Forget Doomsday 2012 … we will still be here in 9999 …

One equates the Chateau of Versailles to luxury and privilege, but if you go Versailles’ way before Sunday, February 27 next year (2011) you will discover that underneath the powdered wigs of France’s kings and queens, there had been deep thoughts. Until that Sunday, an exhibition – Sciences et Curiosités à la cour de Versailles […]

One equates the Chateau of Versailles to luxury and privilege, but if you go Versailles’ way before Sunday, February 27 next year (2011) you will discover that underneath the powdered wigs of France’s kings and queens, there had been deep thoughts.

Until that Sunday, an exhibition – Sciences et Curiosités à la cour de Versailles (Science and Curiosities at the Court of Versailles) – is being held in the chateau and exhibited are the results of scientific experiments which had been carried out on request of the three Louis – 14th, 15th and 16th –  by physicians, surgeons, anatomists, educators, zoologists, physicists, painters, sculptors, and scientists, or as the latter were known during the 17th and 18th centuries, ‘natural philosophers’.

Louis XIV – the Sun King also known as Louis The Great (1643-1715) – had begun to take an interest in science under the influence of his first or ‘prime’ minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, founder of the French Academy of Science in 1666. Louis XV, had shared his late great-grandfather’s enthusiasm for science and had the physicists Benjamin Franklin (yes, that Benjamin Franklin) and the abbot Jean-Antoine Nollet (1700-1770) brought to the  royal court in Versailles to discuss electricity and to experiment with it in the Hall of Mirrors.

Louis XV was also interested in the process of telling and recording time. He therefore had an impressive collection of clocks, and in 1749 the French Academy of Science examined and approved a most extraordinary clock that would be presented to him.

Not only did the clock – the Pendule Astronomique de Passemant – named after its designer the King’s Engineer, Claude-Siméon Passemant (1702-1769) tell the time, but so it did the daily sunrises and moonrises, the date of the year, the day of the week and the date of the month.

But more than that, the clock also showed the movements of the planets according to Copernicus, and it was to run without any intervention from man until 9999.

The clock, in bronze, that stands 2.26 meters high is part of the exhibition.

Another extraordinary object is a Marie-Antoinette android. The android or ‘robot’ was made in 1784 by Marie-Antoinette’s clockmaker Pierre Kintzing and her cabinetmaker, David Rontgen. The android’s hair was made from snippets from the Queen’s hair and the silk dress that she wears was cut from one of the Queen’s dresses.  She sits at a piano dulcimer and plays Gluck’s Armide with two little hammers. A year after the Queen was given the android, she, realizing its scientific and artistic value, passed it on the Academy of Sciences.

I can highly recommend this exhibition should you find yourself in Paris between now and February 27 next year. The exhibition is open during the normal Versailles Chateau visiting hours – from 9 a.m. to 5.30 pm- and it is closed, like the chateau on Mondays.

Should you want a quiet moment, you can listen to Gluck’s Armide by clicking below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T_UbCy-dkU

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

2 Responses

11-2-2010 at 13:34:42

What a fascinating exhibition that must be. I would love to see it. I loved Versailles itself when I was there an eon ago.

11-4-2010 at 13:28:25

I can’t believe there is a Marie Antoinette android! That’s batty! And the perfect plot for a horror movie!

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