The Sunshine King’s Animal Kingdom at Versailles

Table of Contents As if Versailles weren’t awe-inspiring sufficient, Louis XIV wowed people with a…

Pelikanen, Peeter Boel (attributed to), immediately after Peeter Boel, 1670 – 1674 © rijksmuseum menagerie posting

As if Versailles weren’t awe-inspiring sufficient, Louis XIV wowed people with a extensive menagerie of unique animals. Hazel Smith discovers the Solar King’s animal kingdom.

Just after so a great deal natural beauty would you like to see
The order and electricity of the menagerie?
Abundance is in all places in this residence of kings
That shows no equivalent in any points.

-Claude Denis, c. 1670

From the Palace of Versailles, King Louis XIV commanded not only the kingdom of France but also the kingdom of animals. In the world-renowned gardens, he designed an amazing menagerie of beasts, a living, breathing allegory for the Sun King’s electrical power above all he surveyed.

Numerous noble French homes collected unique animals in get to impress their people: Charlemagne and Louis IX the two held elephants at courtroom although the Duke of Anjou not only owned an elephant, but lions, camels, and monkeys. Some held their selection of beasts frighteningly close to home – Francis I slept with a snow leopard at the foot of his mattress.

The Menagerie, entrance view, Adam Perelle (1638-1695), Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon
The Menagerie, entrance look at, Adam Perelle (1638-1695), Versailles, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon © RMN (Château de Versailles) – Gérard Blot

By the center of the 17th century, Louis XIV had adopted the professional-animal sentiment that permeated French tradition at the time, but his angle hadn’t constantly been so kindly. In the early times of his rule, the spirited youthful king was just as enamoured with blood athletics as his ancestors had been. When Louis achieved the age of 24, he turned as a substitute to a classical, orderly and tranquil display of noble and exotic animals.

Louis’ Royal Menagerie was the 1st undertaking at the new Versailles. The layout was developed by architect Louis Le Vau in collaboration with Versailles’ head gardener André Le Nôtre. Le Nôtre picked a 5-acre internet site in park’s south-west corner. It was a 20-moment walk from the palace alone, the area probably preferred for hygiene reasons – the King would not want the malodorous livestock much too shut to his dwelling quarters.

Atlas Van der Hagen – La Ménagerie de Versailles 1683. © Wikimedia

The menagerie is involved on some of the earliest surviving maps of Versailles. Eye-witness accounts and engravings give us a fantastic notion of what the Royal Menagerie’s pavilion and animal enclosures seemed like. In 1663, Le Vau commenced design of a modest, château-like observatory which was to be the menagerie’s octagonal centrepiece. The iron balconies on the building’s 2nd floor missed seven animal courtyards, which radiated outwards in solar-like spokes. The building alone made up the eighth factor. Concluded inside a yr, the animal palace cost 500,000 livres to build – plenty of to feed 12 peasants for 98 yrs.

Ideas of the menagerie determined the principal inhabitants of the wedge-shaped enclosures. Le Vau’s construction divided animals in accordance to species, the initially time in heritage that a assortment of zoo animals experienced been classified in these a way. This guy-made method aimed to sidestep the violent tendencies uncovered in the wild and provide rather as a product of grace.

Map of Versailles, by Delagrive
Map of Versailles, by Delagrive (1689-1757) menagerie highlighted. © Wikimedia Commons

Stylish birds civilly ruled the roost at the Royal Menagerie. The Quartier des Demoiselles was named right after the woman-like cranes it contained, together with an aviary of in excess of 49 odd and marvellous species of birds. Ostriches had a sandy enclosure to counsel the desert the aquatic birds had a pond and Asian birds experienced environmentally friendly and aromatic plants. The Cour des Pélicans also housed flamingoes and wild ducks, even though Le Rond-d’Eau enclosed a wetland habitat for storks, herons and other wading birds. Horn-billed cranes and eagles lived incongruously with porcupines and foxes in this cacophony of sound. An elephant and a camel had been joined at the end of the 17th century by lions and a rhinoceros. The Basse Cour contained domestic farm animals destined for the royal kitchens and, thereafter, the royal eating desk.

Gifts FROM Abroad

Stocking the Versailles menagerie was a complicated and highly-priced exercising. To show specimens like African lions or Brazilian parrots, arrangements had to be designed very first to obtain and then to sufficiently transport, feed and property them. Getting animals like this demanded expeditions to other components of the entire world.

