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  • Antiquités Rodriguez


Updated: Mar 4, 2022

"Boxwood, embroidery, from perspectives to Folies" (part 1)

Broaching 18th century gardens’composition : from glorified nature to power transfigured.

View of the Bosquet de Trois Fontaines, Château de Versailles (1693) attributed to Jean Cotelle le Jeune


15 September 1700, André le Nôtre, the great designer of the gardens of the Royal Estate of Versailles and of numerous princely residences such as Chantilly and Saint-Cloud passed away, almost exactly fifteen years before king Louis XIV, from whom he had earned a great admiration and deep friendship.

With the discreet death of the brilliant demiurge of countless open-air universes where creative illusion meets majestic rigour, a new era for gardens opened up : an era of innovations renewal yet no less rigorous through the various skills involved in the design and embellishment of authentic palaces of greenery.

In fact, if the exceptional career of the "magician of space" André Le Nôtre demonstrates the tireless competition of talented topiary and parterre artists, the transition that took place at the dawn of the 18th century was instead an attempt to achieve a less formal garden model tending towards a more natural perfection: The classical dream of Arcadia praised by Poussin and Le Sueur began to shift towards a poetic of landscape whose sensitive discourse would continue to be experienced through compositions and decorative elements liberated in their form and the symbolism they married - the eloquent wonders of the garden, which appeared through a decorated landscape as portrait.

André le Nôtre holding the Order of Saint Michael, by Carlo Maratta, Collection of the Château de Versailles Museum (1679), oil on canvas, 112 x 85 cm

Plan of the Neptune Water Feature, Plans Des Jardins de Versailles by Jean Chaufourier, 1720

French School, Shrubs or yew trees cut into different shapes in the parterre of the great royal avenue [...], 18th century, drawing, black pencil and red chalk. Versailles, Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon.


If one wanted to define a garden in the first place, it might be best to retain its plastic function as it appeared to the Enlightenment man: seen through the medium of a figurative architecture as a character on its own, it is made up of a canvas of contours, curves and counter-curves, and motifs that offer a deliberately pictorial whole. It thus serves as a narrative synthesis of the correspondences that its owner wishes to point out to the spectator, like a mirror that reflects the multiple sentimental and rural variations of his taste and his existence. In this way, this purpose assumes the dimension of a spiritual invitation like an architectural order determined by the attitude of the time. This was the case with the Prince of Ligne, who transformed the park of his family's BelOeil castle in Belgium into a masterly synthesis of arts which was designed to intensify all the senses at the same time, where the garden became an open book - in the cavern of Envy, which appears "as described by Ovid" (Prince de Ligne), the walker discovers busts of Molière, La Fontaine, Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau. The garden thus becomes literary, particularly when Ligne has maxims engraved on the bark, which follow one another along the walk and are conducive to meditation. However, although the garden offers all sorts of synesthesia that arouse a myriad of ideas and reflections, it is above all based on the vocabulary of a voluptuous and rational scenography, both of the English and the French gardens.

This sense of intention, combined with open introspection through metaphors, history and traditions, calls upon a whole procession of imaginary realities specific to the dream machine that presides over the destiny of the garden as a phantasm, tangible but inaccessible, except to the initiated.


Hence the essential function of statuary, fabriques, vases and ornaments present in 18th century gardens, all obeying a certain logic of the universal microcosm that they tend to illustrate. Beyond a simple restructured nature, they respond to an art of overall composition by combining with the vegetation while enhancing the strolls and wanderings of the informed walker who will be able to decipher the symbolism through recurring and identifiable subjects. For example, the sphinx, a favourite figure on mystical paths, lying halfway between exoticism and esotericism, fits in well with the relationship between Art and Nature seen as phantasia. The garden dazzles, calls, disturbs, delights the visitors, and can imprisons one as well as gives one pause for thought; while the sphinx, which took the form of a woman (“la sphinx”) welcoming and protecting from the 18th century onwards, plays a notable role of implying both the mystery of the unknown and the virtues of wisdom and knowledge, without losing its decorative character.

The Palace of Sans-Souci in Potsdam is a case in point: Frederick II of Prussia (1744-1797) conceived the idea of installing sphinxes on each side of the entrance to the Orangery, but also in the park of the Neues Schloss situated at the end of the park, standing like sentries watching over the English Garden surrounded by the precious pink marble palace. Its Egyptian statuary dimension is superimposed on a symbolic vein that goes beyond simple natural use: as a member of the secret society of the Rosicrucians, and familiar with Masonic rites, it is natural that the Great Frederick chose to place the surroundings of his brilliant architectural follies under the seal of mystery, conducive to arousing the astonishment of uninitiated mortals...

