The Friends of the V&A Gallery
France was the major power in Europe by 1700. Louis XIV promoted his state through the arts, encouraging French workshops to make luxury goods for home and export. The state apartments of the palace of Versailles were furnished with these goods, which impressed foreign visitors and offered models for their own grand buildings. Later, French aristocratic life moved to Paris, making it the centre of European fashion. French style spread through word of mouth and new periodicals such as Le Mercure Galant.
Hunting was central to the standing of European princes. Entire landscapes were modified to make way for hunts hosted from palatial lodges. Hunts were expensive ceremonies and being invited was an honour for visiting diplomats, who were sometimes flattered with gifts of weapons. Game was jealously guarded, the most prized quarry being stag. Specialised weapons targeted boar, hare, birds and wolves. Hunting scenes featured in paintings and decorated cabinets, wall tiles and tapestries, as well as weapons.
This film shows the different firing mechanisms used on a 17th and an early 18th-century gun.
Across Europe, alcoholic drink was deemed essential for the good health and harmony of society at all levels. Rituals, such as toasting and drinking games, were performed using vessels made with a variety of materials and decorative techniques. Decoration was inspired by Classical and Christian traditions. Drinking rituals encouraged and declared fellowship among men, love between married couples, and the loyalty of subjects to their rulers.
This panelled bedchamber came from the Château de la Tournerie in north-west France. It was probably made between 1682 and 1694, but it is in a style that would have been old-fashioned and harked back to the 1630s. The panelling, possibly not in its original configuration, is richly decorated in a combination of painting and gilding. The subjects are taken from the Bible, classical mythology and contemporary emblem books.
Louis XIV’s policies towards art and design made Paris the centre of luxury production in Europe. The royal residences, in particular Versailles, were a stage for the king’s public life. They became the showplace for high-quality furniture, furnishings and lavish fashions in dress. Under the directorship of Charles Le Brun, the Gobelins workshops produced tapestries and furniture in a unified style, which celebrated the king’s power and spread to other parts of Europe.
Video: Het Loo Palace
This film shows how the design of the Palace of Versailles near Paris was emulated at Het Loo Palace in the Netherlands in the late 17th century.
Wealthy European men devoted as much attention as women to their appearance. By the late 17th century most wore French fashions, their choice of fabrics and garments revealing where they fitted in the social hierarchy. At court and in some well-to-do households, the act of dressing was a time-consuming and ritualised procedure. It was an honour to be invited to attend these rituals and witness the shaving of face and head, the coiffing of hair or wig, and the careful selection of accessories such as swords and canes, spurs and watches, lace cuffs and cravats.
Boulle marquetry is a form of decoration created from veneers of turtle shell, metals and other materials. First developed in the late 17th century, it was named after André-Charles Boulle, cabinet-maker to Louis XIV and a leading practitioner of the method. Boulle marquetry was fashionable at European courts throughout the 18th century. In its use of turtle shell and other exotic and costly materials, it rivalled the colour and luxury of objects decorated with lacquer or inlaid hardstones.
In the 17th century, the courts of Europe were entertained by a variety of musical performances. Operas, often staged to celebrate dynastic events, reinforced political ideologies through their plots and impressed audiences with their complex stage machinery. Instrumental ensembles such as Louis XIV’s Twenty-Four Violins of the King paved the way for the development of the orchestra. This evolution was assisted by the invention of the oboe at the French court and the development of stringed instruments such as the violin.
By the time Louis XIV died, in 1715, Paris had become the centre of elegant living in France. The aristocracy and wealthy professional classes bought or built houses in the fashionable districts of the city, decorating them in a manner pioneered by the designer Jean Bérain. Light-hearted and purely ornamental, this new style suited the smaller rooms being introduced into Parisian apartments. These rooms also required new types of furniture appropriate to the size of the spaces.