Governors of the French colonies ended up instructed to acquire exceptional animals for the zoo. The governor of Madagascar despatched a cassowary, a harmful clawed fowl regarded for its violent temperament. The East India Firm was asked to deliver exotic species with them on their return voyages from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. 1 these types of animal wrangler, instructed by the King to enterprise to North Africa, built 40 outings concerning 1671 and 1694, returning with additional than 800 birds, like 103 ostriches, furthermore exotic gazelles, goats and sheep. Some of the animals that found their way into the Menagerie ended up diplomatic presents from foreign rulers. The King of Siam presented Louis XIV 3 crocodiles, when the King of Portugal, Pedro II, despatched him an elephant. One particular of the most popular animals at Versailles, it attracted good numbers of website visitors, researchers and artists. When it died in 1681, its dissection was a major scientific celebration. It was only then identified that the creature was not a male, as the keepers had prolonged meant, but a female elephant.

Kasuarissen, purperkoet en flamingo's, Peeter Boel
Kasuarissen, purperkoet en flamingo’s, Peeter Boel © Community Domain

Louis himself usually up to date an itinerary titled Manière de Montrer les Jardins, which park guides followed to the letter. The king preferred his friends to be overwhelmed by the thrill of the spectacle. On the royally-encouraged tour, the menagerie was reached by using Versailles’ Grand Canal. On special events company ended up taken care of to a simulated Mediterranean voyage alongside the canal, travelling to the menagerie in miniature frigates crewed by costumed sailors or serenaded by musicians in gilded Venetian gondolas. At the gates of the menagerie, readers were being obliged to admire the designs and views made available by Louis’ majestic gardens.

The architecture of the menagerie artfully hid the animals from the guests’ see right up until they could be viewed in their comprehensive glory. A description of Versailles prepared in 1674 by the King’s particular secretary, André Félibien, presents a small description of what he noticed at the Royal Menagerie.

“The principal dwelling is an octagon figure, and incorporates only a Salon … surrounded by a courtyard which is also an octagon figure closed iron gratings independent it from 7 other courts. This Salon is also surrounded by a balcony from which you can see these 7 courtyards which are crammed with an infinity of extremely scarce birds and an unbelievable quantity of international and wild animals of all species.”

Versailles © Shutterstock

Madame Madeleine de Scudéry also recorded her impressions of the menagerie: “From the Salon one can see seven distinct enclosures loaded with all kinds of birds and scarce animals their portraits are in the gallery, in purchase to prepare just one for what one particular is about to see.” Akin to interpretative panels in a gallery right now, these previews were faithfully painted by Flemish painter Nicasius Bernaerts, who recorded on canvas all new creatures arriving at Versailles. The Musée de la Chasse et de la Character in Paris shows some of his paintings.

Again in 1653, the teenage Louis Quatorze produced his initial dazzling physical appearance in advance of the courtroom in the costume of Apollo. He wore a golden wig and a jewel-laden plumed headdress that emulated the birds he would develop to love. A photo voltaic ray motif burst from his embroidered tunic and very little suns blazed from his garters and the buckles of his dancing shoes. The younger Louis identified that when he danced, all troubles and hostilities melted absent.

Ballet de la nuit 1653 King Louis XIV. © Wikipedia Commons


Louis, not incredibly, adored the theatre, but in the early stages of renovation, his grand spectacles took position in Versailles’ expansive gardens. Famed for their equestrian pageants, musical galas, fireworks and fountains, the royal extravaganzas made use of the menagerie’s inhabitants.

The most elaborate of the festivals was the 6-day fête that incorporated the first collaboration of the playwright Molière and the Superintendent of Royal Music, Jean-Baptiste Lully. Identified as Les Plaisirs de l’ Île Enchantée, Louis staged the competition in the Could of 1664, ostensibly honouring his mom and his new wife, though it was discreetly dedicated to his mistress, Mademoiselle de La Vallière.

The king headed the procession and was adopted by a ballet of the Four Seasons. Spring pranced in on a Spanish horse surrounded by dancing gardeners. Summertime controlled a team of lithe and leaping harvesters from the back again of an elephant. Autumn, astride a camel, was adopted by grape pickers, and aged men bearing rare bowls of ice accompanied Winter season, who was precariously perched on a bear’s back again. The menagerie and its creatures had been extensively obtainable to the having to pay community. As effectively as Molière, the playwrights and poets Jean de La Fontaine, Jean Racine, and Nicolas Boileau have been amid the numerous who came to satisfy their curiosity.

Birds Menagerie, Peeter Boel. (1622-1674) © Wikipedia Commons

Around the finish of Louis XIV’s reign, upward of 40 coaches a day, jostling with scores of keen people, created the eight-hour spherical-vacation from Paris.

Prior to the menagerie’s final demise – right after Versailles had handed as a result of the fingers of King Louis XV – it was residence to 239 species of birds, 123 mammals and 10 amphibians.

At its inception, the menagerie was praised as a amazing exhibit, but by the late 1700s the status of amassing wild animals was fading.

The menagerie came under attack in the course of the French Revolution and its inhabitants ended up both established absolutely free, applied for food stuff, or despatched to the Jardins des Plantes in Paris. Today inside of the Jardins, the collection of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle includes some of the preserved specimens from the Royal Menagerie.

From France Now Magazine

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