The restoration of The Hall of Mirrors
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The Hall of Mirrors in History

The Hall of Mirrors

Architecture

The Hall of Mirrors, described by the Marquise de Sévigné as being “of a Royal beauty unique in the world”, was created by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart between 1678 and 1684. The final two rooms of the King’s State Apartments, a terrace, and two of the Queen’s rooms were sacrificed to make way for it. 73 meters long, 10.5 meters wide and 13 meters high, it is lit by 17 windows overlooking the garden. Originally known as the Great Gallery (Grande Galerie), the Hall of Mirrors owes its name to the 357 mirrors lining its 17 arcades. The arches of the arcades and the windows are alternately topped by a head of Apollo and a body of the Nemean Lion.The gilded capitals of the pilasters are decorated with a fleur-de-lis and a Gallic cockerel, recalling the new “French order” invented by Le Brun. Eight busts of Roman emperors in porphyry and marble adorn the gallery, and eight statues, seven of them Antique : Bacchus, Venus, Modesty, Mercury, the Venus of Troas, Urania, Nemesis and Diana.

The decoration

Le bal des Ifs
C.N. Cochin, The Yew Tree Ball (Madame de Pompadour).

Executed between 1681 and 1684, the painted decoration of this vast room is a supreme example of apotheosis in French art : Louis XIV, then at the peak of his power and fame, asked Charles Le Brun, First Painter to the King, to depict the most important achievements of the first seventeen years of his reign. Le Brun gave free rein to his inventive genius, producing a whole panoply of allegories, trompe-l’oeil painting, illusionistic perspectives and real or illusionistic stuccowork. Each composition was given an explanatory title by Racine, now historiographer to the King.The main pictures recall the most glorious moments of the Dutch Wars (1672-78), and the principal administrative and economic reforms of the early years of the reign, while the medallions portray the victories of the War of Devolution (1667-1668). The whole ambitious composition is arranged around the big central painting that Racine entitled The King governs by himself.The illusionistic architecture dividing the vaulted ceiling into compartments was painted on canvas that was then marouflaged onto the ceiling. The ceiling is set off by a cornice in gilded stuccowork surmounted by twenty four trophies supported by putti and six cartouches flanked by griffins.Three successive sets of furniture were used to furnish the gallery : a set in solid silver that Louis XIV sent to be melted down in 1689 was replaced by a set in gilded wood ; the latter was replaced in turn, in 1769 – by new furniture that would be dispersed at the time of the Revolution.

A scene for historic events

Reception de l'ambassadeur de Perse
Antoine Coypel, Louis XIV receives in the Hall of Mirrors , the Ambassador Extraordinary of the Shah of Persia, Tashmasp II , Mehemet Raza-Bey, on 19 February 1715 .

L The Hall of Mirrors was a favorite setting for important court occasions, for Royal weddings and extraordinary audiences. The King’s throne would be placed at the end of the gallery in front of the archway opening into the Salon of Peace. Louis XIV used the Hall of Mirrors for ceremonies he wished to mark out as being of particular political importance.

The gallery had barely been completed when the Doge of Genoa was accorded an extraordinary audience there on 5 May 1685. The following year it was the turn of the ambassador sent by the King of Siam, now Thailand, and in 1715 of ambassadors from Persia. In January 1742, Louis XV received the Turkish envoy there.

After the fall of the monarchy, the gallery continued to serve as a backdrop for historic events. On 25 August 1855, for example, during the Second Empire, the splendours of the great balls held there during the Ancien Régime were revived one last time when Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie received Queen Victoria there.

Subsequent historic occasions tended to be less joyous. After his victory over the French in the Franco-Prussian war, it was in the Hall of Mirrors that William I of Prussia proclaimed the second German Empire on 18 January 1871. Fifty years later, Clemenceau chose the same venue for the signing, on 28 June 1919, of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War. Today, it is in the Great Gallery that many visiting heads of state have been welcomed – as, for example, in June 1982, during the G7 summit of the world’s most industrialised countries.