Abu Dhabi: Visitors to Louvre Abu Dhabi can now get a taste of the Versailles, as the museum’s first international exhibition of 2022 features some of the riches of the former French royal residence.
Open to the public since January 26, the ‘Versailles and the World’ exhibition traces how the Palace of Versailles became a place for cultural exchange in the 17th and 18th centuries. In doing so, it also highlights the eclectic history of France’s royal court at the Versailles, as well as the French passion during the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI for research and international relations.
The exhibit is being organised in partnership with the Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, which manages the French museum, and the UK Royal Collection Trust that manages the royal art collection and residences in the UK. In addition, 15 other French lenders have also lent pieces for the exhibition.
Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi), said: “I am delighted to see Abu Dhabi’s dynamic cultural calendar for the year take off to a strong start with the opening of this fascinating exhibition, which provides unique insights into the royal court at Versailles and its powerful impact on the world over the centuries.”
He added: “Louvre Abu Dhabi and its esteemed partner museums have developed a strong reputation for producing insightful and thought-provoking exhibitions that highlight the importance of cultural interactions, which tie well into Abu Dhabi’s wider mission of harnessing tolerance and cross-cultural understanding.”
Manuel Rabate, Louvre Abu Dhabi director, said: “We are pleased to host the first international exhibition of 2022, 'Versailles and the World'. The exhibition allows visitors to explore the complex network of political diplomacy, international commerce, intellectual encounter, and artistic creativity that helped grow French influence across the world and speaks to the ambitions of the modern age. The exhibition is a deep exploration and celebration of the human endeavour for partnerships, collaboration and creation, which underlines Louvre Abu Dhabi’s role as a convenor of people of all backgrounds and a platform that helps realise the artistic, intellectual and global ambitions of communities in this region.”
Exchanges with the world
'Versailles and the World' has been curated by Hélène Delalex, heritage curator, and Bertrand Rondot, chief heritage curator for furniture and decorative arts at the Musée national des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, with the support of Dr Souraya Noujaim, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s scientific, curatorial and collections management director.
By focusing on the reception, interpretation, and assimilation of foreign cultures by the court, the exhibition explores how the Palace of Versailles became a place for cultural exchange between the French monarchy and court, and foreign ambassadors and diplomatic missions during the reign of three French monarchs – Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI.
The displays showcase how Versailles became a hub for intellectual encounters and cultural expression, and a place of international collaboration and artistic production that looked to the rest of the world for inspiration, while at the same time illustrating the finest French taste, craftsmanship and art de vivre.
Rondot said: “We are delighted to see this exhibition come to fruition. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the domain of Versailles becomes like a microcosm of the world, whether by the exotic decorations created in the palace, or by bringing together and studying at the heart of its domain, fauna and flora from all the continents. The most important message for the visitors is to discover the extraordinary openness to the world of Versailles and all its nations, openness of all kinds, at a time when travel was very long and still risky.”
He added: “The exhibition brings to light many themes and issues, political, artistic and scientific, that are still relevant in the world today. It’s quite a discovery that Versailles was not only the residence of the king and the seat of the court, but a central place for Europe and many other parts of the world. Open to all, every day, without any distinction of class or rank, the palace absorbed cultures and integrated them, which would influence the taste in France. This openness is in resonance with the aim of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the variety visitors that the museum welcomes.”
After a video that shows the famous Half of Mirrors at the Versailles, the first of three sections at the exhibit explores diplomatic and cultural visits to the Versailles in the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI. A model of the Ambassador’s Staircase, where diplomats made their entrance show, shows the grandeur and ambition of the French court, while a host of paintings capture showcase some of the political and cultural visits to the Versailles. A separate captures Louis XIV’s grand 17th century cavalcade.
The second section focuses on the French fascination with the Orient, specifically China and the Ottoman Empire in Turkey. Artwork and decorative choices at the French royal residence was inspired by these exchanges, with the royal inhabitants holding precious gifts from these ‘exotic’ lands, including a gilt statue of a camel a number of Chinese teapots.
The last section depicts the interest in scientific research, and the resulting collection of flora and fauna that once populated the Versailles. A collection of animals at the royal menagerie, known as the world’s first zoo, is shown through artwork, as is a prized pineapple that was the first of the tropical fruit to be successfully cultivated in France during the reign of Louis V.
The exhibition concludes with growing French ambition for advancement as depicted by interest in flight: a pair of paintings discusses the Montgolfier hot air balloon that publicly demonstrated the possibility of travelling through air.
The exhibition runs at Louvre Abu Dhabi until June 4. In addition to the exhibit itself, a painting workshop, and other educational activities, will help visitors discover enduring links with the Versailles.