The Hall of Mirrors, Versailles Palace

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

Mirrors, Mirrors on the Wall!

The mirror is an object which is bought and used due to its function and in 17th century France at the Palace of Versailles mirrors were used to represent wealth and status, through the Hall of Mirrors.

The Palace of Versailles and the Hall of Mirrors

The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles was built to replace the large terrace at the front of the palace, which connected the King’s apartments to the apartments of the Queen. The architect was Jules Hardouin-Mansart and work commenced in 1678 and took 6 years to complete. The Hall of Mirrors is of epic proportions: stretching 73m long, 10.4m wide, with a 12.2m high ceiling. This vast size is increased with seventeen arcaded windows that look over the gardens and seventeen mirror clad arches positioned opposite the windows. The design of the hall pays homage to the success of France and the abundance of mirrors represent France’s economic prosperity. With a total of 357 mirrors the Hall of Mirrors makes a statement against the Venetians. Louis XIV requested for the materials to come from France for the construction of the Hall of Mirrors but because the Venetians had a monopoly on mirrors, several Venetian workers were enticed to France to manufacture them. France’s ability to produce the mirrors demonstrated that French manufacture could rival that of the Venetians. The Hall of Mirrors was used daily by both courtiers and visitors moving around the palace or meeting with the sovereign. On rare occasions the hall was used for ceremonies, like weddings, most famously that of Louis XVI, the Dauphin of France, to Marie-Antoinette in 1745. One of the most recent uses of the Hall of Mirrors was in 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, a peace settlement ending World War One.

The Treaty of Versailles, 1919

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles was attended by 27 delegations representing 32 powers on 28th June 1919. The Hall of Mirrors was a poignant location for the signing of the treaty as it witnessed the rise and fall of Germany over a 50-year period. In 1871 the gallery was where the establishment of the German Empire was declared, after France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian war. In 1919 the Hall of Mirrors witnessed the signing of the Treaty of Versailles which saw the downfall of Germany as it was solely blamed for the war and stripped of its empire. In 1919 William Orpen produced a painting of the momentous occasion, titled The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28th June 1919. The painting depicts the heads of state positioned around a table signing the treaty in the Hall of Mirrors. Orpen focuses on the opulent architecture, reducing the politicians’ importance in the painting. The mirrors appear distorted which reveals the nature of the world outside and suggests the peace they have negotiated is already strained. The painting is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The mirror, an everyday object to you and I, was a far more opulent symbol in 17th century Europe, with the Hall of Mirrors as the pinnacle of wealth within the Palace of Versailles.

To hear more about the history of the mirror, listen to our podcast!

By Jasmine Lethbridge

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