Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Science and Curiosities at the Court of Versailles," Through February 2011

Thanks so much to my friend Megan for letting me know about the super exciting looking exhibition that will be on view at Versailles Palace in France through February of next year.

The show--entitled "Science and Curiosities at the Court of Versailles"--will tell the story of scientific inquiry, rational amusement, and natural and artificial curiosities at the grand royal court of Versailles. To illustrate this worthy topic, the exhibition will gather and display--for the first time ever--a variety of artifacts that once comprised part of the monolithic "royal collection" and are now--post French Revolution and disciplinary divides--housed in a variety of anatomical, anthropological, natural historical, and art museums around France.

The artifacts will reveal "a new, unexpected face of Versailles as a place of scientific inquiry in its most various forms," trace the stories of the relationship between natural philosophers and the royal court, and bring "together works and instruments from the old royal collections, spectacular achievements of beauty and intelligence, for the first time."

Good stuff!

Here is the full description from the website:
[Science and Curiosities at the Court of Versailles] reveals a new, unexpected face of Versailles as a place of scientific inquiry in its most various forms: the Hall of Mirrors electricity experiment, Marley Machine on the banks of the Seine, burning mirror solar power demonstration, etc. It brings together works and instruments from the old royal collections, spectacular achievements of beauty and intelligence, for the first time.

Versailles is the place where control over science was exercised. At the urging of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's "prime minister", the royal authority became aware of the benefits of scientific research. In 1666 Colbert founded the Academy of Science, establishing a new contract between the government and scientists. Many "natural philosophers", as they were known at the time, including some of the most famous, assiduously frequented the Court as physicians, army engineers, tutors, etc. The physicists Benjamin Franklin and Abbot Nollet compared their theories in front of the king and the encyclopaedists Diderot and D’Alembert met in the office of Dr. Quesnay, physician to Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's favourite. Some courtiers were real experts.

The Château de Versailles offered many research resources. Anatomists and zoologists could study the menagerie's ostriches, pelicans, rhinoceroses and other rare animals, botanists and agronomists the plants on the grounds of the Trianon and "hippiatrists", the forerunners to veterinarians, the horses in the Grand Stables.

Educators developed new teaching methods using cutting-edge tools for the royal children and the kings' personal practice. While Louis XIV considered himself a protector of the arts and sciences without practicing them, his successors, Louis XV and Louis XVI, became true connoisseurs. A presentation to the king or demonstration before the Court was the highest honour, equivalent to winning a Nobel Prize. Many people know about the first hot-air balloon flight, but numerous other events have fallen into oblivion, such as the burning mirror demonstration in front of Louis XIV or the electricity experiment in the Hall of Mirrors under his successor's reign.
You can find out more on the exhibition website--which will be on view until February of next year--by clicking here. You can see the Tympanum Player Automaton in full automaton action by pressing play on the Youtube viewer above.

If anyone makes it to this exhibition, I would love to see images/hear a report!

Top two images are installation views of the exhibition from the Corbis Images Blog. The rest of the images from the exhibition website and are captioned, top to bottom:
  • The Tympanum Player Automaton; Peter Kintzing (1745-1816) and David Roentgen (1743-1807)
  • Rhinoceros gifted in 1769 to King Louis XV by the French governor of Chandernagore
  • Waxen Indian head from the Cabinet of the Marquis de Sérent; originally on display in a window of the Marquis de Sérent's ethnographical cabinet in Rue des Réservoirs at Versailles acquired for the princes' education.
  • 18th C Artwork depicting Étienne de Montgolfier's aerostatic experiment at Versailles
  • Watercolour drawing by Philippe-Etienne Lafosse (1738-1820), intended for the study of Farriery, or the art of treating the ailments of horses
Via my wonderful friend Megan Fitzpatrick who found it via Jezebel.


Anonymous said...

This is most fascinating! I will ask my g/f in Paris if she can visit and perhaps write an update.

BTW, at the Steampunk Party in Brooklyn last weekend, one of the fashion designers based her collection on cabinets of curiosity...the clothing was strange and wonderful.

Cheers! SusanW

Adri said...

What a fabulous exhibition. I've been to Versailles once before and can only imagine how amazing a complimentary exhibit like this would be in that space. Thanks for all the great info!