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Versailles was a high place of celebration, desired by Louis XIV. He organized there sumptuous parties, all having a theme and all a special occasion or a more or less hidden reason. The greatest artists and composers have rubbed shoulders there. Shows and receptions are organized to occupy the courtyard, now far from the entertainment of the capital. Three times a week, the evenings organized in the King's State Apartments offer concerts, dances and games. These festivals were one more magnificent than the next, but only lasted during the reign of Louis XIV.
The Pleasures of the Enchanted Island in May 1664
The Court recently installed in Versaille s, the King decides to organize great celebrations there from May 7 to 13, 1664, in honor of the two queens, his mother Anne of Austria and his new wife Marie Thérèse. The first collaboration between Lully and Molière is a success. The Duke of Saint Aignan chooses the subject and Carlo Vigarani the place. Of Italian origin, bringing back machinery and sets from his country, he has been the director of royal entertainment since 1659. On a romantic theme taken from Ariosto where love, action and magic mingle, Alcine the magician holds Roger and his valiant knights prisoner in her palace. In reality, Louis XIV dedicates this 1st celebration to Melle de La Vallière, his mistress.
For three days, the 600 people invited attend the king's equestrian parade in the role of Roger, dressed in sumptuous clothes on a harness of gold, silver and precious stones. He is accompanied by horsemen who descend the Royal Alley, followed by Apollo's chariot, heading towards the Palace of Alcina erected on the future Apollo Basin. Then it is the ring race in which the riders must catch with their lance a ring suspended from a gallows. At nightfall, the park is lit up with 1,000 lights, the ballet begins on the theme of the Seasons while the masked and costumed servants prepare a magnificent feast.
On the second day, at nightfall, Roger stars in the comedy-ballet La Princesse d´Elide, specially designed by Molière and Lully. For the first time in France, theater and opera are associated. Shepherds and shepherdesses surrounded by fauns dance and sing to the sound of flutes and violins. The third day sees the alight of the Alcina Palace in a fabulous fireworks display orchestrated by Vigarani. An amazing floating whale and its two calves carry Alcine and his maids.
The festivities continue with horse races, lottery, visit of the Menagerie and theatrical performances: Molière premieres, on the evening of May 12, his famous Tartuffe. Despite the support of the king, the play caused a scandal and must be banned. After this wonderful dream, the court returns to Fontainebleau the next day.
The Great Royal Entertainment in July 1668
To celebrate the glory of the king after the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (marking the attachment of several Flemish cities to France), the king offers this second feast. These celebrations are also created in honor of the Marquise de Montespan, rival of Mlle de La Vallière. Very different from the first, this Great Entertainment takes place over one day, in summer, without a particular theme, but the pomp and surprises are there, it is the height of the baroque party. The king spent 117,000 pounds on this occasion, or 1/3 of the expenses devoted to Versailles in the same year.
He opens his entertainment at the end of the day with a visit to his latest achievement: the Dragon Basin and its water jet, the most powerful of all. Guests are invited to the Etoile Grove for a superb snack, made with a mountain of meats, fruits and various liquors. Then the court goes by coach and sedan chair to the Saturn Basin for the first performance of George Dandin by Molière. The play is performed in Vigarani's trompe l'oeil theater, lit by 32 crystal chandeliers, hung with tapestries and covered with a fleur-de-lys canvas with a blue background.
The feast takes place in a large octagonal open-air trellis room (future Flore basin). A fountain adorns the center of the table, while the buffet is served in silver dishes. The future Ceres basin is then used for the ball. Octagonal in shape, the room is preceded by a green gallery closed by a rockery cave covered with marble and porphyry, created by Le Vau.
A splendid fireworks display brings the party to a close. From the bottom of the great perspective, you can see the castle lit from the inside, preceded along the parterre de Latona and the Green Carpet, by illuminated statues and painted vases. The magic is total!
The summer celebrations of 1674 in Versailles
The gardens of Versailles are gradually being transformed, but the king had not had the opportunity to organize parties. He therefore uses the pretext of the success of his armies in Franche-Comté and above all wants to prove abroad that the kingdom is not "on its knees". During the king's summer stay, 6 days are devoted to celebrations between July 4 and August 31, 1674.
On July 4, a snack is served to music in the Marais Grove. The court returns to the castle to witness the Alceste de Quinault and Lully tragedy. At the end of the day, a supper is served in the Grand Apartments, furnished for a few months.
On July 11, in the Trianon gardens, a privileged place for the love of the king and the beautiful Marquise, Lully directs his new pastoral work, the Eglogue of Versailles. The guests then return to the castle for the walk until 9 in the evening. A sumptuous dinner is served in the Grove of the Council Chamber, a sort of island surrounded by jets of water forming all around like an aquatic grid, lit by 150 chandeliers and 73 crystal chandeliers.
On July 19, a snack is organized at the Menagerie, followed by the performance of the Imaginary Malade. To end the day, there is a musical ride on the Grand Canal in the gondolas.
For the last 3 days, the king wants something even bigger. After suppers on July 28, August 18 and 31, there are fireworks where Vigarani and Le Brun surpass themselves, and theater, with the Fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus, an opera composed by Lully, Racine plays Iphigénie. During the last feast, the grand canal, the flower beds and the fountains are illuminated for walks. The feast tables are decorated with bowls filled with fruit, baskets of sweet pasta, crystal cups for ice cream and decanters of liquor deemed by foreigners to be the excellence of French art. Italy adopts the "decorazione alla francese".
The bal des Ifs in February 1745
These festivities are considered to be the last great sumptuous festivals known to Versailles. On the occasion of the marriage of the Dauphin with the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain, Louis XV wants to revive the tradition established by the Sun King. It is the occasion for parties, ballets, dinners, balls with 150 musicians, various performances such as the Ballet des El Elements, The Princess of Navarre, the opera Thésée by Lully.
During these festivities, there is the famous masked ball where the king disguises himself as a yew (like those in the park) and never leaves the future Marquise Pompadour.
- History of Versailles by Jean François Solnon. tempus, 2003.
- It was Alain Decaux's Versailles. Tempus, 2007.