Engraved by Rigaud in the same direction and published in Diverses vues de Versailles, as part of the series Les Maisons royales de France, Paris 1730, plate II
Jacques Rigaud established a considerable early reputation as a virtuoso engraver of views. This
rapidly earned him the patronage of the French nobility. In 1720 he produced a set of four engravings
after drawings depicting the ravages of the plague in his native city of Marseilles. This was the turning
point in his career. Setting off for Paris soon afterwards, he opened a print shop in the rue Saint-
Jacques. His most important graphic publication was the groundbreaking series of 138 views titled Les
Maisons royales de France, published in 1730. The work brought him considerable artistic and financial
success. It ranks as one of the most influential print series of the eighteenth century. Twenty-three of
the plates depict the Château of Versailles and its gardens.
The present drawing depicts the stables at Versailles as seen from the Seconde Grille, the tall
ornamental iron gates to the Cour des Ministres. From a viewpoint in front of the Château the eye is
led towards the Place d’Armes where the three broad tree-lined allées leading from Saint-Cloud, Paris
and Sceaux converge. The Grille Royale [Royal Gates or Gate of Honour] closing off the large walled
courtyard in front of the Château had been constructed in the 1680s for security and ceremonial
reasons. The gates were flanked on both sides by small guardhouses crowned by large allegorical
sculptures. One of the sculptures was by Coysevox and titled La Paix [Peace] and the other by Tuby
titled Abondance [Abundance]. The Grille Royale was later destroyed in the Revolution.
In the background, marking either side of the far perimeter of the Place d’Armes are two mirrorimage
structures. These are the stables – the Grande Écurie at the left of the image and the Petite
Écurie at the right. They were designed by Jules-Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708), Premier Architecte to
Louis XIV, and built between 1679 and 1682 in Versailles’s heyday as the official residence of the
Roi Soleil. They replaced the old stables built in 1662 by Le Veau in a side wing of the Château which
were too small to provide sufficient stabling for Louis’s 600-odd horses.
Although named the Grande Écurie, the building is in fact no larger than the Petite Écurie. It derives
its name from the fact that it was under the control of the Grand Écuyer, the Grand Equerry, who was
responsible for the King’s and the Dauphin’s saddle horses. The Grande Écurie also served as a store
for fodder and bedding straw. In addition, it provided accommodation for the large numbers of
servants necessitated by the requirements of French court ceremonial. The Petite Écurie, where the
royal carriages and coaches were kept, was overseen by the Premier Écuyer, the First Equerry.
In terms of subject matter, there are no significant differences between the drawing and the
engraving. In both, the Cour des Ministres is animated by a proliferation of scattered groups of
staffage figures. A group of figures in oriental dress at the centre of the image between the carriages
adds an anecdotal touch. The only difference, and it is a very small one, is the omission in the
engraving of the two dogs near the carriages in the foreground.
Rigaud’s views are characterized by great topographical accuracy and meticulous attention to detail.
In this, they are of exceptional value as historical records of French eighteenth-century castles and
gardens. At the same time, they represent a remarkable artistic accomplishment.