Louis XIV Style
The Sun King bears a considerable amount of responsibility for the style which came to bear his name. Inspired by Vaux-le-Vicomte, the home of Nicholas Fouquet, Louis’ Finance Minister, Louis took the whole team of architects and designers from Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1661 to enlarge a small hunting lodge outside of Paris. The palace of Versailles was the fruit of his own inspiration, and as Versailles was immediately copied in palaces all across Europe, he had an immense influence on the development of Baroque style in Europe in the 17th-century, and, indeed on the taste for oppulent decoration favoured by princes, millionaires and film stars through the centuries.
Louis’ habit of receiving visitors in his royal bed, became all the rage with wealthy and important members of both sexes, and this led to the bedroom being decorated with luxury and pomp. The walls beneath the gilded and carved cornice were hung with damask which matched the fabric of the bed hangings. The ceiling, divided into shaped panels by heavy mouldings, was enlivened with painted scenes, and the walls were liberally covered with paintings of all descriptions.
Louis XIV Style in brief:
- Interiors grand in scale;
- Painted ceilings and imitation draped fabric in plaster in covings;
- Marble clad wall sometimes hung with Gobelin tapestries;
- Mirrored walls first used.
Louis XIV Furniture
Louis XIV furniture was the most notable of the late 1600s. Louis devoted himself to making France the cultural and political centre of the Western world. He considered furniture making and the decorative arts to be politically important because he could use them to glorify his position as King. He bought a building on the outskirts of Paris, turned it into workshops, and staffed the shops with expert artisans. He commissioned them to create furnishings for his residences. These furnishings created a new national style of art.
Actually, the artisans worked almost entirely on a single project in Versailles, where they converted a royal hunting lodge into a luxurious royal palace. The noted French architect Charles Le Brun supervised the huge Versailles project and hired artisans from other countries. The decorating and furnishing of the Versailles palace became such a large undertaking that many foreign artisans took up permanent residence in France. Many of them married French women and had children who became furniture makers, creating a native French group of artisans.
The remarkable style of the furnishings made for the Versailles palace became known as the Louis XIV style. This luxurious style was particularly notable for two important characteristics. One was a veneer technique invented by a French cabinetmaker, André Charles Boulle. In this technique, artisans “sandwiched” a veneer (thin layer of material) between two veneers of a contrasting material. Artisans used such materials as brass, ebony, pewter, and tortoiseshell. They cut through the layers to create contrasting scrolled patterns. Veneers were applied to Louis XIV cabinets, writing tables, and other furniture. Le Brun and Louis himself were responsible for the second characteristic - repoussé furniture of inlaid silver made for the main rooms of Versailles.
Louis XIV furniture in brief:
- Heavy in style;
- Cabinet-on-a-stand carved and gilded, made of ebony, brass and tortoiseshell;
- High-backed chairs covered in velvet and silk damask often woven with silver and gold thread, with scrolled arms.
Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), Minister of Finance
Colbert founded a Fine Arts Commission in 1663 and the Academy of Architecture in 1671. An important development was the establishment of the Manufacture Royal des Meubles de la Couronne, which began with the acquisition of the Gobelins tapestry weaving enterprise for the King. To this was added the carpet weaving factory of Savonnerie (given this name because it was housed in a disused soap factory).
This was followed by the organisation of facilities for the manufacturing of objects of all kinds suitable for furnishing the Royal Palaces. Colbert placed Charles Le Brun in charge of the Manufacture in 1663.
- Commissioned by Nicholas Fouquet, Finance Minister to Louis XIV;
- Built 1657-1661;
- Architect: Louis Le Vau (1612-1670);
- Designer in charge of decorative scheme: Charles Le Brun (1619-1689);
- Garden design: André Le Nôtre.
Palace of Versailles
- Commissioned by Louis XIV;
- Built 1661-1756;
- Architects: Louis Le Vau & Jules-Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708);
- Designer in charge of the decorative scheme: Charles Le Brun;
- Garden Design: André Le Nôtre.
- Long casement and sash;
- Curtains in silk and velvets, simple in style.
- Metal chandeliers;
Louis XIV Buildings and Museums
Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Chateau of Courance, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Victoria and Albert Museum, Wallace Collection, Waddeston Manor, Bowes Museum.
© Adrienne Chinn - London