Landscape park in Stourhead England.

André Le Nôtre: court gardener to Louis XIV

Карло Маратта 1625–1713 Портрет Andre Le Notre около 1680 холст масло
Carlo Maratta 1625–1713 Portrait of Andre Le Notre circa 1680 oil on canvas

André Le Nôtre (March 12, 1613 – September 15, 1700)

André Le Nôtre – French landscape architect, son of Jean Le Nôtre, chief gardener of the Tuileries, court gardener of Louis XIV, since 1657 – general controller of royal buildings. He is the author of the royal Versailles, the most famous regular park in the world.

Le Nôtre grew up in an architectural family. His father was an architect and gardener in the first half of the 17th century, the era of Marie de Medici and Louis XVIII. Since the 1650s, André Le Nôtre has been implementing major court projects, and begins with the design of the country residence of Nicolas Fouquet – Vaux-le-Vicomte.

View of the Palace Vaux le Viscount.
View of the Palace Vaux le Viscount.

Nicolas Fouquet was superintendent of finance under Louis XIV. Fouquet began work on the castle in 1657. He hires the architect Louis Leveaux, the painter Charles Leben and André Le Nôtre. In this creative team, Le Nôtre was responsible for the planning of the land plot, the symmetrical arrangement of parterres, ponds and alleys, and gravel paths. Le Vaux and Le Nôtre used the difference in the height of the terrain, as a result of which, for example, the canal is not visible from the windows of the house. They also used the optical effect of perspective approach to make the grotto seem closer than it actually is.

Work on the garden was completed by 1661, when Fouquet held festivities in the castle in honor of the king. But just three weeks later, on September 10, 1661, Fouquet was arrested on charges of embezzlement of public funds, and his artists and artisans were invited to serve the king at Versailles. Louis XIV took everything from Vaux-le-Vicomte: not only architects and artists, but also furniture and sculpture. The minister’s triumph struck his heart so much that he did everything to make this ensemble lose its unique face.

Regular park Vaux le Vicomte.
Regular park Vaux le Vicomte.

In Vaux-le-Vicomte Le Nôtre first showed the possibilities of his system of regular garden, now called French. It shows the effect of spatial play on a flat terrain. The composition of the park grows on a single surface without sharp drops. There is no feeling of picturesque, free nature here, which will appear in English parks, and there is no variety of relief, as in Italian ones.

Le Nôtre builds contrasts between the water surface and sheared ornamental stalls. He uses graphic techniques: line, plane, spatial contractions. It is a methodical, rational, slightly dry language. But nature is completely subject to the will of the artist. As a result, there is the possibility of deep development with a change of plans, a game with reflections in the water, textures.

Patterned parterres of the park and garden.
Patterned parterres of the park and garden.

Since 1661, on behalf of Louis XIV, Le Nôtre has been creating and reconstructing gardens and parks in Versailles. Louis decided to expand his father’s hunting lodge and turn it into his main residence.

Versailles was created on a newly formed site. The conditions were unfavorable, and the terrain was swampy.

André Le Nôtre Landscape park in Stourhead England.
Landscape park in Stourhead England.

The history of Versailles is divided into three stages.

The first of them is the emergence of this complex in the era of Louis XIII, when it was designed by Jacques Lemercier in the form of a U-shaped country hunting palace with a small garden area.

The second stage is the years 1660-70, when the process of forming a grandiose garden and park residence begins, which in the 17th century remained the largest in Europe. Here he continues the idea of ​​playing with a plane, a slight change in ground levels. From the very beginning, the complex was conceived as a single complex of the royal residence and a small urban settlement that served it (the same Versailles).

André Le Nôtre Plan of Versailles.
Plan of Versailles.

The third stage is the reconstruction of the palace.

This 18th-century image shows the composition being formed. Le Nôtre starts from the grounds in front of the palace. The palace was already standing, they are just starting to rebuild, remake, modify it. In front of the palace, Le Nôtre builds a three-beam composition, a system of avenues, a Roman trivium. But it enlarges, expands, changes the angle of divergence of the rays.

André Le Nôtre Garden of Versailles.
Garden of Versailles.

Why are these three avenues needed? They are motivated by the transition to the roads that link the center of Versailles with Paris, the right beam goes to the country residence of Solo, and the left beam to Saint Cloud. This is not an arbitrary structure, it is a structure that makes Versailles into a focus, a center of gravity.

If we translate this into the language of society, then the three-ray composition in Versailles is, in fact, the subordination of the entire world to the “French Empire”. The state, the kingdom is I. Versailles becomes such an architectural metaphor. It does not just turn into a grandiose residence, the task of which is to glorify the person of the king. It spatially subjugates the environment far around.

André Le Nôtre Versailles today.
Versailles today.