When the King Gets Tired…


Approaching Chateau Versailles from the East where the entrance is crowded by all the tourists and their buses, we see a strange-looking building that Colbert himself had described as a small man with a large head and very long arms. Ignoring the XIX century additions to All the Glories of France, we see a Renaissance structure whose walls read like chapters in Plutarch.

Plutarch, of course, remained Louis XIV favorite author till the end. Racine used the Life of Alexander as a lullaby to put grandpa king to sleep.

The baroque program begins on the West side of the building. Well. This is a different building! So much so, that if I were to teach an Art History class on the subject, the two slides would be in my compare and contrast file for the final. 

If we were to ignore the megalomaniac 5 km view of the Grand Canal, this building would be a simplified, flattened Bernini project; the third one he had proposed for the reconstruction of the Louvre. But we cannot ignore the view; and the scale being one of the defining features of baroque, the credit is to be given to all the participants.

The scale is what allows Derrida to treat Kant as a baroque philosopher. The scale gives us that ordered and disfigured Universe we find in the monstrous park of the Chateau. And the allegorical statues follow suit all over the walls as well as in the garden.

There are some real people there as well, but for the most part, we are climbing the abstraction ladder. The statues are the allegorical representation of the world, the XVII century grasp of reality: we see the Four Elements, the Four Seasons, the Four Humors, the Four Times of the Day, the Four Genres of Poetry, the Four Continents (the New Word is counted as one and Antarctica is unknown).

The program is not sustained to the end: It took too long, became monotonous and void of life. Apparently at some point Louis XIV got tired of it and cut the funds. And frankly I would too, but it is precisely this moment of weakness that is of interest to me. For the minute Louis XIV has no more energy to expand his project, Versailles turns into a ghost town.

It is only a green stick fracture, the great king is still there running through the forest in the company of his dogs; and yet the point of abandonment brings us the painfully sweet feeling of an old wound. I see Louis XIV as he halts while the whole cry and hue carries on, it is a punctuation mark of some importance, something in the ellipsis….

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