Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

The Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) at Versailles is the crown jewel of the palace complex, and has been ever since its unveiling in 1684. Following a three-year restoration, costing €12 million ($19 million U.S.), completed in late 2007, the room now sparkles anew.

From the era of Louis XIV this room has been the scene of significant events: royal births, weddings and countless state visits. William I was declared Emperor of Germany here in January 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War (France lost). Decades later Georges Clemenceau took revenge by choosing this same room in 1919 for the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I (Germany lost).

Mansart was the architect of the Hall of Mirrors. Measuring 240 feet long by 34 feet wide by 40 feet high, it was the masterpiece of Louis XIV’s third building phase at Versailles. Work began in 1678, and the great Charles Le Brun was commissioned to paint the ceiling. All that was complimented by 17 mirrored arches, each consisting of 21 beveled mirrored panes, placed opposite an arch framed window of similar dimensions that overlooked the gardens, designed by Le Nôtre. The great chandeliers that hung from the vaulted ceiling were reflected off the mirrored surfaces to stunning effect.

The Hall of Mirrors has been restored several times, the first just 15 years after its construction, the last in 1950. The recent restoration, however, is the most thorough ever. The paintings, sculptures, metalwork, marble, parquet, chandeliers and the mirrors – everything – was refurbished. The cleaning of the Le Brun ceiling paintings alone required 40 craftsmen. Remarkably, only 48 of the original 357 17th-century panes of mirror have been replaced. When it was necessary to do so, restorers used antique mirrors from the Senate palace in the Luxembourg Gardens. All of the room’s metalwork was re-gilded using 17th-century techniques.

Château de Versailles, open 9am-6:30pm/5:30 in winter daily except Mondays.

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