The new Royal Gates at Versailles: replicas or frauds?

The new Royal Gates of Versailles have just been inaugurated in the midst of much media fanfare. The Daily Telegraph, quoting Frédéric Didier, Chief Architect of of France’s Historical Monuments, assures us that the new gates are exact copies of the originals built in the 1680s, under the reign of Louis XIV. “It was very well documented, which allows us to create a faithful replica,”says Mr. Didier.

Versailles royal gates

Not so, replies The Art Tribune. Apparently there is no reliable way of determining what the original gates, destroyed during the Revolution, looked like. These new gates are guesswork, loosely based on mutually inconsistent drawings and various 17th century gates found elsewhere in Versailles. The Art Tribune also questions the taste, ethics and cost (over $5 million) of the operation. The installation of the new gates destroyed part of King Louis-Philippe’s contributions to the entrance of the palace.

This raises the interesting issue of what we should consider the “real” Versailles: would it be the original Chateau, barely more than a hunting lodge, built by Louis XIII? Or should we include the magnificent palace created around it by his son Louis XIV? What about the major interior and exterior additions made by Louis-Philippe in the 1830s? I would be tempted to say that Louis XIV’s Versailles is the real thing, but it would be inconceivable to destroy the work of Louis-Philippe, which is of great historical and architectural value.

Paradoxically, we owe the preservation of much of Louis XIV’s palace to the French Revolution. In spite of France’s dire budget crisis, Versailles was slated for a major remodeling on the eve of the Revolution. The exterior look of the palace would have been completely altered by a new colonnade, inspired by Saint Peter in Rome, superimposed over the front of the central Marble Courtyard. Of course the Revolution put any such plans on permanent hold.

The Versailles we know is a composite, and the new gates are, and should have been presented as a modern addition in the style of the late 17th century, not a recreation of a former state of things, which is impossible to reconstitute. Certainly, as the Art Tribune points out, the “hammered” look is anachronistic. Also the glaring gilding gives the new entrance a “bling” aspect, more EuroDisney than Louis XIV. The money could have been better spent on sorely needed conservation work within the palace.

But I am sure that time and atmospheric pollution will soon give these shiny new gates a patina of authenticity. In a few years they will have become part of our mental picture of Versailles.

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20 Comments to “The new Royal Gates at Versailles: replicas or frauds?”

  1. Marjoke says:

    I find it wonderful that all the beauty that’s destroyed will be restored or reconstructed, so that we all can Enjoy this. Is fare better than the horrors done by Louis Philip.

  2. Marjoke says:

    I have several other plans, but only local. Can I have a mailadres where I can sent it to?

  3. Catherine Delors says:

    I think Oy vey is the appropriate response to these new gates…

  4. Penny says:

    OY VEY, EuroDisney to Versailles’ Gates. Ma chere Catherine, your ideas were better.

    bien amities,
    Penny

  5. Catherine Delors says:

    Oh yes, Charles-Antoine, I have heard of this project and am preparing a post on it. Certainly I bemoan the destruction of the Tuileries, both by the arsonists of the Commune and the ill-will of the Third Republic, but I am strongly opposed to the reconstruction. For one thing it would destroy the current perspective from the Pyramid to the Grande Arche. For me it is beyond beautiful: it is an essential part of the Paris I love. And what about the damage to the Pavillons de Marsan and de Flore?

    There are many worthwhile restoration (as opposed to more or less accuracte reconstruction) projects already in Paris and throughout France. All of those could be self-funded and create jobs as well, without altering the face of the city.

    But we can discuss this in detail later upon the occasion of that new post…

  6. Indeed, the similarity is striking.

    Have you ever heard of the proposal to recreate the Tuileries ? There is an entire committee devoted to it, not only to help house the Louvre’s collection of Second Empire fine and decorative arts, but also to provide space for meetings and presentations, even housing. In addition, the hope is to restore the architectural perspective of the Louvre and gardens leading onto the Place de la Concorde, since lost with the destruction of the palace. There is also the explanation that such a project would help provide economic stimulus, as it would give many jobs. And since the project is entirely self-funded through donations, there is not cost to the state. I’m still not sure if I agree with such an endeavour; with so many historic sites and buildings on the edge of ruin or decay for want of money, I don’t know if I can condone the spending of millions of euros on a reconstruction of such scale.

    http://www.tuileries.fr/

  7. Catherine Delors says:

    Wonderful, Charles-Antoine! Thank you for the links. You are right, the new design would have resembled the Tuileries, not the most graceful building in Paris.

