The Anglo-Chinese Gardens of Versailles


The English garden of the late XVIII century is still very much a Chinese garden: it is constructed along the vertical and horizontal planes of a built-up mountain and a dug-out river; it includes a Buddhist grotto and a gazebo; Confucius gave a theoretical justification for a vertical and horizontal scrolls of such a landscape, by comparing a Sage to a body of water, while the Princely Man to a mountain: Wisdom versus virtue, where the preference is given to virtue, intrepidly holding against all the vicissitudes of life.

A mountain in the Chinese garden is not a mountain, but rather a spirit of some mountain, a miniature copy of that mountain, where a representation of the holy Virtue (1) aspires to be the virtue of a Virtuous Man (2) in question, the creator of the mini mountain. And we admire the little mountain’s creator as we admire his living landscape.

Why a gazebo? A gazebo is some human presence in the landscape to give us a scale, as well as a touch of futility in this heroic opposition to the elements of nature; a grotto, on the other hand, is a call for introspection, a soul-searching, inward movement to hole in and remain still, confined, concealed, away from any distraction, hidden from an indiscreet onlooker.

The Confucian flora reflects the traditional Chinese values, in the tree, pine; in the fruit, prune; in the plant bamboo; and in the flower, lotus. The first three are called the three friends of the cold season and are associated with loyalty, fortitude, nobility, purity, and moderation; for example, in the diet the moral rectitude of bamboo is opposed to the vulgar obsession with meat: “emaciated you can always put on more weight, but there is no cure for the vulgar.” And finally lotus. Lotus is a flower rooted in the mud and purified by water; it is often the destination of our walk through the garden and is associated with a gazebo where we may stay, if caught in the rain, and ” …listen to the raindrops on the last lotus leaves….”

(1) jen, pronounced as ren, means virtue, it is an attribute of the Virtuous Man, Princely Man, Chunag-tzu.

(2) Chuang-tzu  means Virtuous Man, Magnanimous Man, Princely Man, it is a man whose property happens to be jen.

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