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View of the Chateau de Versailles, 1722. Right: Louis XIV leading a tour of the extensive grounds at Versailles

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View of the Chateau de Versailles, 1722. Right: Louis XIV leading a tour of the extensive grounds at Versailles.(below: Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles/Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY; right: Erich Lessing/Art Resource)

Located ten miles southwest of Paris, Versailles began as a modest hunting lodge built by Louis XIII in 1623. His son, Louis XIV, spent decades enlarging and decorating the original structure. Between 1668 and 1670, architect Louis Le Vau (luh VOH) enveloped the old building within a much larger one that still exists today. In 1682 the new palace became the official residence of the Sun King and his court, although construction continued until 1710, when the royal chapel was completed. At any one time, several thousand people occupied the bustling and crowded palace. The awesome splendor of the eighty-yard Hall of Mirrors, replete with floor-to-ceiling mirrors and ceiling murals illustrating the king’s triumphs, contrasted with the strong odors from the courtiers who commonly relieved themselves in discreet corners.

In 1693 Charles XI of Sweden, having reduced the power of the aristocracy, ordered the construction of his Royal Palace, which dominates the center of Stockholm to this day. Another such palace was Schönbrunn, an enormous Viennese Versailles begun in 1695 by Emperor Leopold to celebrate Austrian military victories and Habsburg might. Shown at right is architect Joseph Bernhard Fischer von Erlach’s ambitious plan for Schönbrunn palace. Fischer’s plan emphasizes the palace’s vast size and its role as a site for military demonstrations. Ultimately, financial constraints resulted in a more modest building.

In central and eastern Europe, the favorite noble servants of royalty became extremely rich and powerful,and they too built grandiose palaces in the capital cities.These palaces were in part an extension of the monarch,for they surpassed the buildings of less-favored nobles and showed all the high road to fame and fortune. Take,for example, the palaces of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a French nobleman who became Austria’s most famous military hero. It was Eugene who led the Austrian army,smashed the Turks, fought Louis XIV to a standstill, and generally guided the triumph of absolutism in Austria.Rewarded with great wealth by his grateful king, Eugene called on the leading architects of the day, Fischer von Erlach and Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, to consecrate his glory in stone and fresco. Fischer built Eugene’s Winter (or Town) Palace in Vienna, and he and Hildebrandt collaborated on the prince’s Summer Palace on the city’s outskirts. The prince’s summer residence featured two baroque gems, the Lower Belvedere and the Upper Belvedere, completed in 1722 and shown above. The building’s interior is equally stunning, with crouching giants serving as pillars and a magnificent great staircase.

Prince Eugene’s Summer Palace in Vienna. (Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY)

Plans for the Palace at Schönbrunn, ca. 1700. (ONB/Vienna, Picture Archive, L 8001-D)

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