, Antoine Richard, Richard Mique, Hubert Robert were among the leading gardeners and designers during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Le Notre drew his inspiration from the Italian gardens of the Renaissance. The valley that he transformed was both a marsh and a dry, sandy waste. Water was difficult to procure. An aqueduct with over 1600 arches (some twice as high as the towers of Notre Dame), running from the River Eure was planned, partially constructed, and then abandoned. Water was eventually pumped from the Seine by a colossal "machine" at Marly-la-machine. Over ninety miles of drainage canals were dug to collect the surface water from the plateau of Versailles.
Le Notre planned the gardens along the east-west axis of the chateau. He extended the Western Terrace by constructing a lower terrace (1664-1665) which eventually became the site of the Latona Fountain. By establishing a transverse axis, he created the Northern and Southern Terraces. He widened the central walk several times and it eventually became the Royal Walk with the Tapis Vertè (green carpet). He excavated the Grand Canal. All of this work was accomplished during Louis XIVís First Construction Campaign.
During the Second Construction Campaign, sculpture and fountains were the main concern in the gardens. Le Brunís role as orchestrator and overseer was important here. The Latona Fountain was created in 1668, the Apollo Fountain in 1671, and the Fountains of the Seasons in 1672. The Grand Canal was enlarged for a fleet of boats, which included the gondolas that were a gift from the Venetian Republic.
The Third Construction Campaign saw Mansartís dominance becoming a reality. The architect began to compete with Le Notre in his sphere of expertise. Construction in the gardens marked this period. The new and present Orangery was constructed, as were the Stairways of the Hundred Steps (Cents Marches), the Royal Walk, and the Colonnade. It was also during this time that the Porcelain Trianon was transformed into the Marble Trianon. After the construction of the Petit Trianon, this Trianon became known as the Grand Trianon.
The next great period of construction in the gardens came under Louis XVI with the reforming of the Trianon Gardens and Marie-Antoinetteís Hamlet. In July 1774, Marie-Antoinette, the new queen, approved the plans for the construction of the English Garden, resulting in the destruction of Louis XVís botanical garden, much to the outrage of the scientific community. While many of the plants and flowers were retained, they were chosen for variety and aesthetic reasons rather than scientific ones.
The gardens were spared during the Revolution by Antoine Richard, the gardener who helped construct the English Garden. He planted crops on the terraces and thus saved the gardens from being plundered.
The formal, carefully ordered, and perfectly landscaped gardens at Versailles express the spirit of the age of Louis XIV. Every tree, every bush, every foot of grass, every fountain, pool and piece of statuary was perfectly laid out. The vista was of a rational world, absolutely controlled. Nature was subdued to enhance the greatness of the king. The parks consisted of stretches of forest intersected by alleys and dotted here and there with bosquets, terraces, and flowerbeds.
Thousands of trees and shrubs had been planted. Statues were placed everywhere in beautiful settings. Some of the foliage was trimmed in the Dutch manner into formal, conventional shapes introducing an air of artificiality into the landscape. Gardens and flower beds were arranged in formal patterns. The broad avenues were lined with symmetrical plantings of trees. All of these elements were designed to create the effect of reducing ordinary humans to miniature and of raising the position of the king. The gardens of Versailles reflected, like the chateau itself, the splendor of the genius of humanityís creativity and natureís beauy.© Copyright 1998, Mississippi State University (website)
© Copyright 1998, Mississippi University for Women (Teachers' Guide text)
Last modified: Wednesday, 28-Oct-98 12:49:35