The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château located in Maincy, near Melun, 55 km southeast of Paris.
It was built from 1658 to 1661 for Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV. The château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the "Louis XIV style" combining architecture, interior design and landscape design.
The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style. Once a small château located between the royal residences of Vincennes and Fontainebleau, the estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte was purchased by Nicolas Fouquet in 1641. At that time he was an ambitious twenty-six year-old member of the Parlement of Paris. Fouquet was an avid patron of the arts, attracting many artists with his generosity. When Fouquet became King Louis XIV's superintendent of finances ( Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry) in 1657, he commissioned Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre to renovate his estate and garden to match his grand ambition. Fouquet’s artistic and cultivated personality subsequently brought out the best in the three. To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens.
The château was lavish, refined, and dazzling to behold, but these characteristics proved tragic for its owner: the king had Fouquet arrested shortly after a famous fête that took place on 17 August 1661 where Molière's play 'Les Fâcheux' debuted. The celebration had been too impressive and the superintendent's home too luxurious. Fouquet's intentions were to flatter the King: part of Vaux-le-Vicomte was actually constructed specifically for the king, but Fouquet's plan backfired. Jean-Baptiste Colbert led the king to believe that his minister's magnificence was funded by the misappropriation of public funds.
The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles. Madame Fouquet recovered her property ten years later and retired there with her eldest son. In 1705, after the death of her husband and son, she decided to put Vaux-le-Vicomte up for sale.
Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly. The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase.
The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently. Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building ( corps de logis ), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile ). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional. Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone.
The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced. The bridge over the moat on the north side leads from the avant-cour to an ample forecourt, flanked by raised terraces on either side, a layout evoking the cour d'honneur of older aristocratic houses, in which the entrance court was enclosed by anterior wings, typically housing kitchens and domestic quarters. Le Vau's terraces even terminate in larger squares suggesting former pavilions. The enormous, double-height Grand Salon that substantially protrudes from the corps de logis clearly dominates the southern elevation. The salon is covered by a huge slate dome surmounted with an imposing lantern and is fronted with a two-storey portico that is almost identical to one at the Hôtel Tambonneau.
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|Price||normal : 16.00 child : 0.00 (age <6) youth : 13.00 (age 6<) retired : 13.00 (age 60<) disabled : 13.00 (%)|
|Geographical coordinates||48.5648510, 2.7140000|
|Address||77950 Maincy, Château Vaux le Vicomte|
|Construction dates||1658 - 1661|
|More information||official website|