Restoration of the Salon de Mercure


27/01/12 - Restoration - Versailles, Château - At the same time as the press conference held yesterday by Catherine Pégard, on 26 January, in Versailles (see news item of 26/01/12), we also visited the restoration site for the Salon de Mercure which should end in June 2012, after ten months of work supervised by both the Conservation du château de Versailles and the C2RMF, for a total of 750,000 € (ill. 1 and 2).


1. Ceiling of the Salon de Mercure, 1671-1681
paintings by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne
stuccos by Gaspard and Balthazar Marsy.
Photographed before the restoration.
Photo : RMNGP

2. Restoration of the ceiling of the Salon de Mercure
painted by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne.
Versailles, Château
Photo : Didier Rykner


Produced between 1671 and 1681, the decor for the ceiling was painted by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne while the stuccos are by Gaspard and Balthazar Marsy. In the center we find Mercury in his chariot, drawn by two roosters, accompanied by the Morning star (ill. 1). The scenes from Antiquity developed on the covings remind us he is both the god of intellect and the messenger from Olympus : here, Alexander the Great receives the news announcing the death of the Indian gymnosophist philosopher, Calanus ; on the other side, he sends Aristotle animals from all over the world so he can write his History of Animals ; the other two compositions represent Ptolomey II Philadelphus Conversing with Jewish Scholars and The Emperor Augustus Welcoming an Embassy of Indians. The corner medallions depict four allegories : Reason appearing between Fairness and Measure (ill. 3), Merit between Justice and Industry, Physical Grace between Diligence and Force and finally, Experience between Memory and Mathematical Reasoning. The ensemble is animated by stucco figures of gilt cherubs bearing horns of plenty and flower garlands of laurels (ill. 4).


3. Restoration of the ceiling of the Salon de Mercure
painted by Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne.
Versailles, Château
Photo : Christian Milet

4. Cherub bearing a horn of plenty
Versailles, Château
Photo : Didier Rykner


The work started by removing the previous restorations, notably the repainting covering part of the work by Jean-Baptist de Champaigne. The gaps, which are numerous but small, have been filled without covering the original paint still present at 80% (ill. 5). The maroufled canvas on the covings and the center of the ceiling also had to be treated, having come unglued at some points. As for the decor of the corner medallions, it was directly painted in oil on the plaster which had come apart (ill. 6) ; the restoration team decided to reinforce the plaster coating from the back and not try to put it back in place, while retouching the painted decor wherever damaged. Also, the fleurs de lys present at the back of the corner medallions were revealed after having been concealed during the Revolution.
The elements made of gilt stucco with gold leaf (borders with geometric and vegetation ornaments, cornices, cherubs, flower garlands) have also accumulated much grime which will be cleaned.


5. Coving
The Emperor Augustus Welcoming an Embassy of Indians
Versailles, Château
Photo : Christian Milet

6. Corner Medallion
Physical Grace between Diligence and Force
Versailles, Château
Photo : Didier Rykner


Once this operation is finished, the Salon de l’Abondance will then be restored in turn and take place between July and December 2012 with special attention to the ceiling where the decor was painted in 1683 by René-Antoine Houasse directly onto the plaster coating ; here, old repaintings and mould have altered La Magnificence du Roi.

Version française


Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mercredi 1er février 2012



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