Saturday, December 26, 2015

My Versailles



Then it all bursts out before us, the tapis vert that slants gently down through the trees that are brought tightly in to focus the view, the Bassin d'Apollon, the Grand Canal, and, most of all, the overriding sky. Louis tells us to admire it all. He was quite aware that it was a moment of vast release. The oval of Latona opens up and surprises us, releasing us to the burst of velocity that explodes at the middle of the garden. Our gaze moves rapidly down the tapis vert, but when it hits the water it literally takes off. It no longer adheres but slides across the water to the sky reflected on it ... We are released to infinity, or at least to indefinitely expanding space. 
~the architect theorist Vincent Scully

 

Whether the gardens of Versailles provoke an intrinsically sublime and passionate experience, or whether by nature of their strict regularity they allow for a similar, albeit lesser, release, they embody the concept of beauty proper, namely of "free beauty," despite their stiffness and mathematical regularity, which are a mere means, an aesthetical judgment to the judgment of taste, that is, to the judgment of the beautiful, which is not the same as witnessing the unfolding of beauty, for that experience lies within, and is sublime. 


While Versailles is a man made object of nature, unlike an ocean or a mountain peak, the experience her architecture provokes is immesurable. Versailles presupposes a concept of what beauty should be, she introduces us to simplicity through elaborately designed features of self subsisting beauty. 



Flowers, those free beauties of nature, thrive in Versailles, and flourish near the Petit Trianon, there is no perfection of any kind, no internal finality, as something to which the arrangement of beauty underlines our judgment [of it]. They are fantasias (without a theme), and, indeed, like music that is not set to words. They are not appurtenant to the objects around which they flourish, they are the flourishing around which edifices are erected. 

~the philosopher Sophy Laughing




Critics of taste have long since attempted to define, regulate, or otherwise deconstruct Versailles into her most basic concepts, but these concepts are absent of finesse, a minor verdict carried out by minor figures who are without the concept of beauty. Mathematical regularity serves its purpose. It speaks of symmetry, but cannot perceive it. Deconstruction forms an estimate of an area of a plot of land, rendering intelligible the relation of divided parts to one another and to the whole, but those regular figures, even the simplest kind, are a delight to the mind which immediately gives way to the senses the moment these figures strike the eye. 

Construction is serviceable in all its possible purposes, it makes rooms out of walls and oblique angles, it brings forth a garden out of plots of land, it arouses figures of animals and mythological gods from its violation of symmetry, but alone it is only practical, valuable to us only for its all manner of possible purposes. 



Taste is different. When it is pure, it combines delight with immediate aversion to bare contemplation of an object. It elevates a concept to the indispensable condition (conditio sine qua non) of grasping its significance and connection to accomplishment. We have merely to allow for the value to set itself upon our minds, to entertain our mental acuity with what is called beautiful. It is the understanding of the service of imagination. 



Versailles owes her existence to purpose, not to a building, a particular sculpture, her regularity, which consists in symmetry, but to the unity of the intuition accompanying her concepts to their natural end. Her heart lies in cognition, a free play of acute powers that decorate the mind's many chambers, that flourish in the mind's ornamental gardens. Her good taste is the furniture that brings to life beauty as conceived in the mind insofar as it is possible to conceive of a free flowing concept. 



The contemplation of Versailles affords us lasting entertainment. She brings the mystical in to view, she expands the scope of our imagination, and her final play is the long lasting freshness her beauty evokes. 

Versailles is full of charm, and her mid-forest with her rows of parallel stakes on which plants twine themselves infer that wild heart within. Across seasons her appearance changes, to know her is to know her in the rain and bitter cold, to welcome her in the spring and lounge with her in the summer. For some winter might evoke an irksome constraint upon their enjoyment of her majesty, but it is precisely during the cold winter months that the constraints of her artificial rules awe us with her libertine bursting. How in constraint she can still express a luxuriant variety to supply the mind with constant food for its taste is part charm and part mystique. 




Geometrical layout in Versailles is a necessity. The garden is ordered starting from a principal axis, with secondary axes, alloys out of stars, basins in circle and half-circle. Her symmetry is staged on several levels, with rigorously cut trees, which compose a true vegetable architecture. The concepts supporting her regularity and symmetry are not only proper to garden design but also an essential characteristic of Baroque aesthetics. 



The Baroque does not yield to the terrain, on the contrary the Baroque masters the terrain and tries by all means to impose on it a homogeneous character. The Baroque reigns over symmetry. It is the regularity of Versailles that characterizes the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque. 

The Renaissance was concerned with giving architectural motives, but without giving them relationship, all remained without a unity of composition; whereas the Baroque made progress toward architectural composition of an entirely unified space, one that interpreted progress as a political fact but was simultaneously aware of its natural composition to space and its expression of power. 

