LE VAU, Louis
(b. 1612, Paris, d. 1670, Paris)

Escalier des Ambassadeurs

begun 1671
Château, Versailles

It was in the interior of the château of Versailles that Louis XIV had to appear on the most important ceremonial occasions, it was here that he received the ambassadors of foreign powers, and it was here that the full complexity of court life was displayed.

The festivities of the Court took place in the seven rooms of the King's Appartement, named after the seven planets, culminating in the Salon d'Apollon, which was the Throne Room. These rooms were approached by the most spectacular of all the inventions of this period at Versailles, the great staircase or Escalier des Ambassadeurs. This was designed by Le Vau, but was only begun in 1671, the year after his death, by his collaborator François d'Orbay, who produced new designs on a more ambitious scale in 1674.

The form of the staircase was novel and filled a long, narrow space. A short broad flight led to a landing, where it divided into two flights following the long wall of the cage. The whole staircase was lit by an opening in the middle of the coved ceiling. Very richly decorated with polychrome marble, gilt bronzes and paintings, it was lit by its glass roof. All its decor celebrated the victory of the king in the Dutch War (1672-1678). The decoration, planned by Charles Le Brun, was of the greatest splendour.

This staircase was the finest example of the co-operation between Le Vau and Le Brun, and proved how brilliantly these two artists could adapt themselves to the needs of the new epoch. It opened the way for the second stage in the creation of Versailles, in which the name of Le Vau is replaced by that of Jules Hardouin-Mansart.

Poorly lit, rather dilapidated and rarely used by Louis XV, except for grand diplomatic audiences, the staircase was destroyed in 1752 on the king's orders because of the difficulty of maintaining the glass roof and to permit the extension of his inner apartment.

The picture shows the model of the staircase.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.