Everything Gourmet

A King’s King: Louis XV

Portrait of Louis XV at the age of 12 sitting on the throne in his royal suit by Hyacinthe Rigaud circa 1722. Dist. RMN-Grand Palais-Château of Versailles. ©Gérard Biot. Photo courtesy Château of Versailles. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

Versailles, France — He was perhaps one of France’s most mercurial and mysterious monarchs. Louis XV made his own hot chocolate and marzipan in his private kitchen, was the first king to introduce cats to the court and was devoted to supporting the sciences. He was profoundly religious yet kept mistresses, famous ones, Madame de Pompadour and the Madame du Barry. He was coronated 300 years ago and the Chateau  of Versailles is hosting an exhibition — for the very first time— devoted to this pioneering king. Entitled Louis XV, Passions of a King, the show brings together some 400 works, including myriad masterpieces, a number of which have never been exhibited to the public before. The exhibition reveals aspects of his personality and his contributions to the arts and sciences and notably his implication in the 18th century rococo artistic style.

Ivory clock fashioned by the king himself and manufactured by Jean-Antoine Lépine, circa 1770. Pendule en ivoire tournée par le roi. Jean-Antoine Lépine, Vers 1770, Versailles, Château de Versailles © RMN-Grand Palais(Château de Versailles) Daniel Arnaudet Jean Schormans Photo courtesy Château of Versailles. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

He was born in Versailles, the son of the Duke of Burgundy and Marie-Adelaide of Savoy. His great grandfather was Louis XIV and upon the death of his father in 1712, he became king of France at the age of 5 in 1715. His coronation ceremony was held in the Cathedral of Reims in 1722 opening up a reign that spanned more than five decades and saw the French artistic and cultural model radiate throughout Europe and ushered in the Lumières philosophy (literally the Philosophy of Light)  in western Europe. Louis XV was seemingly interested in everything from clock and watch making to geography, astronomy, medicine and hunting.  He was passionate about botany and would significantly embellish the gardens at Versailles. In 1722 he moved the court and the seat of government back to Versailles. Known as le Bien-Aimé, the Beloved, he backed maritime exploration and encouraged scientific expeditions to bring back plant specimens from faraway places. 

A Pineapple in a Pot, painting by Jean Baptiste Oudry, 1733. Louis XV loved the science of botany and would finance expeditions to bring back exotic plants from faraway places. Un ananas dans un pot Jean Baptiste Oudry, 1733 © RMN-GP (Château de Versailles). Photo courtesy Château of Versailles. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

The exhibition takes the visitor on a journey into the life and times of Louis XV who upon reaching adulthood was regarded as the most handsome man in the kingdom of France. His childhood, a rather sad childhood, opens the show, followed by depictions of his family, including his wife the Polish princess Marie Leszczynska who would bear him 10 children in 10 years. The exhibition goes on to explore his vast knowledge — he lived surrounded by books and extensive libraries —his passions and favorite pastimes which included working wood, silver, ivory and cooking. He loved gastronomy and would prepare omelettes, terrines, chicken and the aforesaid hot chocolate and marzipan. A gastronomic king he preferred small diner parties (of 50 close friends and family!). Exquisite tableware and menus enjoyed by the monarch are all on display. 

The spectacular astronomic pendulum of Passemant, known as the Louis XV pendulum. Pendule astronomique de Passemant. ©Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN ©Christophe Fouin. Photo courtesy Château of Versailles. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

The exhibition goes on to explore his relationship and contribution to the sciences, the arts and architecture. The hunt is showcased as well. One of the most exceptional objects on show in the exhibition is the Passemant astronomical clock, an astronomical clock designed by Claude-Simeon Passemant best known as the Louis XV clock. This is a marvel of art, craftsmanship, mechanical engineering and features a rococo-style gilt box to protect the mechanism that was made in 1753 by sculptor Jean-Jacques Caffieri (1735–1792) and bronze-founder Philippe Caffieri. This remarkable object — which opens the exhibition —tells simultaneously astral time represented by the globe on the top of the clock, chronological time on the enameled porcelain dial, calendar time with a mechanism that integrates monthly variations while a succession of 29 lunar decans is represented below the dial placed upon a background of stars. In times of an eclipse, a silver indicator appears specifying if the eclipse is to be total or partial. This exceptional piece required 36 years to complete with Passemant devoting 20 years to the conception of the astronomical tables and the machinery with another 12 years of work from the clockmaker Dauthiau and another four years of work for the bronze case by the Caffieris, a masterpiece of rococo art.  The clock was installed in the private apartments of Louis XV in 1754. The ongoing restoration of the pendulum has been carried out through the patronage of Rolex France. 

The stupendous rococo chest of drawers in Japanese lacquer described as one of the finest commodes in the world by Bernard Van Riesen Burgh. Commode de Bernard Van Riesen Burgh ©EPV/Christophe Fouin . Photo courtesy Château of Versailles. Handout via The Gourmet Gazette

The Louis XV exhibition is being held until February 19th and exceptional evening visits to the show are also on the agenda from February 15th to the 19th from 5:30pm until 10pm with last entrance at 9:30pm. Visitors can also and always visit the Apartment of the Dauphin or Heir. And private guided visits of the apartments of Madame de Pompadour, Madame du Barry and the private apartments of King Louis XV (where he made his famous marzipan) can also be organized. https://en.chateauversailles.fr/

©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette

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