Vaux-le-Vicomte - on the map
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In the early seventeenth century, between the royal residences of Vincennes and Fontainebleau, a small castle stood at the confluence of two small rivers. It was then just a place on the map. In 1641 a 26 year-old parliamentarian, Nicolas Fouquet, purchased the estate. Fifteen years later the first stone of a unique masterpiece was laid; it was to be the finest château and garden in France.
This achievement was brought about through the collaboration of three men of genius whom Fouquet had chosen for the task: the architect Le Vau, the painter-decorator Le Brun and the landscape gardener Le Nôtre. The artistic and cultivated sensibility of their patron was a great stimulus to their talents.
They were not alone; the poet La Fontaine, Molière, playwright and actor, Madame de Sévigné, Pellisson and Scarron formed the circle around this great patron of literature and the arts.
Vaux-le-Vicomte was, moreover, the setting for one of the finest "fêtes" or celebrations, of the seventeenth century. It was lavish, refined, and dazzling to behold, but rich in hidden drama. The King had asked to visit, to throw Fouquet off the scent; secretly he had decided that Fouquet would die. Overcome with joy at the chance of parading Vaux-le-Vicomte before the sovereign whose faithful servant he remained, Fouquet assumed that he would take over the post of prime minister vacated by Cardinal Mazarin.
Two weeks later Fouquet was arrested. He was never to leave prison alive.It may have been under threat of abandon or destruction, but Vaux-le-Vicomte has survived, thanks to the unfailing determination of three centuries of dedicated individuals.
Resplendent today as it was in former times, Vaux-le Vicomte stands as a symbol of the intelligence, taste and independence of its creator, Nicolas Fouquet.
August 17, 1661
It was a beautiful summer's day. Nicolas Fouquet and his wife officially opened Vaux-le-Vicomte in the presence of the King, who had expressed a desire to see the recent improvements, together with the Queen Mother and part of the Court.
After the heat of the day died down, the guests followed their Royal Highnesses into the gardens and marveled at all the lakes and fountains, at the lawns, terraces and flowers, at the awesome grottoes and cascades and at the peerless view. Returning from their walk, a meal was served in the château, then everyone hurried to the edge of the woods for the entertainment; "Les Facheux", a ballet-comedy written and played by Molière. As the curtain went down, a fireworks display started over the grottoes, reflected in the mirror-like surface of the Great Canal, where a giant whale let off more fireworks. After the last explosion, the King headed back to the château when suddenly hundreds of rockets shot up from the dome of the building, forming an arch of flame in the night sky.
This unprecedented enchanting celebration, the model of royal "fêtes" to come, marked the high point of Fouquet's career, as he himself had no reason to doubt. Only the King, the Queen Mother and Colbert knew that he was in fact only hours from his fall. For Louis XIV to witness such applause going to someone else, to visit a home more luxurious than his old palaces and a magical garden, were trials for his self-esteem that were hard to endure, and they fueled his desire to destroy the minister. Were it not for the Queen Mother's advice he would have had Fouquet arrested on the spot.
Later Voltaire was to sum up the famous fête thus: "On 17 August, at six in the evening Fouquet was the King of France: at two in the morning he was nobody."
After Nicolas Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was place under sequestration. The King seized, confiscated, and occasionally purchased, 120 tapestries, the statues, all the orange trees and much more besides. Madame Fouquet had to wait patiently for ten years to recover her property and she retired there with her eldest son
The text about Vaux-le-Vicomte was taken from Vaux-le-Vicomte official site.