The Composition of the Garden and the Choreography of the Body*

Arie Graafland


Do gardens and ballets form an expression of a particular historical period? And if that is indeed so, then what is the meaning of the Baroque garden? This essay explores the significance of palace and gardens of Versailles. I will try to resolve the dualism of description and explanation by overlaying Versailles, quite literally, with an analogous structure, a ballet. This additional level offers us more insight into the meaning of the palace and its grounds. The exercise consists of superimposing the choreography for the Balet Comique de la Royne by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, which dates from 1581, upon the somewhat later gardens of Le Nôtre and the Sun King.

Panofsky presented a more or less comparable explanation in his earlier analysis of the Gothic in 1951. He demonstrates that between roughly 1130 and 1270, a connection was made between the Gothic style and the philosophy of Scholasticism. That link was much more concrete than a mere 'parallel' and much more general than the individual 'influences', which were of course also important, that painters, sculptors, and architects experience. Nevertheless, the field of art history has not reached a consensus on this method. Sedlmayr, to take one example, found this application of analogy to be methodologically absurd. As far as he was concerned, Panofsky's method was fruitless. Why would a cathedral have to be explained in terms of Scholasticism instead of any of the other forms of expression prevailing in the twelfth century? To Sedlmayr´s mind, Panofsky´s approach in research was not a productive methodological direction. His critique is applicable to many architectural interpretations as far as comparison is concerned. After all, 'comparaison n´est pas raison'. After confining the interpretation in an abstract sense to formal criteria, many scholars go on to ascribe meaning in terms of intent. Thus, formalism and spirituality hold each other in a delicate balance, what is in the end not a very productive embrace. This distinction cannot be maintained. Yet, in my opinion, this critique does not really apply to Panofky´s work, for it is precisely the description of form that is continuously being transgressed by the meaning of the ascribed significance which points toward fields of scholarship other than historical research.

In the present study I do not follow Panofky´s method closely, though I must admit I always found it inspiring. Moreover, I do not think that 'method' is the right term here. Agreeing with Rorty, I am of the opinion that the term creates more difficulties that it resolves. My use of Panofsky´s way of working comes close to Rorty´s notions on the 'rational' and the 'methodical' in the humanities. If the humanities are to be viewed as rational activities, rationality will have to be thought of as something other than the satisfaction of criteria which are stable in advance. In the case of this study, the overlay of the gardens of Versailles and the ballet structures that were performed roughly between 1581-1664 in Italy, France, the Netherlands and England, are only stable as a provisional frame. Along the way, many more problems of interpretation arose and needed to be resolved. The rationale of the method comes closer to Rorty´s notions on 'sane' or 'reasonable' rather than 'force'. Investigating the many books and essays on Versailles and the French Sun King, I have added this ballet structure as a layer because this method reveals the sometimes hidden and sometimes very explicit desires of this period which will in turn inform us a little more about both gardens and ballets.


Islands play an important role in the ancient myths of both Asia and Europe. The island as theterra firma rising up out of the infinite seas is a model of the creation of the world and becomes the place in which everything must become new. Not only new life was presented in this way; death as birth, as transition to a different existence, was also connected to the island. Advancing Christianity replaced these images of a naive and yearning hedonism, spirituality exploiting the traditional dream islands by making them frightening. Dream islands became models of both positive and negative perfection, becoming guiding models for the Christian life.

The island as the place of renewal and yearning was first given a geographic depiction in the fifteenth century in Italy and in the sixteenth century in North Europe. The opening up of new continents, new sea roads which revealed new experiences, made this geographic view possible. The drive to spatial expansion and experience determined the images. In Francesco Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, the 'Isola di Citera' stands for the place where everything forms a strict geometric whole.1 The circular island with twenty radial streets, intersected by concentric roads, probably had its origin in Plato's description of Atlantis in the Critias. Poliphilo´s description is of an earthly paradise: It 'was so benign and pleasing to the senses, so delectable and beautiful with unusual ornamental trees, that the eye had never seen anything so excellent and voluptuous....There was no place for mountains or deserts; all unevenness had been eliminated, so that it was plane and level up to the circular steps of the wonderful theatre'.2 The island was three miles in circumference, with periodic inlets of limpid salt water. Fountains gave a refreshing atmosphere, and

...inside it were three gilded hydra's whose tails crept along the bottom, straddled upwards, then entwined themselves tightly in beautiful knots...there were innumerable other well known plants, aromatic and most welcome in their fragrance...On the rivers are boats and skiffs rowed by many maidens with lovely hair interwoven with various scented flowers, wearing flimsy, crêpe tunics or shifts of saffron yellow slashed or eyeleted with gold, trimmed and belted over their nymph-like nakedness with lascivious ornaments, and voluptuously offering their rose-tinted flesh to the unimpeded gaze,...revealing with voluptuous grace the whole breasts shaped like half an apple, as far as the round nipples, elegantly encircled with an embroidery of gems set in gold.3

In the center of the island there is a round amphitheatre with a spring marking the place where Venus appeared.

