At Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a stunning unfinished decor by Le Brun comes to life for the first time in 360 years

The castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte, despite its 360 years of existence, is still talked about. This magic of stone and light, of green and clear water, is a setting for the memory of the country. A memory in constant recomposition, as attested by this new animation in the Grand Salon that evokes Le Brun’s decoration project that was left unfinished.

Temple of the French golden age, Vaux-le-Vicomte is an example of French classicism, at the crossroads of architecture, art and pleasures. Many emblematic characters left their mark on the walls and gardens, such as Louis Le Vau (1612-1670), André Le Nôtre (1613-1700) or Charles Le Brun (1619-1690). Painter responsible for the interior decoration of the castle, the latter was appointed first painter to the king and director of the royal factory at Gobelins by Louis XIV, who made him an interpreter of his thoughts. Remained famous for his decorations in Versailles, Charles Le Brun worked for a long time in Vaux-le-Vicomte, alongside the superintendent of finances Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680), making the property an example of art and architecture. . The Great Hall would be the apotheosis, but the grand decoration of its ceiling never saw the light of day. In the task of transmitting and sharing the history of France, Ascanio de Vogüé, one of the three owners of the place, created an animation that pays homage to this stillborn masterpiece.

A “Palace of the Sun” that didn’t shine

A vast ovoid room located in the center of the castle, the Grand Salon is an unfinished complex space. Notable for its stucco decoration and pilasters with Corinthian capitals, it is an example of architecture and an emblem of the farm where courtiers and other passing travelers paraded. If Louis Le Vau is the author of the plans for the Grand Salon, it is to Charles Le Brun that we owe our iconographic program. But, unfinished during the great feast given by Fouquet in honor of the king on August 17, 1661, the grandiose decoration imagined by Le Brun will never see the light of day.

The ceiling of the Grand Salon, before and after the restoration ©Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

For over 180 years, the Grand Salon remained as it was before being renovated by the Duke of Choiseul-Praslin in 1842, who planned to decorate the room by reproducing Le Brun’s program. But discouraged by the exorbitant amount of work, he turned to a more modest project and asked a theater designer to create a sky with five eagles, copied from the ceiling of the castle in Ludwigsburg, Germany. In 1847, work on the Great Hall was stopped and, after failed attempts in the 19th century, the ceiling remained unfinished. Many generations left the scarce decoration that remains abandoned.

Since 2021, the Grand Salon has been undergoing a major restoration operation to restore the site to its former glory ©️Wikimedia Commons / Zairon

Since 2021, the Grand Salon has been undergoing a major restoration operation to restore the site to its former glory ©️Wikimedia Commons / Zairon

The restoration of the Grand Salon seemed more than necessary in the eyes of the establishment’s owners, the dome and stucco have suffered from the ravages of time. It is in 2021 that the restoration of the decorative elements will be carried out, which are the terms, the elevations and the dome. 400 m2 in total, the latter remained white for almost two centuries. An opportunity for the castle to fill the page and rewrite history. ” Rather than sticking with the uninteresting and disjointed historical state of the 1840s, we thought it would be wise to show the public the historical state of 1661, which is more balanced and historically more moving. », explains Ascanio de Vogüé.

Documentation work for a sound and light show

The purpose of this new animation is to represent one of the serious hypotheses of what the Salon would look like if Le Brun had just decorated the ceiling. To reconstruct the original work designed by Le Brun, the castle’s teams gathered all the documents that testified to the project, including its many preparatory drawings, kept in the Department of Graphic Arts at the Louvre Museum. The entertainment program? The projection of Le Brun’s hypothetical decoration. A particularly technical work that required the assembly of prints, and their deformation, so that the projected work followed the curve of the ceiling. The idea for them was not to redo the painting, which would be a technically impossible pastiche of Le Brun’s project, but to color the print. This operation was entrusted to a digital painter, who started a whole colorimetric work: choosing the most harmonious tones, readjusting the light intensity, contrast and color saturation.

Even in black and white, Le Brun's decoration surprises with the richness of its composition ©️Alain Cassaigne

Even in black and white, Le Brun’s decoration surprises with the richness of its composition ©️Alain Cassaigne

Shutters closed, heads up, the magic begins. Nicknamed the “Palace of the Sun” by Mademoiselle de Scudéry in her novel Clélie, Le Brun’s work reveals itself and reveals a vast unified composition, in a serious, heroic, solemn style, in warm colors. 180 characters with numerous motifs appear before the curious eyes of visitors. In the center, Apollo and the goddess Aurora distribute light to the world. Here we find the painter’s taste for allegory, particularly visible in the presence of characters and divinities representing time: the months, days and seasons. And a painter faithful to the teachings of the Baroque, to which he adds a new place in color.

In the center, the squirrel, Fouquet's emblem ©️Antoine Mansier

In the center, the squirrel, Fouquet’s emblem ©️Antoine Mansier

From black and white to color, the work comes to life with animation and offers a majestic spectacle that springs from the sky, where the characters begin to move slightly, in an ingenious play of lights. The final bouquet: evanescent particles flying towards the top of the dome, before golden sunlight bursts from the ceiling. For an even more immersive experience, the visitor is invited to wear a helmet that diffuses a sound environment composed of gallant wanderings and polite discussions.

A space-time journey through the art of gastronomy in the 17th century

Vaux-le-Vicomte is also the place where certain French lifestyles and traditions were shaped. Among them, the art of the table. A playful exhibition is dedicated to him, through the figure of François Vatel (1631 – 1671), a butler who has long contributed to making gastronomy and service an art in its own right. A lively reconstruction makes us discover the importance of the art of the table, a great lever to affirm the power and importance of an aristocratic house. As Dominique Michel, a historian specializing in gastronomy of the Grand Siècle who collaborated with the château for the tour, tells us, the show will take place at the table. Everything must testify to wealth, opulence and the art of good manners.

Welcome to the ambiguous room, in the presence of François Vatel ©️Antoine Pascal

Welcome to the ambiguous room, in the presence of François Vatel ©️Antoine Pascal

Two actors lend themselves to the game in a reconstructed setting. The first embodies François Vatel loudly proclaiming his thoughts around the ambiguous table set aside for Louis XIV’s meal. Instead of a succession of dishes, sweet and savory dishes are presented here at the same time. Soups, roasts, entremets, vegetables, pastries and desserts grace an expertly prepared table. Further along, another actor works in the kitchen of a room with minute details. The lucky ones will be able to taste the Lenôtre macarons offered by the cook.

In the kitchen, a second actor welcomes you.  Macaron in the key ©️Antoine Pascal

In the kitchen, a second actor welcomes you. Macaron in the key ©️Antoine Pascal

Just admire the appetizing parties at the table at Vaux-le-Vicomte, one of the first castles to have a place dedicated to restoration. Or lift your head to see an impressive spectacle spring from the sky, to find a moment in history.

Animation “The Palace of the Sun. Majestic work of Charles Le Brun »
Vaux-le-Vicomte Castle
77950 Maincy
Every day from 11 am to 5:30 pm.

Living reconstruction “Vatel, behind the scenes of the party”
Vaux-le-Vicomte Castle
77950 Maincy
Comedian entertainment every weekend and holidays
until November 6th

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