An exotic fashion show at Versailles

Six year old Prince Nguyen Phuc Can painted by Maupérin, 1787, Paris, Missions Etrangères

It is still a nightmare to go to Versailles even when you have preordered tickets but maybe with the winter months, lines will get shorter. We managed to get to the head of the queue with our Friends of Versailles card and once we were inside the exhibition, « Visiteurs de Versailles, 1682-1789 », we were alone with a few guards who seemed to be there to escape the crowds. The exhibition is fabulous fun and it is the best introduction to the castle with glorious paintings of the gardens and inside at the time of Louis XIVth.

Pierre Gobert, Mehemet Effendi, Turkish ambassador, 1724,Philip Mould & company

Transformed by Louis XIV th into a fastuous palace open to all visitors, the little hunting lodge built by Louis XIII th became the center of International diplomacy in the 17 th and 18 th century. Whether coming from the Empire of Siam (Thailand today) or America, official visitors wore their most colourful costumes and came with a large entourage. We can easily visualise these state visits thanks to engravings, sculptures and paintings of the different ceremonies.

Grenadier of the French guards les Cent-Suisses, mid 18 th century

The show starts with different uniforms worn by the members of the Cent-Suisses embodied by Louis Hercule Tioléon de Cossé in a lavish uniform of captain and by les gardes de la Manche, sort of bodyguards for the king. The visit of Chin Fo Cum a Chinese traveller, the submission of Genoa’s doge, the entrance of Dutch ambassador Hop in 1719, are well illustrated and the model of the Staircase of the ambassadors shows the degree of luxury of these audiences.

A modern model of Escalier des Ambassadeurs made by Charles Arquinet

Charles Le Brun painted the different nations of Asia and Nicolas de Sainctot is painted as the « Introducer of Ambassadors » in a beautiful work from 1691 to 1709.

Some of the documents like the ceremony of the Siamese ambassador Kosa Pan, accompanied by his interpreter Abbé Artus de Lionne, were published in an almanach and painted by the court’s artists. There is a delightful Siamese hat and its box exhibited here. The Persian ambassador painted by Nicolas Langlois, the Amerindian coiffe with buffalo horns, the Russian ambassador Matveev, the Turkish ambassador Mehemet Effendi, all are shown here in a spectacular setting.

Countess Andrei Artamonovich Matveev, wife of the Russian ambassador, painted by Mathaüs Desangles in 1702

The most charming is probably 6 year old Prince Nguyen Phuc Canh who had come from Cochinchina with Bishop Pigneaux de Behaine in 1787 to ask Louis XVI th for his protection. The treaty was signed six months later but was never applied because of the revolution.

Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Duplessis

Louis XIV receives the Ambassador Mehemet Reeza Bey in the gallery of mirrors, 19 February 1715

Benjamin Franklin was one of the last visitors and one can see a guide book in English « Versailles illustrated », 1726, meant for foreign visitors. There is also a watercolor of Mozart who came with his father in 1777.

All these illustrations of Versailles’ «grandeur »are very moving and the International atmosphere that prevailed in the palace is very striking given the difficulties of transports.

Louis XVI hands the signed treaties to Benjamin Franklin in 1778

Do go to Versailles to see this show, it is pretty and glamorous. (until February 25, at Versailles and from April 9 to July 29 at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.)

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