The divine Venus stood naked in the middle of the transparent and limpid waters of the basin, which reached up to her ample and divine waist, reflecting the Cytherean body without making it seem larger, smaller, doubled or refracted; it was visible simple and whole, as perfect as it was in itself. And all around, up to the first step, there was a foam that gave the scent of musk. The divine body appeared luminous and transparent, displaying its majesty and venerable aspect with exceptional clarity and blazing like a precious and coruscating carbuncle in the rays of the sun; for it was made from a miraculous compound which humans has never conceived of, much less seen.4

Not only this image, but the entire book is characterized by a nostalgia for the past, both the classical and the Christian. The lovers' quest amidst architectural fantasies and gardens was very appealing. Probably because in many respects it resembled its medieval predecessor, the Roman de la Rose, written by Guillaume de Lorris in 1235, a medieval meditation on love in which battle is joined between sensual desire and Christian asceticism.5 John Summerson has called Colonna's vision the romantic, haunted, introverted side of the Renaissance. In Colonna's epic, the pagan gods of the ancient world remain alive in the cultural setting and ritual of the late Middle Ages. Classical fantasies of architecture become the setting for Christian ritual in Colonna's garden. The medieval 'Fountain of Salvation' becomes the backdrop of a garden love scene and the nympheum of antiquity, is a Platonic baptistery according to Adams.6

The plan of the island reveals the image of the ideal city of fifteenth century Italy. France is the only country in Europe which kept this ideal of beauty alive until the seventeenth century. This idea of the island was realized in the garden, the 'Ile Enchantee'. The island motif and hydraulic installations for fountains and cascades are linked. The motif of the artificial island occurs in three different forms, as the naturalistic but inaccessible wooded island in Versailles (le Marais), as stylized Salle du Conseil where the geometry is universally predominant, and as an island surrounded by a moat, as in Liancourt. Until the nineteenth century, actual isolation by water in a pond was called an Ile Royale, Ile d'Amour, orIle de Mars. Hamilton Hazlehurst sees bosquets like Le Marais as an intimate spot in the middle of the formal lay-out of the gardens. The bosquets were literally 'hewed out' of the trees. The Marais is the first bosquet, probably invented by the King's mistress, Louise de la Vallière.7 Here, too, the island motif is linked to the water, the Theatre d'eau emerged at the Marais; here, water is the chief protagonist. During the Spring of 1664, the first great festivities took place; les plaisirs de l'Isle enchantee. The spectacle occurred in the middle of the great quatrefoil basin at the foot of the garden. Shortly afterwards, in 1668, came the second feast. By 1674, the ponds and bosquets were ready for the greatest festivities ever held in Versailles. The festivities only lasted a day, but they far surpassed the previous two. The festive entourage was devised by Le Brun and Carlo Vigarani. The climax of the spectacle was a boat trip on the Canal in the dead of night. The trip was flanked by the groups of sculptures along the Canal, with at the terminus a picturesque castle specially built for this occasion, as described in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilli. In the eyes of André Felibien, the historiographer of the royal buildings (appointed by Colbert in 1662) 'un palais de cristal basti dans l'eau', was a prototype of the 'lieu enchantee'.

The Circe Ballet

The Ballet Comique of 1581 is often seen as the beginning of known ballet history. The large-scale study L'Art du ballet de cour en France, 1581-1643, by Margaret M. McGowan in fact begins with it.8 McGowan later published a reprint of the original manuscript with an introduction.9 Zur Lippe also goes extensively into this ballet.10 Both scholars examine the work of the choreographer of this ballet, Baltazar de Beaujoyeulx (his Italian name was Baldassarino da Belgiojoso). The central theme was the subjugation of the sensual enchantress Circe to the principles of the new absolutist state power. In the letter offering the ballet to the court, Beaujoyeulx refers to the religious disputes in France and offers his ballet as a remedy.11 Choreographic details of the dancing were not recorded, and the costumes of those who actually danced were not illustrated in the book.

The ballet symbolized the subjection of those who resist the modern centralist state power. At the same time, the king is alternatively depicted as both liberator and conqueror. In artistic terms, the ballet brought together poetry, music and dance in the mythological form usual at that time. But in political terms, the theme was about the deepening and broadening of the state power of the French king, Henry III (1551-1589). Rousset characterizes this age (from 1580-1670) as being in flux - changeable and unstable. His book about the baroque centers upon two characteristic events: one being Circe, the metamorphosis and instability, the other is le Paon, le decor.12 Together they form the characteristics of the baroque.

