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The Masterpiece of 17th century France

A Virtual Tour through Vaux-le-Vicomte
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The photos are taken from the wonderful guide book from Vaux-le-Vicomte, which I recommend to everyone. But you have to see this magnificent chateau for yourself: it is the most beautiful place on earth I have ever seen. Thank you to everyone who keeps this epitome of beauty alive and a thousand thanks to Monsieur Fouquet who built it. How to join and support the Friends of Vaux-le-Vicomte

Aerial view When the visitor is on his way to the chateau in Melun, sitting most probably in a car, he might be wondering where the chateau is, while following the signposts and driving along a beautiful small country road lined with giant old trees. One of these perfect, shady alleys which make you feel like being in another time already. And indeed, you are on a journey into another period, into the beauty and splendour of the grand and elegant age of the Baroque, towards the architectural masterpiece of the 17th century, the Grand Siècle in France. Prepare yourself, dear visitor, while driving slowly along the alley and taking in the beauty of the French countryside near Paris, to be suddenly confronted with the breathtaking view of Vaux-le-Vicomte, appearing behind the trees in its shining glory, and which bids you welcome into another day and age, into the world of harmonious beauty and breathtaking magnificence, of the enigmatic magic of the garden architecture, wonderfully balanced in every respect.
Bienvenue dans le monde et les temps de Nicolas Fouquet!

Outbuildings The moment you arrive, you will be enchanted by this rarely achieved harmony, and the magic of this work of art in the form of architecture and gardening, gradually overwhelms you, the visitor on his journey into the 17th century. When you now walk towards the chateau, you will see the outbuildings to the left and right, running East and West, built from red brick and stone. From your point of view, which faces South, it seems as if these outbuildings form a wide semicircle originating from the chateau as its centre. But when you step nearer towards the wrought iron gates, you will realise that this was partly an illusion, the outbuildings forming circles on their own both at the East and West, with walls towards the centre axis and path, which you will see to your right and left once you have stepped through the gates, and an arched stone gate leading into each courtyard of both flanks of outbuildings. When getting near the gates, your eyes will fall onto eight tall terms, ending in double heads, and flanking the main gate to the right and left. Raising your eyes towards the chateau which is awaiting you, the visitor is caught in the impression of aloofness, created by the height of the chateau, its elegant dome and lower wings, forming a perfectly balanced symmetry of pleasing beauty. The light colour of the sandstone against the sky, in a sublime composition rising from a raised terrace at the centre of it all, reflects in the water of the surrounding moat. 

Aerial view When you pass the first main gate, you walk through the North forecourt, the Cour des Bornes, past the outbuildings towards the gate leading towards the building, with four squares in all of well clipped lawn to the right and left, with a larger path running across just in front of the raised terrace surrounded by the moat, and the centre path you are walking on is narrowing down when it leads you closer towards the main gate and over the passage which bridges the water. The dazzling building itself demands your admiration by its perfect proportions, and you will join in the chorus of those who passionately claim that only few places give such a sense of a true passion for culture and the arts, being presented in such a magical setting. Once you have stepped inside the main court, you now walk towards the building across the North court in the chateau's front, whose garden faces South, slowly ascending the impressive steps which lead up to the triple entrance leading into the entrance hall. A decorated pediment is found above the large centre door, and at its base there is to be found for the first time the squirrel, which will guide you and accompany you from here on through your journey into time and around the chateau and the gardens. The squirrel which was Nicolas Fouquet's device, with its motto 'Quo Non Ascendet' ('To which heights will he not scale').

Entrance Hall

Entrance Hall When the visitor now steps through the door, he finds himself in the square-shaped entrance hall, only to take a few more steps and to find himself in the Grand Salon with its high dome. Standing in the middle of it and gazing upwards, you have to use your imagination to envision the painted ceiling of the dome like it was planned to look like: Le Brun was meant to paint the apotheosis of Fouquet, a rising star on the firmament of France, when this work was forestalled by the minister's arrest. When you turn around again and look about yourself, the eye is soon caught at three monumental, mirrored doors which had lead you through to the Oval Room, the Grand Salon. The doors were not mirrored originally, but glazed, so that in Fouquet's days one could look through the Grand Salon right towards the gardens, giving the visitor a feeling of vastness and airy freedom.
Steps You will not find the state rooms, which were usually located on the first floor in the 17th century, on the first floor in Vaux as well, but on the ground floor. Now the mystery is solved, in case you had asked why there were so many steps leading up to the entrance hall of the chateau: the ground floor was raised that much above ground level, so that the view above the beautiful gardens were possible from every principal reception room. Thus Vaux lacks a grand staircase as well, leading to the first floor, instead there are two plain staircases, out of view for the visitor who enters the building, which lead to the private apartments on the first floor.

