Aulica Coll. No 9 - Versailles ou la disgrâce d’Apollon

Gérard Sabatier, Versailles ou la disgrâce d’Apollon, joint publication Centre de recherche du château de Versailles / Presses universitaires de Rennes (“Histoire” collection, “Aulica. L’Univers de la cour” series), January 2017, 16,5 × 24 cm, 360 pages, 66 black & white illustrations, 17 colour plates, index, €24 (ISBN: 978-2-7535-5195-4).


Versailles ou la disgrâce d’Apollon intends to break with the accepted yet distorted image of the Palace of the Sun that Versailles never was. The legend of Apollo unfolds across the gardens of the first Versailles, with its statues and fountains and its dazzling parties lasting long into the night. Yet the real enigma lies behind the portrait of the King in the salons of the Grands Appartements; as for the Hall of Mirrors, it represents the glorification of a Prince who had become the master of Europe. This exulting image produced during the first twenty years of Louis XIV’s reign today demands – as it did then– to be deciphered. It was an entirely different message that was proclaimed over the thirty-five years in which Versailles served as the seat of Government. The paradigm had shifted. The Italianate and Baroque model of the hero faded out, leaving way for the ancient Imperial model (“classic”?) . The delicacy of the art was exceeded only by the expression of power. This was reflected in the primacy of the architecture, a cumulative craving transforming the gardens into a museum of antique sculpture, the promotion of technical performances in which hydraulic performance took centre stage. The disgrace of Apollo was not only seen in the successive stages of the history of the site, but also in its function, that is to say its use, the provisions issued to visitors and the perception related by guests. The disparity between the intentions and uses of the patron and the understanding of the public must be recognised and questioned. Was the notion of propaganda peremptory? What about the successive interpretations, modes of operation, the “consumption” of the symbols of the King produced in a context conferred by a public in the process of renewal whose expectations change over time? Versailles ou la disgrâce d’Apollon analyses the entirety of a creative process, pitting an actual Versailles, the rhetorical expression of the King, against the imaginary Versailles constructed by its users. The Disgrace of Apollo therefore becomes that of the King, a form of monarchy fallen into obsolescence like its château-manifesto.

Gérard Sabatier is a Professor Emeritus, a specialist in cultural history and the history of mentalities, particularly of the French monarchy in the 17th century. He co-authored a trilogy on Funérailles princières en Europe, XVIe- XVIIIe siècle and was curator, alongside Béatrix Saule, of the exhibition “Le roi est mort Louis XIV. 1715” at the Château de Versailles (Nov. 2015-Feb. 2016).

Book reviews

Read Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly’ review published in the Francia. Forschungen zur westeuropäischen Geschichte and online in the Francia-Recensio, 2017-4.

Read Damien Bril’ review published online January 31, 2018 Cour de (in french).

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