France became a leading world power in the 17th century, and replaced Italy as the artistic leader of Europe.
Louis XIV ascended the throne at the age of five. During his early years, his mother and godfather governed the country for him. Louis married Marie Therese, the daughter of Phillip IV of Spain. This helped the relationship between Spain and France. When his godfather died in 1661, Louis ruled France by himself. He chose the title Le Roi Soleil, or Sun King, for himself, because he thought that just as the planets revolved around the sun, the rest of France should revolve around him. Louis had various statues, festivals, fireworks, fountains, and palaces created to show his greatness. He re instituted a rigid etiquette system of formal rules to govern court relationships and further glorify himself as king. Court policy supported the use of art and architecture.
French Baroque wanted to inspire its people to glorify the Sun King, not God and the church. French Baroque rejected Italian exuberance and excesses and embraces principles of reason, restraint, order, and formality.
Exteriors displayed classical architectural features such as columns, pediments, cartouches, swags, quoins, arches, balustrades, draped figures, and niches. Versailles motifs include Ls, sun faces, musical instruments, military symbols, fleur de lis, and crowns. Other details used include acanthus leaves, cherubs, classical statues, cartouches, dolphins, chinoiserie, singerie, pagodas, and landscapes.
Plans were symmetrical on at least one axis. Rooms were rectangular. Some salons and stair halls were oval. There were no interior hallways. Rooms were distributed to support rank, formality, ceremony, and the attributes of aristocratic life. Plans were organized around appartements. Appartements were usually located on the garden side of the house, and husbands and wives had their own.
Building materials include stone, brick, wood, and plaster.
Roofs were mansard, hipped, and flat. They were usually covered in slate. Roofs were steeply pitched.
Baroque interiors were characterized by symmetry, formality, grandeur, large scale, rich decoration, vivid color, and luxurious materials appropriate to the rank, wealth, and rituals of court life. Ceremonial interiors were the most formal in residences. Most dwellings had less formal private spaces. Appartements had an antichambre for eating and waiting, a chambre de parade for receiving and entertaining important guests, a chambre à coucher for receiving friends and sleeping, a cabinet for conducting business, and a garderobe for dressing, storage, and housing for servants.
Interiors had rich and costly materials. Colors used include white, gold, crimson, cobalt, purple, and deep green.
Floors were made of wood, masonry, and marble. Parquet use increased throughout the period. Lozenge shapes were used in oak. Parquet de Versailles was a design composed of a diamond pattern with centers of interwoven planks. Oriental, Savonnerie, and Aubusson rugs were also used in interiors. Plain and patterned straw mats used to cover floors during the summer.
The French used boiserie on walls. Boiserie was usually painted white and had gold accents. Some walls had paneling. Textile wallcoverings included damasks, plain and patterned velvets, and embossed leather. Tapestries were usually hung only in important rooms. Prints and paintings were hung over fireplaces, doors, and inside panels. Mirrors were important accessories. Windows of important rooms often had silk and velvet draperies. Most rooms had wood shutters. Most rooms had double door entries. Ceilings were elaborately decorated and had deep moldings and cornices. They could be flat, compartmented, coffered, coved, or vaulted with gilded or painted plasterwork.
Candles were the primary source of illumination. They were enhanced by crystals, gilding, mirrors, and shiny finishes. Lighting fixtures included applique, flambeau, candelabra, torchère, and lustre à cristeaux. They were made of gilded and carved wood, ormolu, and silver. Ormolu was gilded bronze ornament applied to furniture or used alone.
Baroque furniture was rectilinear, symmetrical, and often accented with curves. Proportions were massive, and decorations were lavish. Only a king and queen were allowed to sit on armchairs. Royal children could sit on chairs with no arms or back. Other people of high rank were allowed to sit on stools. Seating had tall, upholstered backs and seats. Tables were used for gaming, conversation, and entertainment. The most common were console tables, the bureau plat, occasional tables, and game tables. Clothing was stored in armoires. Types of beds were four-posters, beds with canopies and no posts, portable field beds, and trundle beds.
Materials used include beech, oak, walnut, and ebony. Many pieces were gilded and had parquetry and marquetry.
Types of decorative arts include clocks, lighting, tapestries, rugs, ceramics, fireplace furniture, fire screens, paintings, mirrors, and vases.