Experiencing the  Gardens of Versailles

Experiencing the Gardens of Versailles

Art, Play, and Power in the Sun King's Palace


Thursday, September 9 at 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
$45 On-Site | $25 Online
54 W Chicago Avenue

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Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles helped shape European culture and history from the Baroque era through the French Revolution, and it continues to animate contemporary international culture. Dominating this spectacular display are André Le Nôtre’s gardens, which came to symbolize, for good and ill, the French formal garden as the prevailing model for courtly European imitation. This lecture will concentrate on the lived experience of the garden visitors. On the one hand, the geometrical grandeur and monumental decorative scheme of the gardens were consciously designed to overwhelm those beholding it. As the Duc de Saint Simon phrased it, the monarch’s grandiose landscaping represented a “tyranny over nature,” just as his personal reign represented absolutist rule. On the other hand, the gardens were also a liberating space of delight, a place for amorous adventures, the contemplation of cunningly subversive sculpture, and the viewing of sumptuous, and sometimes raucous, theatrical spectacles. We will conclude with some reflections on the eminent contemporary artists, such as Anish Kapoor and Olafur Eliasson, whose massive Versailles installations have reimagined the garden experience.


We are excited to offer this program both on-site at the Alliance and online via Zoom. Once registered, you will receive details for attending. 

Larry F. Norman is the Frank L. Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Shock of the Ancient: Literature and History in Early Modern France (University of Chicago Press, awarded the 2011 MLA Scaglione Prize for French and Francophone Studies) and The Public Mirror: Molière and the Social Commerce of Depiction (University of Chicago Press, 1999). He has edited multiple volumes on the relation between theater, book history and the visual arts in early-modern Europe. Most recently, he co-edited a collection of essays on Classicisms, offering comparative perspectives from the Renaissance to the 21st century (Smart Museum of Art, 2016). Norman has been a visiting professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure-Ulm (2006), Université de Paris 7-Denis Diderot (2011), Université Paris Sorbonne (2015), and Université Jean Monnet (2019).