The Circe ballet was performed in a rectangular room in the Louvre, de Grande Salle de Bourbon.13 In this palatial room, everything has its symbolic place. The short sides had a special significance: on one side was the place where the King Henri III sat in the middle; on the other side, a stage of sorts was constructed. The spectators sat on the long sides and behind the King. Under the galleries, approximately in the middle, in the King's line of sight, a 'Hain de Pan', was constructed, and opposite it a place for musicians and singers, camouflaged by clouds. Although there was no water present, and no mention was made in the manuscript either, the symbolism was clear - the entire field served as a stretch of water. Circe's castle was on an island, as are Pan's woods and grotto. In the course of the ballet this becomes clear; the springs were pulled by sea horses, and the naiads in the spring had fish tails. The entire field was representing a vast sea. The fact that it was also possible to walk and to dance on it presented no real disruption of the island theme for the spectators. The whole was lit so cleverly using oil lamps, torches and fires that it was like a summer's day. The castle of Circe alone was illuminated by a hundred torches. The innumerable series of torches in the hall produced 'le plus beau et serein jour de l'annėe', as Beaujoyeux called it.

The environment made manifest two poles - two antagonistic directions are to be seen in the proceedings. The whole must be seen in perspective and is calculated in terms of particular position of the spectator. In fact, the whole stage was erected from the point of view of the monarch's field of vision.14 The spectator feels himself to be behind the King and identifies him with his frontal view of the scenes. The spectators are selected by the guards at the entrances; only people of 'marque et cogneuses' are allowed to be present, the audience itself becoming a conspicuous object. Beside the King sits the Queen Mother, Catharina de Medici, who with her special influence over the King, confirms a charged relationship with him. On the little stage opposite the King, all the wealth of sensory perception is present. This is a typical renaissance motif - as a genuine 'cabinet de curiosités' all earthly treasures are spread out before the royal eyes. The royal gaze is an act of appropriation, a privilege meant chiefly for him. The garden in front of the imitation castle unites everything in itself, rare plants (with medicinal effects), fruit, flowers, strawberries, melons, lemon trees - everything which nature has to offer, sparkling jewels and exotic animals. Here dwells the goddess Circe.

Circe — 'qui changez de leurs corps en forme monstreuse'15 — her name is nature. As daughter of the sun god Helios and Perse, goddess of the sea, she represents the mingling of the elements of fire and water, through which all things are formed (she is causa formalis and causa materialis).

Circe qui signifie mistion,
est fille du Soleil
qui est la chaleur,
& de la fille de la mer qui est l'humidite:
pource que toutes choses sont creees de chaleur &

Circe donc est la mistion des elements,
que ne se peut faire que par le mouvement du Soleil qui
est le pere & la forme,
et Perseis la mere & la matiere.16

The performance served two ends: the disciplining of those groups who attempted to resist the modern, centralist power, the sacrifice of Circe; and on the other hand, to portray the King as liberator and conqueror. Circe represents human nature, inclined to everything evil. Odysseus stands for that part of man which implies reason. To break the power of Circe, a whole collection of counter-forces is needed: 'Pour combattre le pouvoir de Circe il fallait non seulement les Vėtus, l'ėloquence de Mercure, mais la raison de Minerve et la puissance de Jupiter et du roi.'17

Music announces the beginning of the ballet and links the dance to the poetry according to the principles of the Academie of Baif. Odysseus, the narrator, rushes on from behind the castle. Out of breath, he stands before the King who is sitting in the center of the hall. He tells how Circe changed him and his companions into wild animals, but ultimately returned him to his original form.

Et en corps le Lyon mes membres transforma,
Et entre ses troupeaux dans un parc m'enferma:
Mais quelque occasion adoucit la sorciere.
Oui m'a fait retourner en ma forme premiere.18

The narrator Odysseus throws himself at the feet of the King and begs him for help. The chamberlain of the Queen Mother acts as a knight who has fled from the garden of Circe. The meaning is clear: Henri III is the central actor in the whole. He is the only human figure to take the place of Odysseus. Only the sovereign is immune to the magic power of Circe. Because Circe is the chaotic natural state of the world, the state back into which man threatens to subside if he heeds his own nature.

Why ever did desire and lust cohabit there with wisdom, power and will? By Jupiter, its was so pleasurable to my amorous eyes that I desired nothing else than to be able to gaze perpetually at these splendid nymphs — so beautiful, so shapely and so delightful with their lively glances, decked out so sumptuously and lasciviously, with their snow-white garments radiantly shining. With such enticement, a man could give himself up willingly to cruel death, [Poliphilo sighed in the Hypnerotomachia. The captured animals/men are like 'prisonniers au palace de Circe (qui) montrent la servitude miserable de ceux mênes du désir brutal de la volupté.19

When Odysseus has told his story, Circe appears for the first time, searching for her fled subject. She is furious and resolves to act much more cruelly and uncompromisingly in the future. After her appearance, she withdraws into her castle. The power of the King is represented by sea gods and monsters. In a dialogue with the musicians, the Sirens sing of his power. On their procession, they pass the naiads, played by the Queen, bride, and ladies-in-waiting. Together with eight Tritons they form the train of Glaucus and Thetys. Glaucus complains of being under the spell of Circe and asks his wife for help. She is powerless because she has transferred her powers to the earthly goddess, the French Queen Louise.

