Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Baroque Italy and France

Why did Louis XIV build the palace of Versailles?

From 1638 to 1715, King Louis XIV—the Sun King—reigned over France with absolute power. During his rule, France was the most powerful country in Europe. In the 1660s, Louis XIV made a radical decision to renovate Louix XIII’s country hunting lodge and transform it into France’s new royal palace: Versailles. This change meant that the aristocrats, diplomats, and all servants would leave the Louvre in Paris and move to the relatively isolated country location. Architects Louis Le Vau and Charles Le Brun oversaw the redesign of Versailles and the finished building was a massive, nearly city-sized structure with enough space for over twenty thousand people, including fourteen thousand servants. The scale was unprecedented. The Palace of Versailles is an enormous, formidable structure with a severe, classical exterior, manicured gardens, and opulent interiors.

Besides any political motivations Louis XIV may have had for relocating the palace, Versailles also served to glorify this powerful king. As the Sun King, Louis XIV emphasized his divine right to rule and his unquestionable power. The king’s bedroom was at the center of the palace. He performed elaborate morning and evening rituals that represented the rising and the setting of the sun. The great Hall of Mirrors, also in the center of the palace, is 240 feet long with 47-foot-high ceilings. The hall gets its name from the hundreds of mirrors and glass panels that inundate the room with sunlight. The vaulted ceiling in the Hall of Mirrors, inspired by Carracci’s work at the Farnese Palace, were painted by Charles Le Brun and feature images of classical gods and the military successes of the king. The gardens surrounding the palace were designed by Louis Le Vau and André Le Notre. The gardens are made up of pools, monumental sculpture, and thoughtfully planned paths. The formal gardens at Versailles are carefully manicured, further emphasizing the wealth and power of the king.

The magnificent palace at Versailles solidified King Louis XIV’s position as the absolute ruler of France. Calling himself, the “Sun King,” the king’s architects incorporated many sun symbols into the palace design.


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