Allegory of the creation of the historical museum of Versailles.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais
Publication date: March 2016
The Palace of Versailles remained without real employment during the Revolution and the Empire. A "special museum of the French School" had been set up there, a sort of annex to the Louvre for contemporary French painters, but the creation of the museum of living painters in Luxembourg at the start of the Restoration caused it to lose this function. After the establishment of the Empire and likewise under the Restoration, it was thought to reinstall the habitual residence of the monarch and his court there (the Grand Trianon was, moreover, completely refurnished and served
in this sense under the Empire), but these projects did not follow. Louis-Philippe, who had known the Versailles of the Ancien Régime, saved the castle by giving it an original raison d'être which continues today: redeveloped from 1833 into a museum of the history of France, the palace had to commemorate the construction of national identity, from its origins to contemporary times. Inaugurated in 1837, the museum remains an incomparable iconographic source, and the true conservatory of French painting from the first half of the 19th century.e century.
The Allegory of the Creation of the Museum
Couder gives here the central motif of a tapestry cardboard intended to be woven at the Gobelins, on a very precise iconographic program: in the distance between two laurel bushes, against the blue sky, three monuments: the central pavilion of the Tuileries , where the sovereign resides in Paris (it is therefore the seat of central power), the Arc de triomphe de l'Etoile, symbol of the Empire, left unfinished by Napoleon and that Louis-Philippe undertook to complete, the Louqsor obelisk, which illustrates the oldest of ancient civilizations and which, offered to France by Méhémet Ali, Pasha of Egypt, had just been erected in the center of the Place de la Concorde. Minerva, goddess of wisdom, who symbolizes the achievements of Western civilization, sits in the center. She is assisted by France, who, standing beside her, leaning on her shoulder, seems to protect her inspiration. Beside them stands the Genius of History, who unrolls the elevation plan of the castle under Minerva's eyes, with a view of the main courtyard where stands the statue of Louis XIV (erected by Louis-Philippe) . Poetry, dressed in pink, wears a palm and contemplates the scene, like the Sculpture in green dress, Architecture in white and Painting in light purple. Two seated children “stall” the composition. One is seated next to a box of ancient scrolls, the other next to charters and seals where the name of Charlemagne is read: this is France's oldest past (dating back to Gaul Roman) which is thus recalled.
Couder's carton, a very active painter of history at the time and well supplied with official commissions, illustrates one of the achievements of which the Citizen King was most proud, and which was also one of his most symbolic. Far from being a simple work of art, this tapestry celebrates an eminently political enterprise. In pursuit of legitimacy, the July Monarchy seeks to transcend dividing lines and unite the work of the Ancien Régime and the Revolution. Louis-Philippe thus intends to be the sovereign of a regime of unity and civil peace. The museum which he dedicated "to all the glories of France" then appears as a means of reconciling the French beyond their party and their class. Magnified by an art charged with celebrating the glories of its history, the nation must become the powerful source of common identification that has been lacking until then. The revolution of 1848, as we know, was to show that such an ambition was illusory.
- July Monarchy
- Triumphal arch
- Gobelins factory
Guy ANTONETTI Louis Philippe Paris, Fayard, 1994 Claire CONSTANS Versailles Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1998. Claire CONSTANS Versailles, castle of France and pride of kings Paris, Gallimard coll., “Découvertes”, 1989.Thomas W. GAEHTGENS “The historical museum of Versailles” in Pierre NORA (under the direction of), Memorial place volume II “The nation”, Paris, Gallimard, 1988, rééd.coll. "Quarto", 1997.Philippe VIGIER The July Monarchy Paris, PUF, coll. "What do I know? », 1982.
To cite this article
Barthélemy JOBERT and Pascal TORRÈS, "Allegory of the creation of the historical museum of Versailles"