Versailles seizes visual control over her viewers, gently guiding them toward the illusory symbolism in her sunlike magnificence. 




Power radiates outwards into France from Versailles. Her grand avenues draw crowds of subjects reveling in the magnificence of her trees and shrubs, in her topiary proper, and in her masterful expression of power in nature. 




The unlimited sky as seen from Versailles reflects the limitlessness of our world. Her fountains are endless streams of life's flourishing. The rich interior decorations and dramatic spatial and lighting sequences contrast and heighten the structure's physical immediacy. It is from the vantage of regularity that we perceive the unlimited vistas of her gardens. From her balcony the vanishing point disappears, merging with the horizon and our imagination. Her massiveness implies infinity, linking us to the unlimitedness, which gives rise to the sublime questions of nature. 



Generally the sublime refers to the formlessness of an object. The sublime provokes rather than involves. It is immediate in its thought of totality, yet limited in its grasp of it. It is a delight produced by the beautiful, a furtherance of life compatible with charm and playful imagination. It is an unleashing of vital forces, an intense release from restrain as our earnestness overrides our judgment. 

The mind is attracted to this interplay, and produces more positive pleasures as a result ... admiration and respect being the two primary characteristics of mind. Their effect on our mind is sublime, a natural cousin to earnest passion. 



The beauty of Versailles is only limited by one's pre adapted power of judgment, a condition violent toward our imagination, as it attempts to override it. Considering Versailles as an expression of overriding power, in relation to her overriding sky, is like welcoming chaos into peace, a wild irregular disorder and desolation of spirit filled with rational ideas, visible only in their construction and limitation and attempt to constrain imagination's natural flourishing. 



The sublime is that characteristic that supersedes, where even the grandest ideas seem small in comparison. The sublime provokes the representation of absolute magnitude, it disappears on the horizon and is an unlimited vista. The sublime excites the mind toward progress and infinitum, whereas the idea of the sky itself is a mere subjective judgment, a candidate of our own inner progress, or lack thereof. 

Attempting to explain the beauty of Versailles requires a quantum in the imagination that involves both imaginative apprehension and comprehension, and is incapable of taking the two along anything other than the axis that leads to the horizon, whereas the vastness of the sublime seems to call us forth, toward the magnificence of infinity; a place where even we disappear as we reach the vanishing point. 



It is the sublime that accounts for the lovely bewilderment, a sort of perplexity, which, despite understanding of mythology and its relation to self, seizes visitors upon their first entering of her gates. Here a feeling comes home of the inadequacy of our imagination for presenting the idea of a whole, and thus our imagination fights to attain its maximum, and, in fruitless effort to extend its limit, before recoiling in on itself, succumbing and then resting in emotional delight. 



For the few brief years that Marie resided in her Petit Trianon, she raised her children in this very state of emotional delight. Their deepest connections were those that were linked to the magnitude of living and loving, those that honored the sublime, in an dynamic interplay with nature in a fanciful picturesque world overriding the turbulence of the times and the difficulty of inheriting a nation in financial ruin with none other than vicious, self serving courtiers, who would just assume throw their benefactors to the lions than extend a gracious hand of solidarity. Such grace and solidarity can only flourish when known within. 



Fear is not the sentiment the Sun King dedicated his life to evoking, and while a formidable foe, its powers are commensurable to the task of opposing it. We bid adieu to its grasp upon our psyche, and return to where we feel secure: in our Gardens, whether alone or shared with our relations, their sublime nature evokes our imagination, and their effect is the truest way to feel the presence of magnificence, to bow before it in a dynamic unfolding of what it truly means to be in the presence of majesty. 

The gardens of Versailles honor majesty, and imply a real presence that is the self embodiment of mastery over limitation. Versailles relationship to self is a principal characteristic of her charm, and a prescription for anyone seeking self understanding. Versailles transitions us from form to formlessness, from her Château to her picturesque layout sweeping across the French skyline. 

She is the embodiment of nature without ruling, despite her mathematical relationship between foreground and background. Such a relationship is the genius behind her unfolding, but not the essence of it. 

Versailles links us to ourselves by separating us from the spell of self hood. In this way, Versailles is a linkage between the human and the divine, honoring our relation with self and other. Versailles proudly imposes not limits but heights upon which infinity rests. Any finitude is from within, any order to her universe entirely intellectually conceived, any rational organization of her beauty into geometrical patterns is suitable only for stately progress ... 




A solitary walk along her avenues, in her fully enclosed microcosm affords us a magnitude so absolute that it calls us forth from the chateau to infinity ... the effect of which cannot be understood, only felt. 










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