Then, three springs are brought in, drawn by sea horses, on which are seated twelve naiads. The whole is a model of a garden, a symbol of the flowing kingdom of le Grand Roi. The monarch's wife, Louise, does not sit next to him, but is one of the leading actresses. The dance which now follows, consists of the twelve naiads dancing twelve different geometric models. At the end, everyone takes the same position again as in the beginning, formed by two triangles with the Queen at the apex, the triangle pointing toward the figure of the King.

Au premier passage de l'entree estoyent six de front,
toutes en un rang du travers de la salle,
& trois devant en un triangle bien large:
duquel la Royne marquoit la premiere pointe,
& trois derriere de mesme.20

The naiads represent the powers which are visualized by the garden and the spring. Their social function confirms that they are on the King's side. But not only that. The French duchesses and the Queen herself dance as white-clad naiads a dance for the King. That is to say, the open staging of the subjection of the female productive power as the court imagines this. How could Theweleit have missed it: what Zur Lippe misses is precisely his theme:

The new construction of the bourgeois absolutist state concentrates on the principle of a new formation of the sexuality of the 'lofty woman', which will stand as model for all the others. The flow of the streams is imprisoned in a fountain which for the benefit of pleasure in the garden of the man spouts de-sensualised 'white' water, good for the irrigation of the new organizing state.21

Nature is there to be exploited, what sensual pleasure implies is combated, at the same time the sensual woman is controlled. Seldom is the consolidation of power in the patriarchy as tangible as here.

Circe waits until the naiads in a semi-circle have abandoned their geometric forms in order, together with the musicians, to become rigid, unmoving figures. Now Mercury, Jupiter's messenger, makes his appearance, bringing the antidote, the mixture of herbs 'moly', which Odysseus needs as a defense against the magical powers. Mercury himself says in his opening song about the historical forces he personifies: 'I have taught people to obey the law, the sciences, the arts and also the cities belong to me, and with the treasures I bestow the art of speaking. In order to heal the disarmed spirit of reason which, abandoned by virtue, has been enchanted by desires, I bring 'moly', the noble drink derived from roots. Mercury's remedy awakes the naiads once more to well-organized movement. The geometric ballet and music revive. But Mercury is nevertheless no match for the magic powers of Circe, and she brings everything to a standstill once again.

Seule cause ie suis de tout ce changement
Qui suit de rang en rang, de moment en moment:
Mon pere, sans repos qui se meut et se tourne,
La fin d'une saison d'un nouveau siecle bourne,
Le Soleil fait tout seul ces ages varier.22

In a long song she paints the natural state of affairs which prevailed in paradise. Her second appearance ends in a victory over Mercury, whom she takes by the hand and brings into her garden. Her animals come and take him into their midst. These animals are the men whom Circe had earlier transformed into beasts. The fear of the man for the sensual woman is also symbolized. The woman as 'instrumentum diaboli', who can also be the woman as prostitute, the woman as 'femme fatale'. Only now is it really clear how great her power is. Until now the largest part of her world was hidden by a curtain, at this moment it falls and the beauty of her garden is visible.

Eight satyrs then come on, led by the Sieur de Saint Laurent. He interprets an emotion which is pervasive in the hall when he sings the praises of Jupiter and the French King, both famous for their power and virtue. While they move through the hall they pass the woods of Pan which is also inhabited by four dryads. Pan's help must be enlisted to defeat Circe. He is very suitable for this because he too changes everything. The alliance which he enters into with Minerva joins his micro-cosmos to Minerva's macro-cosmos, one of the important themes of Neo Platonic thought from that period.23 While the forest god promises to come and help, the four virtues enter. The god Pan, whose nature is the opposite of Circe's, and the four royal virtues of Prudence, Temperance moderée, Fortitude, and Justice reinforce the battle forces against Circe. With every new entry a greeting is given to the King. Finally, Minerva, played by Mlle de Chaumont, comes on in a war chariot. Her words to the King, to Pan, and her appeal to Jupiter the god of thunder occupy much space. 'Hope and fear lie at the heart of human weakness, and such fallible states can be counteracted not by the mere eloquence of Mercury, but by reason itself. The glorious deeds of the King have freed France from most trials, and Minerva proposes to liberate the country from its last source of strife - Circe.'24 When the chariot has come to rest before the King, Minerva stands up and tells the King why she is a key figure in the struggle against Circe. She is not born of woman, not from a body, but came forth from the head of Jupiter. In this manner she symbolizes the theoretical intelligence of man. 'I received very rare gifts from his hands, the reason which rules the mild and human spirit; he gave me the reins with which I can control human understanding.'

