Monday, October 7, 2019

Versailles: La Grande Écurie

 From the BBC:
The opulent furnishings, gilded halls and scenic gardens of Versailles are legendary. Less known is La Grande Écurie, one of the royal stables that once housed more than 2,000 horses for the court of Louis XIV. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the royal architect responsible for Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, the Écuries were one of the most ambitious livery construction projects ever undertaken by a monarch. Commissioned by the king and constructed over three short years, from 1679 to 1682, this magnificent horse arena became one of the most important features of the court – a place where the arts truly flourished, paving the way for classical dance as we know it today.

 Squires, coachmen, postilions, footmen, blacksmiths, saddlers, dancers, musicians and horse surgeons soon made La Grande Écurie a buzzing hive of activity. While hoof beats would have been a sure sign of military exercises in any other royal palace, at Versailles, they were also part of an elaborately choreographed carrousel: a pageant filled with music, ballet and sword work on horseback. Intellectuals and members of the aristocracy travelled to Versailles from all over the world to watch these extravagant spectacles, unique in their size and scope among royal courts, and to train in the highly refined arts they comprised: dance, dressage and fencing.

Their proximity within palace grounds meant that each discipline influenced the other. This was not just because fencing, riding and ballet require superb physical coordination and grace, but also because all three (not to mention painting, music and sculpture at the time) were based on the Harmony of the Spheres, the Ancient Greek concept (revived during the European Renaissance) that art, music and bodily movement were attempts to reflect the cosmic workings of the universe based on mathematical principles. Measured ways of walking and bowing, for example, placed court behaviour above that of the tavern or country fair, at once mirroring the cosmos and underscoring the nobility’s social hierarchy through complex rules of etiquette.

Beyond its function as a royal stable, La Grande Écurie allowed for cross-pollination between dance, fencing and horse riding, giving rise to a uniquely creative space. More than 300 years after the monarch’s reign, riders and dancers continue to train at this distinguished arena just beyond the palace. (Read more.)


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