Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vaux Le Vicomte, Continued

As promised, here's more about Vaux le Vicomte. Let's start with a shot from the top of the chateau's dome.

Le Nôtre took advantage of the natural change in grade and two nearby rivers to create a garden that is rich with water and seems to get bigger, and unfold in front of you, as you progress through the landscape. He amplified the natural slope by dropping grades even more as one advances closer to the grotto at the end of the central path.

Of course, when you first view the garden from the chateau, you don't realize the grade drops at all. The gravel paths appear to be a continuous, flat band extending towards the grotto, but in reality the paths step down.

Take a look two photos up -- see the grotto at the end of the central axis? It looks like it's at the same elevation of the chateau, right? But, progressing along the axis, you realize the grotto is much lower.

Even here you haven't really understood that a canal is present in the landscape. You see water, but assume it's another pool. That's because the canal widens into a square-shaped form when it is in front of the grotto. On either side of the grotto, the canal is narrower and thus not visible in the photo above.

The canal is a kilometer wide and is basically a constructed river. A brook fills the canal on one side and on the other, water spills over a weir and connects to a natural steam. (Sidenote: in order to out-do his work at Vaux le Vicomte, Le Nôtre made the Grand Canal at Versailles a mile long. Since the site for Versailles had been selected not by Le Nôtre but by Louis XIV, Le Nôtre had considerably more trouble routing water through those gardens and the Grand Canal.)

Beyond the grotto, a green pasture cuts a swath through a forest of linden and horsechestnut (though this was all farmland or fill when the gardens were first built). A statue of Hercules stands in the centerline. You can imagine how massive this sculpture is, when you consider it's visible as a faint dot in your first view from the Chateau steps. (Full disclosure: I was running late so I never made it to the statue's base though you can see a shot of it here.)

And on your return to the building, a final piece of magic: Heading back to the Chateau, as you leave the canal behind you, you approach a body of water called the "Great Water Mirror." Here, you are more than 400 meters away from the Chateau and are at a considerably lower elevation. Yet, Le Nôtre (mathematician that he was) knew the water would be able to reflect the Chateau as if it were adjacent to the building. If you saw the picture below, you'd never assume the water was nearly a half kilometer away from the structure.

This is probably my longest blog post, ever. Hopefully it made sense to someone who hasn't visited this amazing place. I definitely recommend you visit, though check the website first as getting there is complicated. You take the SNCF train to Melun and on weekends and holidays you can get a shuttle bus to the Chateau. But, if you are a bad planner (ahem, like me), you are stuck taking a taxi for about 15 Euros each way, which is a bit pricey (damn exchange rate).

...Then again, when you consider the colossal scale of this magnificent place, the years of planning and construction, the almost-obsessive attention to detail and the two hundred plus years of upkeep, it only seems fair that one is a touch extravagant when planning one's arrival and departure!


Anonymous said...

Was he formally trained in mathematics or is math a common prerequisite for landscape architects? Or did he understand the grade, water reflection, etc simply from experience? Do you ever read biographies of LAs?

Enough questions. Great post!

Sally said...

All I can think of is the current trend in swimming pools with the infinity edge. This appears to have its roots in this period.

Not so modern afterall.

Sally said...
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Ms said...

Great photos and really good notes. I'd love to know if you have a book out, or have you been published in journals?