  8. I actually found some examples of proposed modifications (both by Gabriel) on the photographic portion of the RMN website.

    http://www.photo.rmn.fr/cf/htm/CSearchZ.aspx?o=&Total=49&FP=57365510&E=2K1KTSE6VHES&SID=2K1KTSE6VHES&New=T&Pic=46&SubE=2C6NU0XEFEFE This one is apparently from 1749 and shows a renewed facade and dome.

    http://www.photo.rmn.fr/cf/htm/CSearchZ.aspx?o=&Total=49&FP=57354542&E=2K1KTSE7IR7I&SID=2K1KTSE7IR7I&New=T&Pic=21&SubE=2C6NU0HF0VEY This one anticipates the changes to the chateau under Louis XVIII in continuation of those initiated by Louis XV in the 1760s and 1770s (Louis XV renewed the overall appearance of Versailles with the opera and a new neoclassical wing to the right of the king’s appartements, both completed by Gabriel). Although the Gabriel wing was completed in the 1770s, the older seventeenth century flanking wing was not remodeled to match Gabriel’s new addition until the 1810s during the Restoration. I think the dome makes it resemble the Tuileries.

    Unless I’m mistaken, I think there is one more rendering of the proposed modifications dating to the mid-1780s. It might be that I am thinking of the second image I posted, however. I think this is a fascinating subject, though- think of how differently things would have turned out had the changes taken place ! The revolution, as you said Catherine, truly preserved Versailles in its Ancien regime state.

  9. Catherine Delors says:

    Charles-Antoine – You are in fact ahead of me, because I have read descriptions of the plans, but never seen the actual design. If by some miracle you find it, please send me the link. And of course if I find anything I will of course let you know.

    And merci de votre visite!

  10. Hello Catherine,
    I was wondering if you had any link to the plans for remodeling of Versailles under Louis XVI that were halted by the revolution. I know of one image of the front of the chateau that shows how it would have looked under its proposed new form, but cannot find it. I’d be interested to learn more about the proposed changes !

    Merci !

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  12. Catherine Delors says:

    You are welcome, Carol! Yes, weekdays are always better, but if you arrive after 2, you might have trouble fitting Koons and the restored Petit Trianon into a single afternoon.

  13. YIKES! I will definitely go after 2 on a weekday in that case.Thanks for the Art Tribune link!!! Excellent

  14. Catherine Delors says:

    Not yet, Carol. I went to Versailles on the week-end following the reopening of the Petit Trianon and the place was MOBBED! I couldn’t get within a hundred yards of the gates, and was content to watch the horse show at the Grandes Ecuries.

  15. Have you seen the Jeff Koons at Versailles yet?
    I was planning to catch them on my visit. Some of the same shiny works were on the roof of the Metropolitan all summer and they were magnificent! Shock & surprise. His studio is a few blocks from Kremer Pigments and his assistents come in all the time to buy odd stuff. I got an invite to visit and thought it would be fun to compare Versailles and his studio… I hope I get there before I take off.

  16. Catherine Delors says:

    Thank you, Michelle! Actually today I am working like crazy at my law office, and did not even have time to finish my Bastille Day post.

    Please have a thought for me as you enjoy the fireworks tonight. That should be gorgeous.

  17. Happy Bastille Day, Catherine!!! My husband and I are taking a break from research and popped over to France to celebrate ;] I hope you enjoy your evening. We’re going to Annecy to watch the fireworks over the lake!!

  18. Sheramy says:

    LOL, not only do I remember that skit, I have it on a VHS tape someplace, I thought it was so hilarious.

    I found the article about Koons at Versailles that I saw: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/art/news/story/0,,2289004,00.html

    It does not say how many total sculptures will be exhibited. It mentions three specifically, with one of those to be placed in the Salon d’Abondance and another in the Salon d’Hercule. *shudder*

    I’ll be interested to read the reactions when the pieces are actually displayed.

  19. Catherine Delors says:

    Sheramy – Do you remember that skit on Saturday Night Live where John Malkovitch (sp?) played a long-haired sculptor whose “art” consisted in little plastic squirrels glued onto driftwood? Koons’s stuff is at the same level, but it’s not funny.
    And now Koons would be exhibited in Versailles? What do they have in mind? His pictures with La Cicciolina?
    Please pinch me!

  20. Sheramy says:

    It’s such a question how far one can go–or should go–with historical preservation, isn’t it? I agree with you, it seems a lot of money that could have been better spent on conservation efforts inside the palace. And the gates do look Disneyesque.

    I read somewhere recently that Jeff Koons will be exhibiting some of his kitsch sculptures in the chateau and gardens this fall. I find that just hideous to contemplate, myself. Louis XIV should show up to haunt the place!

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