Staring At the Ceiling Of Chateau Versailles


When as a teenager Louis XV comes back to Versailles, he runs first through the park then through the palace. It is summer. Soon exhausted by the heat, the young king lies down on the parquet floor to stare at the ceiling decorated by the painters of his great-grandfather. The courtiers follow suit.

The first ceiling is inspired by love. Venus is riding in the chariot pulled by a dove. By a dove? The swan would correspond a little better to this task… I know it’s a stretch even for a swan to pull her, but I could suspend the reality a little. No! the swan is sitting next to Venus, not pulling. The same for the cupids, they are just flying around with flowers. I guess it’s the dove’s job. Pull.

Diana knows what she is doing: She has a couple of deer for her transport. The giant circle of the moon serves her as the spot-light; while using her body, arms out-stretched, for the face of this clock, she orders the hours which are slightly below: the Hour of Sleep, the Hour of Meditation, the Hour of Study, each complete with the wings of butterfly — as always chastity shows the highest degree of eroticism.

Mars is also an improvement, he has harnessed the dogs of war: these are actually wolves, but the dogs of war sounds better; his cherubs are trafficking arms from the Cyclopes all the way up.

Apollo rides in majesty, he has hitched some three, or maybe four horses. There are four seasons and four continents that keep him company on this world tour; so, the numbers should all match. France, a crowned female at the bottom, by her presence here, gives us a hint that this is her man. There is a cupid with a platter right above her, but it is not clear if he distributes or gathers something.

Mercury is carried by his sandals. He soars over the arts and sciences who are seated on a cloud below him; the one with the helmet is Eloquence, then Poetry, her head is invisible on my photo, but normally it should be under Eloquence’s left hand. Click there! After Poetry, sits Geometry, she holds a globe, then Painting with her palate, Music with a pipe, and probably Philosophy. But why is Philosophy sneaking away? Hm… Conspicuous by their absence are thieves and traders whose patron Mercury happens to be, but whom he might be fearful to show, so close to the Queen’s guard.

Unlike Venus with her doves, Jupiter, pulled by the eagles, is closer to sublime. The double sense of planet-god has something of Tarkovski: I see Sagittarius and Pisces, the four cupids playing the role of the four satellites. Other cupids, swords blazing, attack Fraud, Impiety, and Violence. This is a strong father image: to the right of Jupiter and to the left of a scale-holding child, two women, in symmetry like any justice: a woman with the fasci, another with her cornucopia: Punitive and Distributive Justice, next to them two more cherubs are playing with jewelry. This brings to mind the famous quote of Louis XIV, “Any time I reward someone, I create an ungrateful surrounded by the envious and angry.”

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