Architecture et Beaux-Arts à l’apogée du règne de Louis XIV, Édition critique de la correspondance du marquis de Louvois (Tome 2)

Work published with the scientific and financial support of the CRCV.

Architecture et Beaux-Arts à l’apogée du règne de Louis XIV, Édition critique de la correspondance du marquis de Louvois, surintendant des Bâtiments du roi, arts et manufactures de France, 1683-1691, conservée au Service historique de la Défense, tome II (1685), directed by Raphaël Masson and Thierry Sarmant, Éditions du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques (Cths), (“Documents inédits sur l’histoire de France” Collection), September 2009, 17 x 24 cm, €59 (ISBN: 978-2-7355-0694-1).


1685 was the turning point in Louis XIV’s rule. It marked both the height of his reign and the beginning of his decline. The correspondence of Louvois, his Superintendant of Building Works at this time, perfectly demonstrates this paradox: never before had so many messages been sent by this minister (over 1,800), and never before had the Superintendant’s budget been so high. 1685 was therefore the most lavish year in the history of the Bâtiments du roi. Fifteen million pounds were spent, amounting to 10% of the State budget, a sum never attained before or after. 1685 was also the year when Bernini’s equestrian statue of the king was installed at Versailles. Louvois, who had seen it before his master, declared to be “so ugly that there was no possibility that once the king had seen it he would leave it as it was”. The acquisitions policy for paintings and objets d’art was still as active as ever, and increasingly better organised, as demonstrated in this instruction to La Teulière in which the director of the Académie de France in Rome was quite simply given the mission to draw up a preliminary inventory of works “in the palaces of those who, because of their great age or infirmity, could well die soon”.

Louvois retained the office of Superintendant of Building Works longer than Colbert, and had considerably greater means at his disposal, allowing him to pursue with ease several large projects in Paris (the Place des Conquêtes, the future Place Vendôme), in Versailles (construction of the Orangerie), and outside Paris (major works at Chambord for example), and above all enabled him to start the works that would bring the waters of the Eure to Versailles.

Leaving aside the ultimate failure of the hydraulic project, his letters from that year were no less exciting, because, in supporting these vast building projects, Louvois disrupted the area around Chartres, mobilised the army, the intendants in the provinces, the contractors of the Bâtiments du roi and fortifications departments, and his colleagues abroad. At Maintenon, the minister made a great contribution to the history of technology, the history of public works, and to what one might call today “town and country planning”.

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