Versailles Palace Presents 400 Years of Furniture

An exhibit offers ideas for the future furnishing of the palace

By Renate Lilge-Stodieck
Epoch Times Staff 

The Hall of Mirrors, 246 feet in length and composed of 357 mirrors, is the most splendid and most famous hall of the Palace of Versailles, which is located west of Paris. The castle has 700 rooms, more than 2,000 windows, 1,250 fireplaces, and 67 stairca (Copyright EPV/C. Milet) 
The Versailles Palace, one of Europe’s grandest, presently hosts an exhibition showcasing 400 years of furniture and accoutrements—from the reign of Louis the XIV to the present. The palace is widely recognized as a gem among royal edifices.
Baron Roland de L'Espee, art historian, grew up with Versailles, became an art historian, and now, as president of the association "Friends of Versailles," is dedicated to preserving the palace, which is part of the UNESCO cultural heritage. (Courtesy of Roland de L'Espee)
 Baron Roland de L’Espée, since 2009 president of the association Friends of Versailles, sees himself responsible to keep the palace intact. The association was founded in 1907 to maintain the palace, given the danger that it was slated to being razed.

“I feel responsible as a landlord but not as an owner,” de L’Espée said.

Questioned as to what prompted him to assume this honorary position, he said: “I grew up with the Versailles heritage—my father was already a member of the Friends of Versailles, and I was accepted as a member in 1980.”
“The association realized that it would be for the sake of the association to retain me, an art historian who works in a well-respected company, knows all things pertaining to the history of the palace, and knows the curators and conservators whose knowledge is invaluable to preserve the art treasures and architectural integrity,” de L’Espée said.

“So, it became almost automatic for me to accept this position. Versailles is dear to my heart,” de L’Espée said.

The Younger Generation 


The palace, occupying more than 0.9 miles of grounds, was the model for many other 17th and 18th century European palaces. It has been part of the UNESCO cultural heritage since 1979. The palace and its fabulous gardens are open to visitors, as are other palaces in the park.

Although Versailles rates high on an international list of things to see, young people may not necessarily feel the urge to visit.

“Young people must first develop an open-door attitude toward history. I would like to open them a window to the art of the past,” the baron said. “Versailles is a very special place. It was the center of 17th and 18th century European art.

“It formed contemporary tastes in art development, painting, sculpture, furnishings, gardens, music, and theater and influenced culinary creations and court etiquette. Even the French language reached all over the continent.”

Versailles offers settings for conferences and lately summer courses for aspiring conservators. “These courses are open to young people who might live outside Paris and whose funds are limited.

“By attending these courses, young people can gain practical experiences and learn about the art and actually come into contact with colors, wood, marble, and how they need to be treated for long-term preservation. They get to know the world of the arts in a practical way, instead of an academic way,” de L’Espée said.

The Sun King 


Louis XIV, called the Sun King, reigned between 1643 and 1715. He enlarged Versailles into this imposing palace and made Versailles what it is today, a triumphal site. 
An exhibit at Versailles Palace presents furniture from four centuries to help determine how Versailles should be furnished in the future. (Copyright EPV, JM. Manai, C. Milet)
 The Hall of Mirrors is a prototype for all that represents splendor in European nobles’ palaces and castles.

“The Sun King grew up impoverished because all the nobles were against his father,” de L’Espée said.

“He made the palace into his center, and in the middle of it, he resided. Everything revolved around him—just like around the sun. But there was never enough money,” de L’Espée said.

The exhibit Four Centuries of Furniture Design opened last month. “The exhibit poses the question how the palace ought to be refurnished to keep the authenticity of the things,” de L’Espée said. 
All furnishings were sold following the French Revolution. “Many of the treasures were taken to other kings, especially to England, and many ended up in museums. Many were retained,” de L’Espée said.
The exhibit presents objects from 400 years’ of furniture production as well as the taste of the era. “We will afterwards more easily be able to answer the question how we want to furnish Versailles,” de L’Espée said.

The exhibit Four Centuries of Furniture Design runs through Dec. 11. www.ChateauVersailles.fr