The Extraordinary Madame de Maintenon at Versailles

Handout Exhibition Brochure cover Madame de Maintenon

Image of Françoise d’Aubigné, épouse Scarron
France, XVIIe siècle Vers 1670
Niort, musée Bernard d’Agesci
©Thomas Garnier

Until July 21, Versailles currently has two exhibitions about Queens of France. The one, Madame de Maintenon, was never declared queen; the other Marie Leszczynska, reigned for 42 years and is little known. Madame de Maintenon was the secret wife of Louis XIV. The announcement of her official marriage to Louis XIV was and is still only a whisper at court.

The anonymous illustrator of “Le Camp de Compiègne” places Madame de Maintenon sitting in the center of the illustration. As the center of attention, viewed by the nobles and soldiers, however, she is treated as a queen. Only Louis XIV looks at the illustrator. This scene is part of the exhibition “Madame de Maintenon, In the Corridors of Power”.Details of illustration with Mme de Maintenon and Louis XIV at the Compiègne encampment

The collection on display contains unique paintings, drawings, engravings, books, medals and documents shown in the various rooms of the apartments, retracing Madame de Maintenon’s destiny. She was a strong and extraordinary woman who fascinates anyone interested in Versalles history to this day.

For fans of the BBC series, Versailles, I ran comparisons on appearances between the actors and the actual characters. George Blagden (Louis XIV) actually resembles more Guillaume de Lamoignon (1617-1677) First President of the Paris Parliament.

Tips for your Visit

Watch the quick version on the exhibition Versailles Madame de Maintenon trailer YouTube video with English subtitles.

The audioguide works for the temporary exhibits and permanent palace displays. Visit the exhibitions virtually with the audioguide application.

The handout booklet is in English and French and very helpful for historical details of the six sections of the exhibition. Consider it a good souvenir for later reading.

If you watched the three seasons of “Versailles”, the Franco-Canadian BBC historical fiction, the exhibition is timely to get the facts. The exhibition is staged in her former apartments and is divided into six sections.

The walls of most of the rooms of this exhibition are lined with silk hangings “arranged in alternating strips…: red and Venetian brocatelle for the first antechamber, red and gold for the chamber and the main cabinet.” This is a special occasion to see the décor of a courtesan’s apartment from the 17th century. The décor was never found again in the Versailles palace. The description of the original hangings was included in the 1708 inventory of the royal furniture depository.

For Francophiles and Francophones, “Le mariage de Louis XIV et de Madame de Maintenon” (no English subtitles) is a private visit from the television program: Visites Privées: about one of the most discreet marriages in the history of France. Because she had no royal blood she could not be an official queen.

Thumbs up – worth the visit; a well done and fascinating exhibition.

Side note:

During a visit to another temporary exhibit, “Le Goût de Marie Leszczyńka“, I kept hearing a cheerful, musical, tinkling sound in le Cabinet des Chinois of the exhibit. Looking out the windows open to the gardens I searched for a carriage, a vehicle selling ice cream in the sunshine. All I saw were Versailles visitors steaming along the garden highway…

The sounds actually came from the crystals in the two chandeliers, vibrating from the footsteps within the room as if a breeze blew inside.

The Polish Queen was marred to Louis XV, is known for being relatively unknown. the Queen of France lived at the Palace of Versailles for 42 years and was fond of the contemporary Chinese style of the 1700s.

Handout booklet for the Marie Leszczynska exhibition