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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, Part 1


History of Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte {voh-luh-vee-kohnt'}, outside Paris, represents the crystallization of the French baroque château and was the model for the Palace of Versailles. However, during the early part of the 17th century, Vaux was merely a small castle situated at the confluence of two small rivers, between the royal residences of Vincennes and Fontainebleau. At the time, it was just a place on the map and its reputation was yet to be made.

Nicolas Fouquet
Nicolas Fouquet

Then, in 1641, a 26-year-old parliamentarian — Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680) — purchased the estate. Descended from a line of parliamentarians, Fouquet's own father, François Fouquet, had been a trusted advisor to Cardinal Richelieu on maritime and commercial affairs. Attaining the high posts of procureur général (Attorney General) and financier in the parliament of Paris in 1650, the younger Fouquet had become a rapidly rising star in both national politics and personal finances, remaining true to his family crest — the squirrel — and to his motto, "Quo non ascendet" ("What heights will he not scale?"). The rank of officier also conveyed a particular status of nobility, la noblesse de la robe.

This form of nobility — as opposed to la noblesse de l'épée ("blue blood", or inherited nobility) — aspired to aristocracy, struggling endlessly to secure a place among the true nobles of France. Similar to the modern-day contrasts between "nouveaux-riches" and "old money" families, la noblesse de la robe tended to demonstrate more ostentatiously, through appearance and behaviour, that one had "arrived" and learned to live like a nobleman.

Vatel - DVD video Starring Gérard Depardieu, Uma Thurman, Tim Roth, Julian Sands (as Louis XIV), et al.
Filmed at Vaux-le-Vicomte.
(Click image to read reviews.)
Film note: Based on the real life of François Vatel, who served for a time as the steward to the House of Fouquet, before moving on to serve the Prince de Condé at Chantilly.

A series of troubling national events, including the depletion of the royal coffers, led to Cardinal Mazarin's appointment of Nicolas Fouquet as financial secretary in 1653. Fouquet's mission was to replenish the empty treasury, the better to fund Royal spending, to supply the needs of the administration and the war (against Spain), to cover the cost of court entertainments, and to satisfy the colossal greed of Mazarin. From his position of power, Fouquet was successful both in replenishing the royal treasury and in amassing his family's fortune.

A charming man of matchless intelligence, Nicolas Fouquet possessed a lively, winning manner, and an overarching ambition to live amid luxury and refinement. He loved the arts, letters, poets, flowers, pictures, tapestries, books, statues — in short, beauty and pleasure in every form. He showered artists with gifts, commissions, and encouragement, and in this way, attracted a distinguished circle of men which included, among others, La Fontaine and Molière, Nicolas Poussin, Puget, and La Quintinie.

NEXT PAGE » Reconstruction of the Château


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