Marie-Antoinette’s estate: Petit Trianon and Hameau de la Reine
In 1758, Louis XV envisaged the construction of a new small castle, Petit Trianon in the middle of the gardens of the Palace of Versailles which he developed and embellished over the past ten years or so. He ordered from Ange-Jacques Gabriel, his first architect, a pavilion of sufficient size to live there and accommodate part of his suite. Gabriel signs here a true manifesto of neoclassical architecture, a perfect example of the “Greek” fashion which was then spreading in Europe.
Queen Marie-Antoinette received the Petit Trianon as a gift from her husband Louis XVI on May 24, 1774, two weeks after their accession to the throne.
Twenty-five years earlier, the Marquise de Pompadour, favorite of King Louis XV, had arranged in the Trianon estate, away from the Palace of Versailles, a botanical garden composed of exotic and rare plants. Louis XV had later commissioned from the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel a pleasure castle suitable for the contemplation of the garden. The Marquise having died shortly after, it was ultimately to his new favorite, the Countess of Barry, that the old monarch had planned to offer this delicious building in neoclassical style, before he died in his turn.
The queen’s role, so desired by ordinary people, was heavy for Marie-Antoinette, who preferred simplicity to the splendor of the Palace of Versailles. The French people didn’t like it, largely because of rumors and unfounded gossip. We all sadly know the end. By visiting her living environment, we can learn a little more about the Queen, and see that in the end, this woman was only looking for what all of us are looking for: the joy of life.
Marie-Antoinette said: “at Versailles, I am the Queen; at Petit Trianon, I am me ”. It is thus the intimate and charming universe of the queen that we discover today in this castle, and in the famous “hamlet of the Queen” made at her request, a false Norman village created from scratch by Hubert Robert and Richard Mique, on the model of that of the Château de Chantilly.
Here, no spectacular gilding, but a charming 18th century ensemble on a human scale. You want to discover some secrets of our history, then follow us! ?
History and description of Petit Trianon
Actually, the Petit trianon was built for Madame de Pompadour (mistress of King Louis XVI), who died before seeing it finished, it was inaugurated by Madame du Barry in 1768, some twenty years after the first works on the “New King’s Garden”. Although it was the most impressive of the Petit Trianon, it was not the first building, but it is situated on the contrary in the continuity of a project that lasted four decades. It was offered by Louis XVI , after his coronation, to his young wife Marie Antoinette , who gave him her style, associating forever, in the public imagination, the building and the Queen.
With a square plan of 23 m² (248 sqf), the building owes its particularity to its four facades, with five high windows, dotted with columns or pillars of the Corinthian order . Due to the slope of the land, the ground floor of the castle is accessible only from the south and east facades; this floor was reserved for the servants. The “noble” floor, which is entered by a large staircase of a vestibule designed as an internal courtyard, includes the reception rooms and the Queen’s apartment. A mezzanine of three rooms opens the library of Marie Antoinette. In the attic, many lodgings that were used by Louis XV and his entourage today welcome the exhibition of the “Ladies of the Trianon”, women who have stamped their signature on these walls.
The form of the building
The building adopts an extremely simple cubic form; its roof is concealed by a balustrade. Gabriel was able to avoid a decorative treatment that was too simple or too austere by varying the treatment reserved for the facades of the castle which all offer five openings per floor. The southern facade, on the main courtyard, is soberly decorated with four pilasters emphasizing a slight projection of the three central bays; the north facade resumes this treatment but with a lower floor because of the difference in level; the eastern facade, which overlooked the botanical garden of Louis XV, is the most sober; on the other hand, the western facade, overlooking the French Garden, has received a very careful treatment by being skilfully highlighted by an elegant terrace and enhanced by four majestic Corinthian columns which create a slight avant-corps. The overall proportions make it a masterpiece of harmony and elegance.
Inside, the space of the first two floors is organized around a vast stairwell. The difference in level of the land on which the chateau is built allows the reception rooms on the first floor to open out onto the gardens. Marie-Antoinette’s apartment, mezzanine, overlooks the English Garden and the Temple of Love. One notices there a cabinet known as “moving mirrors”, of which an ingenious system of movable woodwork panels enables the two French windows to be closed at will.
The decoration, entrusted by the architect Gabriel to Honoré Guibert, is entirely based on nature and ancient taste. A true architectural extension of the nearby gardens, the castle is decorated with sculptures of flowers and fruits, the paintings are allegories of the seasons or flowers, the furniture is decorated with country motifs.
Symbol of a new monarchy, which inspires more intimacy and quiet unlike the permanent representation imposed by Louis XIV, the Petit Trianon castle is also a symbol of the fragility of the system, which the French Revolution condemned since 1789.
Completed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1768
Completed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1768, the new Château de Trianon is named the Petit Trianon to distinguish it from the neighboring marble Trianon which takes the usual name of Grand Trianon. It was at Trianon, in April 1774, that Louis XV felt the first attacks of smallpox, which took him a few days later, leading the young Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to ascend the throne. The Petit Trianon and its estate was then donated by Louis XVI to his young wife, who made it his favorite stay and undertook major exterior work. Louis XV’s botanical garden was soon replaced by an Anglo-Chinese garden in the style of the time.
Time of the Revolution
At the time of the Revolution, the Petit Trianon was transformed into an inn, while the gardens narrowly escaped the subdivision. Napoleon then restored the splendor of the ensemble, having the castle and gardens restored, first for his sister Pauline and then for the Empress Marie-Louise, his second wife. It was to Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, that he returned to have, in 1867, transformed the Petit Trianon into a museum dedicated to the memory of Marie-Antoinette.
