Ch√Ęteau de Versailles

Sculpture

Overview of the works

The rivers

Bronze statues symbolising the four great sea-going rivers of France and its next four principal rivers adorn the Water Parterre. In Antiquity, the Greeks and then the Romans depicted their rivers in the form of reclining bearded old men, crowned with reeds, holding an oar or a horn of plenty, symbol of the water as a source of wealth. To identify the river and the region it fertilised, the sculptor of the Loire added asparagus and artichokes, vegetables highly appreciated by the Court in the 17th century and cultivated in the Loire valley.

The Sun vase

The head of the sun-god Apollo is surrounded by rays of light and recalls the emblem chosen by Louis XIV. The vases, some of them copied from ancient Roman models, sometimes commemorate a more recent event.

The Seasons

This group formed part of a series of 24 figures commissioned by Colbert in 1674 and which was originally intended to adorn the Water Parterre. The Seasons in Versailles are represented by figures of men and women bearing attributes that identify them: Winter, the last season of the year, is depicted as an old man. He is cold and tries to warm himself at a brazier from which flames escape. Winter symbolises the end of human life and Girardon has personified it in this pathetic figure of an old man frozen and lost in thought, close to death.

America, allegorical statue of the Continent

This marble statue represents an Indian with an alligator at his feet. At this time, America was seen by Europeans as the country of Indians, carrying a bow and arrows, wearing a feather headdress, and said to be head-hunters. The Mississippi was infested with alligators at this time.

Groups, statues, pillar termini carvings, busts, vases and carved friezes

Marble, bronze or lead sculptures adorn the walks, groves, fountains and ornamental lakes of the gardens. They draw their inspiration from Greco-Roman mythology as well as ancient history.

In 1661, when André Le Nôtre was commissioned to design and lay out the gardens of Versailles, Charles Le Brun supervised the team of sculptors installing fountains, statues and vases. Original works or copies of antique models made by the scholarship students of the Académie française in Rome, over 300 sculptures were commissioned to adorn the gardens. Celebrated sculptors such as Girardon, Tuby and Coysevox produced numerous masterpieces which made the gardens famous. Their contributions were completed later on by the Grande Commande of Colbert in 1674, when the Superintendent of Buildings, Arts and Industries commissioned 24 statues in white marble to decorate the Water Parterre.

In the following century, although Louis XV and then Louis XVI added few changes to the gardens, the Neptune group fountain was installed in the centre of the pool and new groves were created in the 1770s, such as the grotto featuring Apollo Served by the Nymphs and the Queen’s Grove.