Parties and entertainment at the Palace of Versailles


King Louis XIV gave a precept to the Dauphin as a guideline for his rule: « Entertain in order to govern ».


The art of politics, the strategy and the power stuggles to settle his authority were prevalent at the Court, under the guise of astonishing entertainments, sense of lightness and courteousness.

At first, there was the hunting, based on very stict rituals, still alive until today, in actual huntings with weapons and dogs. Being invited to hunt with the king was a privilege, which offer the opportunity to be part of the lunch, an important moment for entertainment and socialising, much appreciated by noble ladies and hunters.


Then, there was the theater which was performed in the royal appartements, in the Manège Hall in the Great Stables or in the gardens with ephemeral installations until 1770, when the Royal Opera House was built to enable spectacular changes of decoration.

Open to the entire court, the Ordinary Theater was performed by French and Italian actors several times a week; a more intimate performance called the Society Theater was performed in the private appartements and was dedicated to the royal family and their closest friends, who occasionally donned costumes and played on stage themselves.

Music is a constant accompaniment to the lives of the Château de Versailles and several members of the royal family were musicians themselves; from hunting to balls, comic ballets, operas and theatre, it was omnipresent and became an art in its own right with the chamber concerts introduced under Louis XIV starting in 1682.


The afternoon is dedicated to outdoor entertainment: promenades on foot or in carriage in the gardens, ride in a gondola on the water and people played pall-mall on the pathways, very seriously. For the courtiers, it was important to look their best according to etiquette.

A 59-page manual, written in 1717, contains the oldest printed rules of pall-mall, a game with similarities to modern golf.

The court played a lot at Versailles: card games, games of skill like billiards or games of chance: Queen Marie-Antoinette and the Count of Artois played pharaoh, an expensive and very risky game, which lives up to its name.

The art of dancing is a very demanding entertainment: several times a week, fancy dressed balls, masked balls or formal balls took place at Versailles, where grandly-dressed couples competed in elegance and performed the steps in a very precise fashion. Deportment, poise, and bearing, were learnt from a very young age under the supervision of dance masters.


But nothing can be compared to the “marvellous effects” that transported courtiers to fantastical worlds at night fall and fascinated the court: light displays and fireworks with temporary structures that went up in flames, multicoloured sprays, thousands of lights that sparkled along the walkways of the Park and Grand Canal. Each celebration required such creativity, technical skill and ingenuity, that they are considered as precursors to contemporary Sound and Light Shows.


Photos : © RMN-Grand Palais © The Metropolitan Museum of Art (distr. RMN-Grand Palais) / image of the MMA © François Lauginie

Exhibition "Festivities and entertainments at Court" until March 26th, 2018 at the Palace of Versailles

Wednesday 27 December 2017, 18:58