De sort rares presens ie receuz de sa main,
La raison, qui regit l'esprit doux et humain,
Et des vistes pensers il me donna la bride,
Dont sur l'entendement des hommes ie preside.25

History, reason and the principle of achievement flow together into one. She too turns to the King to say she has come to help defeat Circe. When Jupiter comes on, a new music sounds out, which contains more voices and instruments than before. Jupiter addresses Henri III as his son.

Ce Roy mon fils, fleur du sceptre de France:
Fay des regards de Meduse changer
Ses ennemis, & son peuple ranger
Sous sa loy juste, humble d'obeissance.26

With this reference to the moderator mundi over the battle of the elements, politics is made concrete. In the sovereignty of Jupiter, that of the crown is doubled, not reflected. Divine gifts are bestowed on the King, his person represents a universal order.27

The campaign against Circe begins. An imposing machinery is set in motion. The marvels of technology serve the royal ballet and, also mythological, the royal state as political technology. Circe's castle is stormed. Circe's army of transformed men throw themselves furiously at the attackers. She herself calmly waits. In fact, she fears only one opponent, the King of France.

Et si queldu'un bientot doit triompher de moy
C'est le Roy des Francais et faut que tu luy cedes
Ainsi que ie luy fais, le ciel que tu possedes.

Jupiter throws his lightning. Minerva reaches the vestibule of the castle. At the moment of conquest, Jupiter extends mercy to Circe. Yet she refuses and her fortress is destroyed. Fire breaks out. Circe is taken prisoner and dragged through the hall in triumph to then be handed over by Pallas as a gift to the King. The battle against chaos is almost over. Minerva and Mercury throw themselves at the King's feet; Circe is defeated. Le Roi and la Geometrie are identical. At the end of each passage, the naiads, with Queen Louise in their midst, turn their gaze on the King. They dance geometric figures, such as squares, circles, and triangles, Archimedes could not have defined the proportions better, according to the manuscript. Finally, the performance went into the 'Grand ballet' ('geometrique, dont les figures se formant et se defaisant, symbolisent l'eternit‚ de la matière et de l'esprit, la transmutation des elements').28 The court danced in the entire space, also the stage, simultaneously arena and ballroom. The power game is over, 'it has been resolved predictably in favor of the monarch.'29

Exhaustive and exact as McGowan's description is, however, she overlooks the micro-politics of the sexes.

It seems preferable to see the Ballet Comique as having a much freer form than commentators have often allowed, to see it as a kind of continuum in which forces seeking power, and to impose power, move backwards and forwards without interruption through verse, song, dance, drama and battle, towards a final resolution. It has always been difficult to separate the work into acts and interludes. Commentators cannot even agree on the number of acts and where they should be divided, since there is no distinction of subject matter between those parts of the work which are spoken and those which are sung. In this sense, the Ballet Comique was unique and remained so for more than a century.30


With this explication of theBallet Comique, the layer can be added in order to elucidate aspects of the French garden. The giving of a geometric character to the body, as intended by Beaujoyeux with his ballet, these 'land reclamations on the coast of femininity', as Klaus Theweleit says, are also the models and canalizations of the planned absolutist cities: the geometric town planning of the France of Louis XIV. The round point structure was used for the first time for a city plan in Versailles and possibly brought later to Italy by Bernini. Bernini was actually summoned from Rome. Deeply religious himself, a passionate artist and a perfectionist, Bernini was struck by Louis´s interest and his ability to read plans, writes Geoffrey Treasure.

The portrait bust that he left as the single fruit of his mission suggests that the Roman recognized power when he saw it. Just as his Ecstacy of St. Theresa draws the spectator into a religious drama, so his portrait invites reflection on the very idea of royal majesty. Louis was impressed by Bernini´s baroque designs for the Louvre but a conservative instinct put him on his guard against the exuberant Roman. He had \some inclination to preserve what his predecessors had built\- and Bernini would have pulled down a whole quartier to create his baroque masterpiece. So it did not need rejection by Colbert, in his capacity as surintendant des bâtiments and his insistence on a more sober, regular and wholly French design to make him opt for Versailles.31

