We’ve not yet had the fortune of visiting the Palace of Versailles in France.
That’s why we were so pleased when the palace – or at least some of it – came to us.
During a visit to the Australian capital of Canberra, our son and his partner kindly took us to ‘Versailles: Treasures from the Palace’, a remarkable exhibition showing at the National Gallery.
It’s remarkable because the show marks the first time the treasures have travelled from France to a single venue.
It’s also remarkable because the 130-piece exhibition allows you to experience a mesmerising period in French history
The story of Versailles began in the early 1660s when the young Louis XIV started building a residence around his father’s hunting lodge outside Paris.
Versailles gradually became the centre of court and home to three kings, Louis (XIV, XV and XVI), their lovers and their queens, most famously Marie Antoinette.
The Canberra exhibition is an striking visual collection of cultural artefacts from these three generations of French royals and their often tumultuous period of French history.
On entering, one of the first things you notice is a scent, created by a French master perfumer and based on King Louis XIV’s favourite flower.
Then the sights begin, as you pass a massive photo of the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles and enter a world of power, passion and luxury that earmarked the French court during the 17th – 18th centuries.
Paintings, intricate tapestries, gilded furniture, personal items, stunning statues and objects from the royal gardens unveil the lives, loves and passions of the people of Versailles.
The exhibition contrasts small personal items, such as Marie Antoinette’s hand-crafted chair and harp, with huge works including six-metre tapestries and gilded steel gates.
A star attraction is a 1.5-tonne marble sculpture of Latona, the mother of Apollo and Diana, commissioned by Louis XIV for the main fountain in the Garden of Versailles.
Overhead views of the famous gardens show the changes in style over more than 150 years.
Garden plans, labyrinth sculptures, ornate bronze vases from the Orangerie, and paintings of the flowers grown around Versailles also feature.
‘Versailles: Treasures from the Palace’ does not delve into the French Revolution, although the opulence of the exhibits could be seen as a political statement.
However, after touring this unique exhibition, it’s hard not to just agree with the national gallery’s claim that the show is truly a “once in a lifetime experience”