Versailles : the antechamber of the Grand Couvert now restored


1. Ceiling of the antechamber in the Grand Couvert
Versailles, château
Photo : Anne Chauvet

20/10/10 – Restoration – Versailles, Musée national du château – The château of Versailles continues its program of restoring the painted decors of the royal apartments, after notably the Salon d’Hercule and the Hall of Mirrors, work recently finished on the ceiling of the antechamber in the Grand Couvert (ill. 1) which was inaugurated on 18th October 2010 [1].

Designed by Charles Le Brun but executed by Antoine Pallet and Claude-François Vignon, the painted compositions represent scenes related to Mars since this room was originally used by the Queen’s guards before becoming the setting where the king and his family dined in presence of the court. Unfortunately, the main painting in the middle of the ceiling, by Vignon, quickly deteriorated and was replaced in 1814-1815 with a Veronese canvas, Saint Mark Rewarding the Theological Virtues [2], substituted later in 1861 by the current marouflé canvas, Darius’ Family at Alexander’s Feet (ill. 2), a tapestry cartoon painted by Henri Testelin after a work by Le Brun (also held at Versailles). In 2007, emergency measures were taken due to the bulging of the camaieus on the arches. The restoration lasted from April 2009 until July 2010.


2. Henri Testelin (1616-1695), after Charles Le Brun
Darius’ Family at Alexander’s Feet, after restoration
Antechamber in the Grand Couvert
Versailles, château
Photo : Didier Rykner

3. Antoine Paillet (1626-1701)
Zenobia Fighting Against the Emperor Aurelian’s Army,
detail after restoration
Antechamber in the Grand Couvert
Versailles, château
Photo : Didier Rykner


Although Testelin’s central canvas was well preserved (after restoration, the work is in even better condition than Le Brun’s original), the arches, particularly the camaieus (ill. 3) are repainted in many areas. The choice to not touch the restorations on these works was made as it became apparent it would be impossible to recover the original painting. However, as the repainted portions on the two tondos (ill. 4 and 5) and the two royal mottos (ill. 6) were less extensive, they were for the most part removed. Given that the works had all changed differently, the choice of restoration had to provide a final result where these inconsistencies did not appear to be so obvious. The end product corresponds admirably to this demand.


4. Antoine Paillet (1626-1701)
The Fury and the War in Front of Janus’ Temple
Antechamber in the Grand Couvert
Versailles, château
Photo : Didier Rykner

5. Restoration of
Bellona, Godess of the Fighting, Burning Cybele’s Face
by Claude-François Vignon (1633-1703)
Antechamber in the Grand Couvert
Photo : Didier Rykner


6. Antoine Paillet and Claude-François Vignon
Cornucopia, detail of the royal motto
after restoration
Antechamber in the Grand Couvert
Versailles, château
Photo : Didier Rykner

The gilt stuccos sculpted by Pierre I Legros and Benoît Massou (ill. 7) were also restored at the same time as the paintings. Thanks to a 1788 inventory of the furniture in this room the pieces are well documented but are now lost. It was therefore necessary to install an ensemble resembling the original décor as much as possible, making this an evocation rather than a restitution. A crimson damask fabric woven according to the description afforded by a document from the first half of the 18th century was placed on the walls, the only concession, but still acceptable, to the reconstitutions Versailles now specializes in. The tapestry facing the windows, Autumn or The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, from the ensemble in the gallery of the château in Saint Cloud after cartoons by Pierre Mignard was put on deposit here by the Mobilier National as well as Louis XV period seats and stools with Savonnerie upholstery. Finally, the Louvre lent silverware produced for George III of England by Robert-Joseph Auguste in order to evoke the royal dinnerware (ill. 8) which is close to that used by French royalty but which, alas, disappeared during the Revolution.


7. Benoît Massou (1633-1684)
Children Standing on Trophies, detail
Antechamber in the Grand Couvert
Photo : Didier Rykner

8. Antechamber in the Grand Couvert
After restoration
Versailles, château
Photo : Didier Rykner


A book, under the supervision of Nicolas Milovanovic, has been published for the occasion. It addresses both amateurs and specialists, highlighting the history of the decors, the restorations as well as dining at the time of Louis XIV.


Under the supervision of Nicolas Milovanovic, L’Antichambre du Grand Couvert. Fastes de la table et du décor à Versailles, 2010, Editions Gourcuff-Gradenigo, 122 p., 29€. ISBN : 9782353400928.


Didier Rykner, mercredi 20 octobre 2010


Notes

[1] The restoration was funded by Martell.

[2] Now at the Louvre.



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