View of the Sans-Souci Palace, Potsdam, Johann David Schleuen

Sphinx with putti, Sans-Souci Palace Park, Neues Schloss, Potsdam, by Friedrich Christian Glume

Another point of convergence of images and ideas is a real animal, but no less endowed with an allegorical and political character: the ram, which is most vividly represented on numerous monumental garden vases. A marble vase in Versailles by Jean Le Pautre (1673) with handles formed by two rams' heads from which horns of plenty emerge, reflects the spirit of Louis XIV's contemporaries: everyone at the court of the Great King knew the meaning of these symbols, which inspired the artists for their compositions.

Located at the ends of the Parterre d'Eau, between the King's Apartment and the Queen's Apartment, the Bassin de Latone and the Grand Canal dominate a punctuated perspective. With their marble feet rising from a stone base, the ram's heads shape the handles and the supple wreaths of foliage adorn the vessel, it is significant that the central motif offers the "Sun" of Louis XIV. Beyond the famous symbol of a triumphal head haloed by divine rays, the ram enhances the semantics of power and virile strength while being strategically located where the star of the day rises or sets on the horizon, depending on the season: the emblematic position of rebirth added to power is fully affirmed here.

Vase in Medici form with body decorated with two Rhodian sun heads surrounded by laurel branches and palms laurel branches and palms, handles with ram's head, Park of the Château de Versailles.

Représentation ultime du pouvoir sacré et profane, et par-là même de l’alliance du trône et de l’autel, du pouvoir séculier et régulier, les « pots à feu » montés en balustres qui se succèdent sans interruption telle une couronne ceignant le faîtage du Château de Versailles – on n’en dénombre pas moins de cinquante-huit parmi les ornements de la cour de Marbre et de la Cour royale - présentent un signe d’assemblement symbolique et constructif au-delà de la simple fonction d’ornement. Entrelacs des éléments, du feu et de la matière, les pots à feu, bien que réalisés en pierre, ne sont que le prolongement du pouvoir de droit divin et par extension du gallicanisme royal au travers d’une large ceinture de symboles sculptés. Autre fait révélateur de la veine polysémique du pot à feu, dont le rapprochement ne doit pas être attribué au hasard : le feu dit « grégeois » (arme incendiaire utilisée notamment en mer sous l’Empire byzantin) ou pot en terre enflammé est choisi à dessein en ce qu’il se révèle être l’emblème de la Maison de Bourbon, et plus particulièrement des Ducs de Bourbon, figurant sur les sceaux armoriaux depuis 1447 sous Charles Ier, que ce dernier adopte comme emblématique dès le début de son principat associé à la devise PARTOUT. Réminiscence de l’ancestral emblème des prédécesseurs de Louis XIV, cette figure que l’on pourrait de prime abord circonscrire à la pure dimension ornementale concourt à rappeler la légitimité d’un pouvoir qui ne fut pas toujours acquis, notamment lors de la Fronde : d’abord adjointes par le cardinal Charles de Bourbon sur son écusson, la fleur de lys apparaît à partir du XVIème siècle au nombre de trois sur l’emblème des Bourbons.

Fire pots mounted in baluster vases, Château de Versailles

Medal with Grecian fire pot emblem of Charles I of Bourbon


« Et sur son socle enfin, du pied jusques aux anses,

Le grand Vase se dressait nu dans le silence,

Et, sculptée en spirale à son marbre vivant,

La ronde dispersée et dont un faible vent

Apportait dans l’écho la rumeur disparue,

Tournait avec ses boucs, ses dieux, ses femmes nues,

Ses centaures cabrés et ses faunes adroits,

Silencieusement autour de la paroi … »

Henri de Régnier Les Jeux rustiques et divins, 1918

Translation :

"And on its base, from the foot to the handles,

The great Vase stood bare in silence,

And, carved in a spiral to its living marble,

The scattered round whose faint wind

Carried in the echo the vanished rumour,

Turned with its goats, its gods, its nudes,

Its rearing centaurs and deft fauns,

Silently around the wall... "

Henri de Régnier, The Rustic and Divine Games, 1918

Gardens and fountains in the park of the Trianon Estate, Grand Trianon, Royal Estate of the Park and Castle of Versailles. Photo credits: Florian Audoin


  • Marguerite Charageat, des jardins: précis historique sur l'art des jardins, 1930.

  • Édouard François André, des jardins: Traité général de la composition des parcs et jardins, 1879.

  • Dominique Garrigues, et jardiniers de Versailles au grand siècle, 2001.

  • Bernard Champigneulle, Versailles dans l'art et l'histoire, 1954.

  • Prince Charles-Joseph de Ligne, d'œil sur Belœil: Ecrits sur les jardins et l'urbanisme, 1781.

  • Jean-Marie de La Mure, des Ducs de Bourbon et des Comtes de Forez, Tome deuxième, 1848.

  • Henri de Régnier, Jeux rustiques et divins, 1918.

Antiquités Rodriguez Décoration

Artistic Director: Roxane Rodriguez

Coordinator: Déborah Lalaudière

Photography: Matt Stark

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