At Large  July 12, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Marie Antoinette’s Hidden Haven at Versailles Open to the Public

© Palace of Versailles

The Queen’s Bedchamber

In the opulent halls of the Chateau Versailles, where grandeur and luxury intertwine, one name continues to captivate the imagination: Marie Antoinette. A woman shrouded in mystique, she sought solace and privacy within the sprawling palace walls. In her pursuit for a personal sanctuary, Marie Antoinette commissioned the creation of her own chambers, where she could escape the rigors of courtly life and indulge in the comforts of solitude. But even in these intimate spaces, the queen’s taste for extravagance prevailed. After years of research and restoration and in honor of the palace’s 400th anniversary, these rooms have just opened to the public this summer, offering a glimpse into the delicate balance between privacy and opulent decoration that defined the life of one of history’s most enigmatic figures. 

When Marie Antoinette arrived at the Chateau Versailles in 1770, she was given a first floor apartment in the palace, along with several private rooms located on the floor above, accessible via a secret door in her bedroom. Right away, the fourteen year old Austrian duchess turned Queen of France ordered work to reupholster and redesign her living quarters in her own style. She did not stop updating and redecorating her chambers until the beginning of the French Revolution in 1788. During this period, the queen created a haven of riches that displayed her lavish tastes with rooms filled with gilded panelling, silk walls, mirrors, ceiling frescoes, and opulent furniture.

Wikimedia Commons

Marie-Antoinette, 1775 - Musée Antoine Lécuyer

It was in the secret chamber that Marie Antoinette spent most of her time outside of courtly life with her children and an intimate circle of friends. But just like what went on in these rooms, there was little historical evidence of how they were organized. Over the past several years, archivists for the Palace have worked to piece together how these rooms looked during her reign through their layout and documentation on the traditional fabrics that appeared in each chamber.

The newly accessible rooms are located through a secret passageway, opening up into the Méridienne, a chamber named after the activity that took place in it: it was where the queen often took her afternoon nap. The room is outfitted with a mirror clad alcove and wooden panelling decoration with motifs carved by the Rousseau brothers. The glazed doors that lead into the room are decorated with bronze work by Gouthiere, depicting an eagle, a peacock, garlands of roses, and bows and arrows. These figures were meant to be allegorical references to celebrate the birth of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s first son. 

© Palace of Versailles Photo: T. Garnier

The Billiard Room

Adjacent to the Méridienne is the library, which dates back to 1781. Though most of Marie Antoinette’s large collection of books are now conserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the room maintains its original dignity with glass doored cupboards that show off the technologically advanced rack and pinion system in place. The shelves, designed by the queen’s architect Richard Mique, could be adjusted by height to accommodate larger or smaller books. 

Next door is the legendary Gold Room, the great inner chamber that was originally built for the previous Queen of France, Maria Leszczyńska, but was heavily redesigned by Marie Antoinette. For this room, the queen was initially inspired by the “Chinese style” as evidenced by the Sevres vases and ancient Egypt, but later and for its ultimately last modification, her architect Richard Mique proposed a more contemporary look. The walls were covered with silk embellished with flowers, and the Rousseau brothers were once again commissioned to create the wood panelling, that harks back to antiquity in its design and use of gold leaf.

Wikimedia Commons

The gilded cabinet of Marie Antoinette

In 1774, the queen decided to add on to her private chamber to include rooms for both her own personal use and for her principal chambermaids and servants. These rooms were connected through a narrow staircase and are located directly above the previously mentioned rooms. The upper floor rooms were outfitted with original Toile de Jouy fabrics, which helped researchers understand the use of these chambers.

Today, the upper floor has a new layout created to help visitors understand the young queen’s private life. The rooms, described by the Chateau de Versailles, are “a la Reine”, or in the style of the queen. These include a dining room and a boudoir, also known as a Billiard Room, which have been transformed into a Reception Room, along with six rooms split amongst the Principal Chambermaids and the queen’s servants. The main draw of the upper floor is the reproduced Toile de Jouy fabrics – fabric with prints of landscapes and figures that were popular amongst the royal crowd at Versailles.

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