Vitruvius was studied again by Filarete and Alberti, they formed the town planning background out of which the Renaissance would develop. Filarete took the Vitruvian circle as point of departure and designed a universally symmetrical city with a tower in the centre and churches in secondary positions; Sforzinda, designed for the Sforzas, a powerful merchant family. Alberti describes Foucault's institutions of order; prisons, hospitals and barracks for the soldiers. The nobility who lived on wide, broad streets, were separated from the vulgus. But nowhere was the new subjugation of Circe better expressed than in the residence of the absolutist state power: Versailles, an album in stone and greenery, a dazzling window onto the French past and irreplaceable compendium of the nations history, or more precisely, the history of the monarchy, as Le Roy Ladurie writes in the conclusion of his book on Saint Simon.32 The area where Versailles would be founded was in the manor of Villepreux, around twenty kilometers to the southwest of Paris. In the sixteenth century, this land was in the hands of an Italian family, the Gondi, who had immigrated to France. The area consisted of a plateau with three hills; on one of them the castle of the Gondis was situated. Nearby was the hamlet of Versailles, 'au val de Galie'. In 1624, Louis XIII (1601-1643) occupied the area and built a hunting lodge there, having bought the site in 1632 from the Gondis. Louis XIII used the area as a hunting ground and as a refuge from turbulent Paris. When he died in 1643, Mazarin and Richelieu ruled as regents for the future monarch Louis XIV (1638-1715). When Mazarin died in 1661, Louis began to rule. Until then, very little was documented about the gardens and the castle, but from the time that Louis XIV set to work, everything was recorded. The earliest plan published by Du Bus was after 1662.

After a visit to Vaux le Vicomte, the luxurious castle of Fouquet, the corrupt Minister of Finance, Louis decided to rebuild Versailles and turn it into his residence. Fouquet himself ensured that he spent the rest of his life in captivity after the magnificent inauguration of his country estate in 1661. The architect Louis Le Vau (1612-1670), the painter, decorator and artistic foreman of the Gobelins Charles le Brun (1619-1690) and the landscape architect André le Nôtre (1613-1700) were recruited by Fouquet, patron of artists in that period, to give form to his vision. The guests on that 17th of August began with a walk in the garden where everyone could enjoy the ponds and cascades.33 Nymphs in gilded gondolas invited them to go boating, musicians hidden under trees and hedges enticed the guests into the maze, the grottos, marble niches and other hidden spots.

Yet, unfortunately, the King appeared to have been very displeased. Fouquet's motto 'Quo non ascendet? (where shall I not rise to?), and the allegorical painting in which the young Queen could be recognized, were causes of some displeasure. After a tour around the gardens, a lottery was held with valuable prizes for all the guests - jewels for the ladies and weapons for the gentlemen. The supper was of course lavish. After supper, the company moved to the garden. Steenbergen also describes the illusory game which was so popular, a big rock turned into an opening shell, out of which a nymph appeared. She ordered the gods to descend from their marble pedestals to amuse the King. Here too, this ended in a ballet for the King. After this ballet, a performance followed - Les Fachaux by Molière, written for this occasion. When dusk fell, a great display of fireworks lit up the castle in fire and flame. However, the end of the evening's entertainment was also the end of Fouquet's career; three weeks later he was imprisoned, partly through the agency of Colbert. Ultimately, he was succeeded by Colbert himself.

The power game was then continued, because on Colbert's advice the same three artists that designed the Vaux le Vicomte were then employed to build Versailles. The furnishings of Vaux also fell victim - right down to the trees, everything was reused for Versailles. Naturally, Versailles had to become more beautiful than the castles on the Loire, and more beautiful than Vaux. For these reasons, Versailles is sometimes called a 'collective concept', the double connection — Richelieu and Vaux le Vicomte — produced a cross between two models: 'il ne fait aucun doute que, comme Vaux et la difference de Richelieus, Versailles sera le fruit d'une conception collective.'34

The basic concept of classical form is discipline, the limitation, the principle of concentration and integration; a theme which Zur Lippe made the main issue of his book.35 Steenbergen terms this form as the illusion of perfect order. His analysis of Vaux le Vicomte shows that the site was kept under control over a maximum distance by the Royal gaze. Indeed, the morphology of Vaux is built up of a linking of various spaces which can only be discovered by taking a walk. Nevertheless, the space, like the 17th century theatre, is only completely dominated and understood from a static viewpoint where all these perceptions melt into a single, perfect, optic illusion. This viewpoint is from the position in front of the mirrors in the Grand Salon. From that place, the King could look through, not only the infinite space, but also keep it under control. The entire construction is that of a telescope trained on the landscape, bringing the infinite space within reach of the eye.