The Queen’s Hamlet (Hameau de la Reine Marie Antoinette)
Some of us are not lucky enough to be very, very, very rich, which would have allowed us to build a small village on the outskirts of Paris, just for my good pleasure. Owning a palace like the Château du Petit Trianon and a small farm for its own needs is of course a dream that is more of a fantasy than a possibility. But when you are queen of France, this possibility is real, so why deny it? The Queen’s Hamlet, contrary to what revolutionary citizens believed, was not there just to decorate and please Her Majesty the Queen, but it was also a real farm, which produced for the Royal Table. We weren’t talking about organic at the time, or a shared vegetable garden. Having a small farm nearby was a real need for people then, transportation was not what it is today.
The Queen’s Hamlet is thus the heir to what already existed, the menagerie, where there was a stable, a farmyard, a sheepfold, a dairy… everything that was necessary to bring fresh farm produce to the royal table. In addition to the vegetable gardens, there is a botanical garden, where exotic plants are cultivated, making the king’s garden famous throughout Europe. This small hamlet, wanted by the queen and built by the architect Richard Mique, was there to completely get away from Versailles. It is inspired by the hamlet of Chantilly. The hamlet of Chantilly had no other purpose than to entertain the guests of the owner of the Chateau de Chantilly, the Prince de Condé. The Queen’s was to distract her, while having that utilitarian aspect of supplying the royal table.
The hamlet was therefore much more than a simple garden factory, the vocation was not just ornamental. Other garden factories decorate the park of the Petit Trianon, whether it is the Grand Rocher and the Belvedere or the Temple of Love for example. For the queen, the hamlet also had an educational vocation for children. But we are still in Versailles, even if on the outside the hamlet is rustic in appearance, inside, all the Versailles comforts are in order. The houses are built around a large lake, with the farmhouse set back. Nothing was placed at random, the queen having surrounded herself with painters to advise her.
Marie Antoinette ultimately benefited very little from her small hamlet and the “peasant” life she wanted there to be. Begun in 1783, it was practically finished in 1786, three years before the storming of the Bastille. After the Revolution, the Queen’s Hamlet was abandoned, a report even suggesting that Napoleon destroy it. It was not until the 20th century that it was gradually restored. An educational farm was set up there in the 1990s, restoring one of the queen’s wishes.
Life in the hamlet in Marie-Antoinette’s time
Seeking a refuge in peasant life, the Queen does not hesitate to come and see cows and sheep being milked and carefully maintained and washed by the servants.
Dressed as a peasant girl, in a muslin dress and straw hat, a light toast in her hand, with her companions, she uses Sèvres porcelain buckets specially decorated with her coat of arms by the Royaled Manufacture. The place is completely enclosed, by gates and ditches; one enters it from Trianon either by a covered and winding path, which gives surprisingly the smallest houses to discover, or by the edge of the Onze-Arpents wood and a gently sloping meadow forming tiny waterfalls, which offers a bird’s eye view of the main house and the village of Saint-Antoined.
Despite its idyllic appearance, the hamlet is a real agricultural exploitation perfectly managed by a farmer appointed by the Queen, with its vineyards, fields, orchards and vegetable gardens which produce fruits and vegetables consumed by the royal table. According to the Queen’s instructions, the animals raised on the farm come from Switzerland, whose animal breeds are considered to be the most authentic, which often gives the place the name of “Swiss hamlet”.
Only the intimate friends of Queen Marie-Antoinette are allowed access to the hamlet, an indisputable mark of favor, which does not fail to fuel rumors about what is going on in this area. The count of Vaudreuil, the baron of Besenval, the countess of Polignac with her daughter Aglaë de Guiche and her sister-in-law Diane, and the count of Esterhazy are among them. The Prince de Ligne did not miss an opportunity to visit the hamlet or, at the very least, to keep abreast of news from the league. The Queen enjoys the company of her sister-in-law, Madame Élisabeth, and the Princess of Chimay. Madame Campan, first chambermaid, and the countess of Ossun, lady of the ward, accompany the Queen on all occasions. We are far from the precedences in use at the castle: “I do not hold court there, I live there in particular”, affirms the Queen. The children also benefit from this relative simplicity: even Madame Royale, judged by her mother too imbued with her rank, is sent to collect the eggs from the henhouse with the other children of the hamlet, in a pretty wrapped basket.
The guests must be dressed in simple and unadorned attire, a light percale dress, a gauze scarf or a straw hat. We play billiards or backgammon, we walk in the gardens along the pond. We also dance on the lawn, gavottes and country dances, to the sound of a small orchestra. The Queen, to forget the libels she sometimes finds on her furniture, likes to sing and play the harpsichord in front of her relatives. King Louis XVI rarely goes to the hamlet, so the freedom of tone is all the easier: the meals are lighter and simpler than at the Châteauf and you can have fun there while a few steps away. from there, in a castle empty of any court activity, the nobility maintains hatred and jealousy. These snacks usually end with a visit to the dairy to taste cheeses sometimes mixed with recently picked red fruits. We also like to mix with “little people”, to see them going about their business and we are even interested in their fate. From time to time, the Queen slips away to her boudoir on the arm of the Earl of Fersene. But it was on the afternoon of October 5, 1789 that, summoned by a messenger from the king while she was in her cave, she took one last look at her hamlet, which she would never see again.
- Above: Hamlet of Queen Marie Antoinette.
- Below: Petit Trianon.
- Right: Belvédère du Petit Trianon, or Pavillon du Rocher, is a neoclassical garden factory, founded between 1778 and 1781 by Richard Mique, for the French queen Marie-Antoinette, within the Petit English Gardens Trianon, in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.