Vaux-le-Vicomte: A Reading List

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 5:06pm -- baglio

The third John Tschirch lecture of his series here at Redwood Library will focus on Vaux-le-Vitcomte; the building that sparked a king’s jealousy and the downfall of its owner. Vaux-le-Vicomte is a superb example of French Classical design. Built for Nicolas Fouquet, Minister of Finance for Louis XIV, the chateau is the creation of the great design team of Louis Le Vau, Charles Le Brun and Andre Le Notre, who would later create the palace of Versailles in an interesting turn of fate. This reading list will provide resources to learn more about the characters involved in the history of this beautiful chateau, and its unique history.


The Man Who Outshone the Sun King: Ambition Triumph and Treachery in the Reign of Louis XIV

By, Charles Drazin

The story — straight out of Dumas — of the rise and fall of Nicolas Fouquet, Louis XIV’s first finance minister and the man who “outshone the Sun King.” 

Sometime late in 1664, the musketeer D’Artagnan rode beside a heavily-armoured carriage as it rumbled southwards from Paris, carrying his great friend Nicolas Fouquet to internal exile and life imprisonment in the fortress of Pignerol. There he would be incarcerated in a cell next door to the Man with the Iron Mask. From a glittering zenith as the King’s first minister, builder of the chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte, collector of books, patron of the arts and lover of beautiful women, Fouquet had fallen like Icarus. Charged with embezzlement, convicted and sentenced, it is in his downfall and incarceration that the man’s strength of character and grace emerge, as he somehow survives both solitary confinement and absence of books, pen and ink. The richness and contrasts of Fouquet’s remarkable story are brilliantly portrayed by Charles Drazin to reveal how the cunning, charisma and charm of Fouquet enchanted and beguiled, while at the same time sowed the seeds of his destruction.

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King

By, Antonia Fraser

The self-proclaimed Sun King, Louis XIV ruled over the most glorious and extravagant court in seventeenth-century Europe. Now, Antonia Fraser goes behind the well-known tales of Louis’s accomplishments and follies, exploring in riveting detail his intimate relationships with women. The king’s mother, Anne of Austria, had been in a childless marriage for twenty-two years before she gave birth to Louis XIV. A devout Catholic, she instilled in her son a strong sense of piety and fought successfully for his right to absolute power. In 1660, Louis married his first cousin, Marie-Thérèse, in a political arrangement. While unfailingly kind to the official "Queen of Versailles," Louis sought others to satisfy his romantic and sexual desires. After a flirtation with his sister-in-law, his first important mistress was Louise de La Vallière, who bore him several children before being replaced by the tempestuous and brilliant Athénaïs, marquise de Montespan. Later, when Athénaïs’s reputation was tarnished, the king continued to support her publicly until Athénaïs left court for a life of repentance. Meanwhile her children’s governess, the intelligent and seemingly puritanical Françoise de Maintenon, had already won the king’s affections; in a relationship in complete contrast to his physical obsession with Athénaïs, Louis XIV lived happily with Madame de Maintenon for the rest of his life, very probably marrying her in secret. When his grandson’s child bride, the enchanting Adelaide of Savoy, came to Versaille she lightened the king’s last years—until tragedy struck. 

With consummate skill, Antonia Fraser weaves insights into the nature of women’s religious lives—as well as such practical matters as contraception—into her magnificent, sweeping portrait of the king, his court, and his ladies.

Andre le Notre: In Perspective

By, Patricia Bouchenot-Déchin (Editor), Georges Farhat (Editor)

André Le Nôtre (1613–1700), principal gardener to Louis XIV, was France’s greatest landscape and garden designer. The parks created by him at Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles are the supreme examples of the French 17th-century style of garden design. He was responsible also for the central pathway through the Tuileries, which became the grand axis of Paris running to the Arc de Triomphe and on to La Défense. 