In the Renaissance, Alberti's perspective construction was originally evolved for painters. Painters depict not reality, but a subjective interpretation of reality. 'All appearance is relative to the subject seeing', according to Karsten Harries.36 Harries makes a connection between Alberti's ideas and those of Casanus. Nicholas of Cusa, or Nicolaus Casanus is often credited or blamed for the destruction of the medieval cosmos. In a world in which centrifugal forces threatened to tear Church and Europe apart, Casanus laboured for unity, says Harries. Basing his argument on Casanus'sOn Learned Ignorance 1440 , he shows that an aspect that remained incomprehensible in classical antiquity was bound up with the notion of infinity. For Casanus, no convincing reason exists to place the earth at the cosmic center, but even further, the idea of such a center is itself no more than a perspectival illusion, a human projection.37 As such, Casanus was considered a forerunner of Copernicus. Casanus's claim was that our experience of the world is limited by what happens to be our point-of-view, and that we should not think that such a point-of-view gives us access to the way things really are. Harries links Casanus's cosmology with the principle of perspective: to think a perspective, as a perspective, is to be in some sense already beyond it, is to have become learned about its limitations. Our human perspective is radically finite and has room only for what is finite. It follows that we cannot comprehend the infinite and that means for Casanus, above all, that we cannot comprehend God.(38*) *Furthermore, the relative nature of phenomena held also for Casanus's contemporary, Alberti.39

Casanus had argued that we cannot know the absolute size of things, we can only know things by comparison. Is there a natural measure in Alberti?**The answer is quite clear: yes, there is. The natural (not the absolute) measuring rod is the human body. Our arbitrary size provides us with the measure of all things. The body, to be sure, says Harries, provides Alberti with something like a natural measure - recall once more his reference to Protagoras. The perspective construction of Alberti is essentially anthropocentric in more than one sense, in that the human body provides both ruler and point-of-view, and human reason provides the framework. Harries emphasizes the artificiality of Alberti's construction. He quotes Hubert Damish who writes that Alberti reduces the viewing subject to a kind of Cyclops that obliges the eye to remain at one fixed, indivisible point; in other words, it is obliged to adopt a stance that has nothing in common with the effective conditions of perception. Referring to Dürer's Artist Drawing a Nude in Perspective Harries writes: 'Dürer knew very well that first of all and most of the time we experience space with our moving body and with all our senses; he knew also that desire is part of such experience.'

Alberti's monocular vision of one stationary eye seems to me to be the architectural representative of Theweleit's 'Panzer-Ich', a centralized state power in miniature. Harries draws attention to the distinction between the different languages spoken by the two halves of the image; the contrast between the way the window on the left opens up to the promise of the bright world beyond, while in the window on the right a scraggly potted bush, threatening to burst the prison of its container, blocks our vision. When the male body is challenged by the female body as in the Circe ballet, the centralized eye assumes the desire and freezes the image in a perspective.


  1. Colonna, Francesco; Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, The Strife of Love in a Dream translated and introduced by Joscelyn Godwin (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999). Originally published in Venice 1499.

  2. Colonna; Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, op cit, p.292.

  3. ibid, p.313.

  4. ibid, p.362.

  5. cf. Blunt, Anthony; "The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili in 17th century France" inJournal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute (937/38)pp.117 and 137.

  6. Adams, William Howard; The French Garden, 1500-1800 (New York: George Braziller, 1979)p.15.

  7. Hazlehurst, F. Hamilton; Gardens of Illusion (Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt UP, 1980)p.90.

  8. Margaret M. McGowan gives a number of other sources, to be found in 24352 to 24356, Ms. 15057. She also mentions a list prepared by Beauchamps: Recherches sur les theatres (Paris, 1735); Paul Lacroix; Ballets et Mascarades (Paris, 1868); Bibliotheque de Soleinne (Paris, 1843); Bibliotheque de Pont de Vesle (Paris, 1847); en M. de La Vallière; Ballets, operas et autres ouvrages lyriques (Paris, 1860). McGowan's book,L'art du ballet de cour en France 1581-1643 (Paris VII : Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1963) helpfully gives in the appendix all the sources of the ballets in this period.

  9. de Beaujoyeulx, Balthazar; Le Ballet Comique c.1581: A Facsimile, with an Introduction by Margaret M. McGowan, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies (Binghamton, New York: SUNY Press, 1982).

  10. zur Lippe, Rudolf; Naturbeherrschung am Menschen I und II, Geometrisierung des Menschen und Repräsentation des Privaten im franzősischen Absolutismus (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974).

  11. Four years after the Ballet Comique was written, a number of Catholic members of the aristocracy joined forces against the extravagance of Henri III. Their aim was to get the Duc de Guise on the French throne. After the murder of Henri III in 1588, a civil war broke out between the Catholic league under the leadership of the Duc de Mayènne and Henri de Navarre, the legitimate successor to the throne. The bloody religious and political battles lasted five years. Even after the succession of Henri IV, religious and political instability continued in France.

  12. Rousset, Jean ; La littérature de l´age baroque en France, Circe et le paon (Paris: Librairie José Corti, 1963)pp.8 and 181-2.

  13. Leclerc, Hélène; "Paper seven: Circe on Le Ballet Comique de la Royene (1581), Meta physique du son et de la lumière, in Theatre Research, Recherches Théatrales, International Federation for Theatre Research, vol. III, no II, (1961): 101-120. citation p.106.

