Strategically placed between Paris and Fontainebleau, it was the dream of Nicolas Fouguet, who was responsible for the creation of this architectural model of the 17th century which was never to be surpassed for its originality, symmetry and harmony, that this would be the perfect place for the court to pause in transit between the two. Everything he created was in the spirit of excellence, intended as a homage to Louis XIV, the Sun King. In the event, his whole strategy backfired horribly when, after the most sumptuous evening of feasting and fireworks held on the 17th August 1661 to which he invited the King, intending the creation of his splendid Château to be perceived as an act of homage in his monarch’s honour, he found himself, shortly afterwards, incarcerated for the rest of his life.
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Fouquet, who rose to affluence from his beginnings as a lawyer at the Parliament of Paris aged only 16, to being the Superintendent of Finances at only 38, was a generous patron of the arts who enjoyed being able to give to support and encouragement to writers, artists and poets. His crime was to overshadow the King with the glory of his stately home. In those days to be in control of art was to have power. Even the ceiling of his bedchamber, decorated with Apollo, whom the Sun King had adopted as his symbol and whose role he had once danced in his youth, was an affront to his monarch who saw this as an excess which threatened his position as the main benefactor and controller of the arts in his kingdom. It was said by Voltaire ‘at six o’clock in the evening on 17th August, Fouquet was King of France; at two o’clock in the morning, he was a nobody,” so rapid was his fall from grace. The King had wanted him arrested that very evening and only the Queen Mother’s intervention dissuaded him from pursuing this course of action.
The grounds were the work of Le Notre whose vision was realised to great effect, using the maximum benefit of the lie of the land which falls away with a gentle downhill slope to infinity, surveyed by a huge statue of Hercules from which point the best view of the sheer scale and entire symmetry of the Château can be captured.
Much is not quite as it seems. Most notably, the use of the River Anqueil to create the transverse axis of the canal by the grotto, flanked by numerous fountains at the culmination of the many terraces, ponds, pathways and flower beds which make up the superb formal French gardens. Charles Le Brun was responsible for the decoration of the Château and here, as in the architecture, the influence of the Italians is much in evidence. Instead of the formal French ceilings of beams and joists, the use of coved ceilings gave rise to some superb gilded stuccoes and superb central medallions, many of them featuring characters of mythology. The detail and subtlety of the rich and colourful décor is superb, even down to the wood panelling and decorated alcoves. The decoration of some rooms including the Grand Salon remains unfinished. The latter, a vast oval room on two floors, benefiting from a panoramic view of the gardens and grounds beyond where on a summer’s evening, 2000 candles are lit to rekindle the splendour of Vaux.
The architecture was novel in that previously most châteaux were constructed to a width of only 12 metres with only one room’s depth, with two aspects to the rear and front of the building and so there was little privacy as all rooms interconnected. Le Vau constructed a new experiment of 26 metres in depth, as a result of which the entire structure of the roof altered from the traditional and became a curb roof. Whilst it took Wren 21 years to construct the dome of St Paul’s, Le Vau began his roof after only 13 months and completed the dome a few months later. Louis Le Vau, given free reign and consulting his considerable library of 440 volumes, created his true masterpiece at Vaux–le-Vicomte. It came as no surprise that the Sun King employed the architects of Vaux , namely Le Vau, Le Nôtre, Le Brun, La Quintinie and Molière, to create Versailles and replicate so many of the details that had, on the one hand so impressed him, and on the other, so enraged him on that memorable night in 1661. For more information contact Jean-Charles de Vogué 0033 1 64 14 41 90
Copyright text : Sarah Francis.