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The Hall Of Mirrors Masterpiece Aug 15, 2008
The Hall Of Mirrors: History & Restoration
Publisher: Édition Faton, France
North American Distribution: Hudson Hills Press
The Hall of Mirrors is the centre-piece of the palace of Versailles. It is usually associated with Louis XIV who commissioned the architect Hardouin-Mansart to fill in the space of a monumental terrace on the garden side of Versailles into a hall for receptions and passage from the Salle de la Paix to the Salle de la Guerre. At first Louis and Le Brun decided on a Hercules theme for the décor. Then a theme based on Apollo the sun god as Louis has taken the sun as his personal symbol. But again they changed the iconographic plan to something very revolutionary. The construct would be based on Louis himself, his wars, his attributes, his civil laws and his legendary status as arbitrator of style for all Europe. It would celebrate the first eighteen years of his personal reign.
The Hall of Mirrors was never completely renovated since its construction. Before the restoration the room had a dull and dusty look to it as the soot from hundreds of thousands of candles used in the room since it was inaugurated in November 1684 had affected every element of the décor on the ceiling. The last time the parquet floor was refreshed was in 1950, so a new solid oak floor in the original design was installed in 2004 as part of the project.
This renovation project and book are very important for the future of historic cultural sites like Versailles, as corporate support seems to be the future as far as funding goes for European cultural monuments. Its true that the American millionaire Henry Ford donated a fortune to Versailles early in the 20th century but the age of the patron on that scale seems to be a thing of the past. The mandate for the restoration project by the corporate giant Vinci as stated in the text was to "Transmit to future generations a monument entirely restored as close as possible to its initial condition, as defined thought historical and scientific research".
It is also high time a revaluation of the artist behind the original creation of the Hall of Mirrors, Charles Le Brun. During the 20th century he was dismissed as a second rate artist and a propaganda tool of Louis XIV. The décor and interior design system are all extremely coherent. Le Brun was a genius of invention and arrangement, meaning combining elements of composition that are at first glance so disparate. It's true that Rubens had painted an entire series of paintings of Louis XIV's grandmother, Marie de Médici earlier in the 17th century, that was designed to be displayed in one place. But the sheer scope of the Hall of Mirrors overawed any other interior space in history that was for secular usage.
Some Facts on the Project:
- Hall of Mirrors took 4 years to build 1680-1684 and 4 years to restore 2003-2007.
- Cost 12 million .
- Personnel approx. 100, 70 art restorers & 30 technicians.
- Trade sectors 11 Companies 20.
- 4 Committees & 40 personnel
- 4 million visitors per year.
- L. 73 m., W. 10.5 m., H. 12.5 m.
- Surface 770 sq. m.
- Paintings: 1,000 sq. m.
- Marble: 1,100 sq. m.
- 17 bays or arcades of mirror with a total of 357 panels of mirror.
Each section of the painted vault of the hall is given a two-page treatment in the book, with the preparatory sketches by Le Brun reproduced in full colour. Very few of these drawings have ever been published. They alone constitute a major document focusing on the highly developed draftsmanship of Le Brun. With there myriad anatomical variations and highly finished state, he developed to maintain visual interest and variety, it is easy to see the scope of his involvement in this monumental project of a lifetime. Not only was he the designer of the décor, he painted the canvasses with his assistants and supervised and payed the teams of sculptors (wood, gesso and bronze), gilders, Venetian style mirror manufacturers, wood carvers, goldsmiths, marble workers, technicians, bureaucrats and worked directly with the architect Hardouin-Mansart and the king on an ongoing basis, as decisions were developed and or changed during construction.
Unlike the recently published book to mark the completion of the restoration project of the Apollo Gallery in the Louvre, this new book has a full colour panoramic survey of the vault, in fold-out. This is indispensable as the marvellous details that are scarcely visible from below help the reader to grasp the integration of the elements of the original work and awe inspiring beauty of the team of creators. One can study individual panels of the painted vault and see their integration in the overall schemata.
Thirty-five authors discuss the sculptural elements, the 30 vault paintings, the architectural decors, the history and the restoration itself. Much technical information is provided and although the science side of the restoration is amply discussed it is not only for art restorers or curators. This restoration project has enriched not only the French national heritage but the legacy of the entire Western world. A legacy has been held in contempt, for the last decade at least. It is also an inspiration to create individually and collectively something of beauty, order and life, in the face of indifference, cultural transition and sadly, decline. To dust off the marvels of the past truly, calls to mind the motto: the past answers for the future. Although the purchase price is considerable this book is a treasure, one for future generations. As there were only 2000 copies of the book published in English, I would suggest any interested parties acquire it as soon as possible, as it is a valuable document on one of the most beautiful secular spaces in the world that is extant. It also brings to life a long lost era in all its beauty, humanity and glory.