This magnificent book sheds new light on the royal gardener’s life and his practice as a landscape architect, engineer and art collector, and examines the legacy of his influence. It highlights his major achievements and enhances our understanding of the French formal-garden model. Le Nôtre’s output is re-examined in terms of its social and cultural contexts; its artistic, technological, material and spatial components; and the dissemination of his ideas. The book contains illustrations of both original documents and the majority of extant drawings by Le Nôtre and his collaborators.  Comprehensive and impeccably researched, André Le Nôtre in Perspective brings together the scholarship of some of the world’s leading experts in early-modern art, gardens and allied fields.


Gardens of Illusion: The Genius of Andre le Nostre

By,  Franklin Hamilton Hazlehurst

Landscape gardening in seventeenth-century France was as vital to the life of the age as architecture, sculpture, and painting. In their formality and symmetry, the gardens were the coutnerpart of thestructures they were so carefully designed to embellish. The manicured landscapes were true products of the French rational intellect, an intellect that demanded a Nature controlled and dominated by human reason. Andre Le Nostre, the son and grandson of royal master gardeners, was the most influential landscape architect of his time." 418 pages, 370 photographs, plans and elevation drawings, colour section to rear. 


La Fontaine and His Friends; A Biography

By, Agnes Ethel McKay

One of the great Fabulists of the seventeeth century was Jean La Fontaine. As he was starting, the patron of French writing was the Superintendent Fouquet, to whom La Fontaine was introduced by Jacques Jannart, a connection of his wife's. Few people who paid their court to Fouquet went away empty-handed, and La Fontaine soon received a pension of 1000 livres (1659), on the easy terms of a copy of verses for each quarters receipt. He also began a medley of prose and poetry, entitled Le Songe de Vaux, on Fouquet's famous country house.


The Affair of the Poisons : Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV

By, Anne Somerset
 The Affair of the Poisons, as it became known, was an extraordinary episode that took place in France during the reign of Louis XIV. When poisoning and black magic became widespread, arrests followed. Suspects included those among the highest ranks of society. Many were tortured and numerous executions resulted. 
Anne Somerset has gone back to original sources, letters and earlier accounts of the affair. By the end of her account, she reaches firm conclusions on various crucial matters. The Affair of the Poisons is an enthralling account of a sometimes bizarre period in French history.

By, Valérie Bajou
A spectacularly opulent relic of royal wealth and power comes alive in Versailles. Highlighting the château’s vibrant, tumultuous past, the book covers everything from its metamorphosis from humble hunting lodge to palace, to the dismantling of its collections during the French Revolution and its restoration and status as a UNESCO World Heritage site today. In addition, the singular château is explored from top to bottom in an extravagantly extensive photographic tour that reveals the many priceless artistic and architectural treasures of this palace of palaces.
Every conceivable expression of this epoch, from Roman baroque to Dutch painting and naturally the unfolding splendour of Louis XIV is gathered in this volume. This work includes: chronological depiction of the fine arts from their origins in Rome through the late baroque and rococo; explanation of the socio-political background: the Counter-Reformation, the development of Protestantism, absolutism, and the French Revolution; and various ways the baroque left its mark, including city planning, architecture, garden design, sculpture, painting and emblems. During the baroque period, architecture and the other fine arts were the instruments of a staging of "world theatre" on a grand scale. The baroque art of the popes in Rome, the displays of power and opulence in the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and Dutch painting - they all reflect different aspects of the underlying tension between pleasure in life and fear of death that was such a prominent feature of the baroque world view. This volume portrays the entire span of the fine arts of the baroque era, from rich splendour to religious asceticism.
For gardening aficionados and Francophiles, a love letter to the Versailles Palace and grounds, from the man who knows them best. In Alain Baraton's Versailles, every grove tells a story. As the gardener-in-chief, Baraton lives on its grounds, and since 1982 he has devoted his life to the gardens, orchards, and fields that were loved by France's kings and queens as much as the palace itself. His memoir captures the essence of the connection between gardeners and the earth they tend, no matter how humble or grand.