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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, Part 2


Reconstruction of the Château

(click image to enlarge)

Several years after his appointment as financial secretary, Fouquet set out to expand his Château. In 1657, the first stone of a unique masterpiece was laid; completed in 1661, it was to become the finest château and garden in France. This achievement was conceived through the collaboration of three men of genius whom Fouquet had chosen for the task: the architect Louis Le Vau (1612-1670), the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), and the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre (1613-1700). The artistic and cultivated sensibility of their patron was a great stimulus to their talents.

The house has pronounced corner pavilions as well as a projecting oval central pavilion that is crowned by an ovoid, domed roof. The interiors were elaborately decorated under the supervision of Le Brun. Set within a huge green space which, from the entrance gate to the furthest statue of Hercules, extends in length to around 5000 feet (1500 meters) and to a sixth of this in width, the château dominates from whatever distance it is seen. Such a "reigning" position over this large an area symbolizes the power of the master of the house.

Creating a setting for the château and outbuildings out of a wild area of around 100 acres (40 hectares), Le Nôtre and Le Vau created for the first and only time in the seventeenth century, a perfect harmony between architecture and its environment. The gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte sweep along a grand perspective, extending nearly a mile and a half (3km).

The vast area, Le Nôtre's first masterpiece, is divided up into a sequence of terraces, forming an orderly composition of sculpted box gardens patterned after motifs from Turkish carpets, bordered flower beds, shrubberies, grottos, lawns, lakes and fountains. If no other garden of the period were to have survived, the Vaux gardens would suffice to illustrate the principles of landscape gardening in the age of elegance.

Politics and Ambition

Jean Baptiste Colbert
Jean Baptiste Colbert

Although Fouquet remained a faithful servant of the crown, his personal riches and extravagant lifestyle did not escape the notice of Jean-Baptiste Colbert. The most prominent member of a distinguished family of French administrators under Louis XIV, Colbert directed virtually all of France's internal affairs from 1661 to 1683, and became the personal and financial confidant of Cardinal Mazarin.

Jealous of Fouquet's high visibility and personal wealth, the ambitious Colbert — who had ready access to the king's ear — availed himself of every opportunity to plant seeds of suspicion in Louis' mind about Fouquet's honesty in dealing with the state's finances. Although undeserved, these suspicions were eventually successful in convincing the "sun king" to set matters straight and save his royal dignity in the face of Fouquet's luxury and ostentation, which appeared to surpass that of the royal court itself.

NEXT PAGE » The Feast of August 17, 1661


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