Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jean Cotelle and the Bosquets of Versailles

The famous bosquets of Versailles were captured by the French artist Jean Cotelle in the late seventeenth century. It mystifies me that we still lack any kind of in depth study on this artist and his images of Versailles. Perhaps his work is considered too frivolous for serious consideration, or perhaps we forget in part that these are 'paintings' and simply see them as historical records. Which they are to an extent, but they are hardly objective!

Bosquet means 'small wood' in French and these places were open spaces hidden within palisades of greenery. They were meant to amaze and delight the viewer when they emerged from green corridors and acted as counterpoint of intimacy against the vastness of Versailles.

Michel Baridon in his recent, excellent, book upon the gardens of Versailles writes of the bosquets that:
" As soon as you are inside, the dominant tones of green, blue, or gray, which you see in a panormaic view of the gardens, are enhanced with complex variations. This then is a world where the geometer is ever-present of course, but often eclipsed by the set designer, the poet, or the story-teller. In other words, geometry gives way to imagination and the pleasures that men and women expected when they entered places expressly designed to delight the senses.
It would probably be going too far to represent the bosquets as a female domain, given over to entertainment and the pleasures of society life, and contrast them with the male world of the engineer, the strategist, or the politician as represented by the open spaces.... Alongside the serene geometry of the open spaces, the bosquets were a universe where sentiment mattered more than science and where illusion enjoyed a special status."

Michel Baridon, A History of the Gardens of Versailles, University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2008, pp. 170-1.

Cotelle added the figures of classical myth to his paintings, which only serves to enhance the sense that these spaces were places where the line between relity and fantasy was blurred.

'Bosquet du Marais'

'Bosquet of the Water Theatre'

'Bosquet of the Domes'

'Bosquet of the 'Salle du Bal' (Ballroom)'

'Bosquet of the Colonnade'

'Bosquet of the Trois Fontaines (Three Fountains)'

'Bosquet of the Arc du Triomphe (Triumphal Arch)'

'Entrance to the Labyrinth'

Images Courtesy of Joconde and the Web Gallery of Art.

The paintings still form part of the collection in the Musée National du Château et des Trianons, Versailles, the images can be viewed via Joconde, an donline catalogue of the collections of the museums of France.

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