Private Apartments

The Grand Salon is in the centre of the building, and thus the East and West wings are stretching out to either side of the domed Oval Room, linked by a gallery. The apartments are facing North or to the South with a view over the garden, and you will find in the East wing Nicolas Fouquet's apartment facing North, and Madame Fouquet's apartment facing South.
On this point, there should be said a word on the arrangement of rooms for one apartment, which was typical in the 17th century: you have to envision an enfilade, or succession of rooms, which all belonged together and which lead into the heart of a noble's apartment, into the closet, the most private room of the apartment, into which only the very closest were invited into. These communicating rooms were always three in number: first there was the anteroom, the place to receive official visitors, and to work, then followed the bedchamber, and the closet as the last one. If this might already sound astonishing, there is another particularity to be born in mind. Do not imagine this kind of privacy we seek and crave nowadays, with closed doors, closed shutters and a probably turned key, or the privacy you find portrayed in costume films, it was quite different. 
Fouquet's bedchamber The servants of a rich person or a noble lived very closely together with their masters or mistresses, so close that the bodyservant used to sleep in the corner of the master's room, either the bedchamber or the closet. There was a slight change in the 18th century, when a small bedroom for the servant or maid was added to the enfilade of chambers, yet only separated from the master's bedroom by a thin partition. Therefore there was a tremendous intimacy between master and servant, since all secrets were shared, including the secrets of the bedchamber. Nor was there any secret of the physique, since the bodyservant or the maid dressed their master or mistress in the morning from head to toe, to undress again at night, bathing and powdering those who meant their life to them, being taken good care of, often loved, if sometimes severely beaten. Nothing could come between a master and his servant, not even imprisonment, and the faithful Pélisson-Fontanier, Nicolas Fouquet's servant, had his heart broken when he wasn't allowed to serve his master in imprisonment in Pignerol. Positions as servants were well thought after, because masters were responsible for the well-fare of their servants until the end of their lives, provisioning them with a pension when they reached old age. Bontemps, Louis XIV's bodyservant, who know the King from earliest childhood on, was said to have been the only person who could grumpily tell the Sun King off, and Louis was distraught when Bontemps died at old age.

Nicolas Fouquet's Ante Room

Ante-room The anteroom, which is today restored to show the original arrangement in Fouquet's days, was used as the reception room while the official reception rooms on the ground floor were not yet finished. The walls were decorated with paintings from the minister's vast art collection, for which he was so famous. Many of these pieces of outstanding art which he had acquired in his lifetime, showing his impeccable taste, were seized after Fouquet's fall and placed into the Royal collection. Others, which had not been stolen by the King, were later sold by Madame Fouquet to be able to pay back her imprisoned husband's debts, and in this auction the King himself bought 14 gold-woven rugs, 120 tapestries, marble tables, brocades, and gold and crystal vases.
You might be astonished, when looking down at your feet, why there are rush mats on the floor, having probably expected parquet, but parquet was only introduced in the 18th century. Rush mats were extensively used to protect the feet from the cold of the stone floor in those days without central heating nor double glazed windows, when only fires offered warmth during the cold winters.

Nicolas Fouquet's Bedchamber

Dear visitor, be prepared now to stand and gaze in awe at the tremendous beauty which surrounds you when you step into Fouquet's bedroom. The dark, rich red colour pervades everything, and together with the gilded ceiling, the low painted wall panels and the ceiling decorated by Charles le Brun, it all adds to this experience of stunned awe. Opposite the large bed with its four posters and the red drapings hangs a splendid gilded mirror, and one cannot help but wonder if its place has always been there...
The room, which faces east, was decorated by Le Brun with mythological scenes of dawn and twilight in their respective places, of Gods and Goddesses of the Olympus. The walls are decorated with beautiful tapestries, and in Fouquet's days these tapestries, bearing his device, the squirrel, would have been overladen with shimmering gold threads.

Nicolas Fouquet's Closet

Ante room This smaller chamber would have been the place, where the Surintendant conferred with the most important visitors and discussed matters of the State in absolute privacy, like Cardinal Mazarin. Today, dear modern visitor who is journeying through the splendour of the 17th century, you will see books exhibited in this room. Volumes which once belonged into Nicolas Fouquet's library, a library which contained more than 27.000 books, an incredible number, and which was famous.

Madame Fouquet's Closet

Cabinet This room is facing East and South, looking over the magical garden. Even today this room is stunning with its soft blue wall coverings, but you have to imagine numerous small mirrors hanging at the walls, all gilded and polished. Every movement, every beam of light reflecting and dancing on their silver surfaces. This scheme, conceived by Le Brun, was surely the forerunner to the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles. When you lift your eyes up once more to the ceiling, you will see a rather plain painted sky filling the oval at the centre of the ceiling, which replaces a work by Le Brun, which he never finished, because he immediately left Vaux after his patron's fall from grace and imprisonment. Nothing is known of this project.
At the corners of the ceiling is Madame Fouquet's coat of arms to be seen: a crenelated tower, crowned by the squirrel once more, her husband's proud device. Different to the picture shown here on this page, there is now a copy of one of Le Brun's paintings exhibited hanging over the fireplace Captive Love. It is quite certain that the features of Beauty are those of Madame Fouquet, Marie Madeleine, who had married Nicolas Fouquet in 1651 at the age of 15, being his second wife.

And now, let us move on towards the State Apartments.

Rise & Glory | Downfall & Injustice | 'Une Rose...'
Vaux-le-Vicomte | Virtual Tour I | Virtual Tour II | Les Amis de Vaux
The Author at Vaux
| 17th August 2001 - Fête Anniversary

Graphics © N. Kipar 1999. Fouquet's crest in the title graphic © Vaux-le-Vicomte
Graphic of crest and the squirrel in the background border © Vaux-le-Vicomte

Contents Copyright © N.Kipar 1999.
Most photos, where indicated, Copyright © Vaux-le-Vicomte
The copyright remains exclusively with the copyright holders