  14. Schöne, G. ; "Die Entwicklung der Perspektivbűhne von Serlio bis Galli-Bibiena", in Theatergeschichtliche Forschungen no.43, Nendeln/Liechtenstein (1977). citation p.13.

  15. Ballet Comique de la Royne, fait aux nopces de monsieur le Duc de Joyeuse & mademoiselle de Vaudemont, sa soeur, par Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, ... Paris. Par Adrian le Roy, Robert Ballard & Momert Patisson, imprimeurs du Roy, 1582, p. 8.

  16. Allegorie de la Circe, que natalis comes a retire des commentaires des poetes Grecs, in Ballet Comique, p. 74.

  17. McGowan, Margaret M. ; L'art du ballet de cour en France, 1581-1643 (Paris VII : Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1978)p.47. See also Prunières, Henri ; Ballet de Cour en France avant Lully et Benserade (Paris: Editions Daujourdhui, 1914).

  18. de Beaujoyeulx; Le Ballet Comique, op cit, p.9.

  19. Leclerc; opcit, p.119.

  20. de Beaujoyeulx; op cit, p.22.

  21. Theweleit, Klaus; Männerphantasien, Bd. I Frauen, Fluten, Kőrper, Geschichte (Frankfurt a. Main: Verlag Roter Stern, 1977)p.401.

  22. de Beaujoyeulx; op cit, p.25.

  23. Delmas, C.; "Le Ballet Comique de la Reine, Structure et signification" in Revue de la societé l'histoires du Théatre (1970): 151.

  24. McGowan, Margaret M.; "Introduction" to de Beaujoyeulx, Balthazar; Le Ballet Comique c.1581, A Facsimile, with an Introduction by Margaret M.McGowan, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies (Binghamton, New York: 1982)p.21.

  25. de Beaujoyeulx;op cit, p.47.

  26. ibid, p.52.

  27. According to Delmas, op cit, p.153, the King appears as 'un personnage quasi-divin hors de l'humanite commune' aussi bien son ‚loge est-il chant‚ constamment par des divinites, et par les enterme des qui sont ‚troitement associes au theme de l'age d'or. Incarnation nationale de l'ordre universel comme ses predecesseurs, c'est autour de lui que doit s'operer la reconciliation generale ... laquelle travaillait deja... l'Academie de Baif'. Delmas. See also Yates, Frances A.; "Charles-Quint et l'idee d'Empire"inLes fetes de la Renaissance II(1960): 92-97.

  28. Leclerc; opcit, p.117.

  29. McGowan; opcit, p.22.

  30. ibid, p.23.

  31. Treasure, Geoffrey; Louis XIV (New York: Longman/Pearson Education Limited, 2001)p.183.

  32. Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel; with Fitou, Jean François; Saint Simon and the Court of Louis XIV (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001)p.140.

  33. Steenbergen, C.M.; De stap over de horizon, een ontleding van het formele ontwerp in de landschapsarchitectuur (Delft: DUP, 1990)p.116.

  34. Burlen, K. et al ; Versailles. Lecture d'une Ville (Versailles: 1978). See also Norberg-Schulz, Christian; Late Baroque and Rococo Architecture (NewYork: 1974) especially pages 13 and 28. Also, P. de Nolhac wrote a number of books about Versailles in the series Versailles et la cour de France. The most important are La création de Versailles (Paris: 1925), Versailles au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: 1926) and Versailles, résidence de Louis XIV(Paris:1925). de Nolhac also wrote a book about the Trianon (Paris: 1927), and about the art of Versailles,L'art du Versailles (Paris: 1930) in which Nattier and Le Nôtre are discussed, among others. Versailles inconnu (Paris: 1925) is about the secret rooms of the King and his mistress. The book by Simone Hoog, curator of the Musee National du Chateau de Versailles, Louis XIV. Manière de montrer les Jardins de Versailles(Paris: 1982) is interesting for its illustrations. Also see the general survey Marie, A.; Naissance de Versailles: Le Chateau et les jardins, 2 volumes (Paris: 1968).

  35. Steenbergen; opcit, p.136.

  36. Harries, Karsten; Infinity and Perspective (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001)p.66.

  37. ibid, p.33.

  38. ibid, p.54.

  39. Alberti was born in Genoa in 1404. He travelled to Padua at an early age to attend the school of the humanist Barzizza. Casanus came to Padua in 1416. A strong possibility exists that they knew of each other's existence, according to Harries*. *Alberti died in Rome in 1472. Both men were friends of the great mathematician, geographer, and doctor Paolo Toscanelli (1397-1482), who as a friend also of Brunelleschi, shared their interest in perspective.

*This text is excerpted from Graafland, Arie; Versailles and the Mechanics of Power: The Subjugation of Circe. An Essay (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2003).