Royal passions at Versailles
Mechanics is a practical science that imitates the effects of nature. Emerging from the disdain to which they had been subjected, the mechanical arts came back into fashion at Versailles. Diderot and d'Alembert devoted no fewer than ten volumes of The Encyclopaedia to them in the form of plates and articles. Thus, as d’Alembert says in The Preliminary Discourse: "We took the trouble of going into their shops, of questioning them, of writing at their dictation, of developing their thoughts and of drawing therefrom the terms peculiar to their professions." Louis XVI was unquestionably the sovereign with the greatest passion for the mechanical arts. Mechanics came into its own in Versailles.
Practiced since the Renaissance by princes all over Europe, the art of lathe turning was a favourite pastime of Louis XV and Louis XVI.
This geometrical lathe was made by Antoine Wolff in 1733 for the count of Artois, the brother of the king and future Charles (1757-1836). In 1781, this lathe was presented provisionally in the Cabinet of the Dauphin then exhibited in Louis XVI's Cabinet of the Forge, the mechanical workshop in the King's private apartments.
Mechanics in the King’s cabinets
The cabinets of the first floor that made up the King's private Apartment are a perfect testimony to Louis XV's interest in the mechanical arts in the form of clock-making, locksmithing and the bite brace job.
The king's scientific cabinets were spread over four floors around the Stags Courtyard, south of the semi-circular staircase: they include the king's forge, preceded by the locksmith's workshop and, on the other side, to the north, the joinery cabinet.
The Flying Chair
Jean-Jacques Renouard, Count of Villayer (1605-1691), is reported to have invented this mechanism. He perfected this system in Paris and, thanks to his ties with the House of Condé, installed it at Chantilly and at Versailles, in the prince's own mansion.
Saint-Simon comments on the invention of these flying chairs, "which by counterweights rise and descend alone between two walls to the floor we wish to access by sitting in it by the sole weight of the body and stopping where we wish". The memoir writer also mentions the amusing adventure of the Duchess of Bourbon who remained locked in for nearly three hours between two floors of her Versailles hotel, before they freed her by demolishing the walls.
The only known flying chair at the palace was the one Louis XV had installed in 1743 for his mistress the Duchess of Châteauroux, in the north side of the king's small courtyard, in order to enable her reach his third floor apartment more conveniently. Perfected by Blaise-Henri Arnoult, the talented mechanic, it was used by Mme de Pompadour between 1745 and 1750 and remained in service until 1754. When dismantled it was transported to Fontainebleau to enable the marchioness to reach her theatre box in the Belle Cheminée wing.
The dulcimer is a spectacular illustration of the quest and focus of the 18th century, a great century for automation, driven by a profound desire to succeed in creating an artificial man with mechanical reproductions of anatomical movements: these androids are a testament to the fascination exerted by these animated creatures, and to the inventiveness of mechanics who were virtuosos in the art of reproducing human movements and vital functions.
The Dulcimer player was made by the Germans Pierre Kintzing (1745-1816), clockmaker who made the mechanism, and cabinetmaker David Roentgen (1743-1807), who made the furniture; the dress dates from the 19th century. Automats move and thus attract a lot of curiosity. The Dulcimer is believed to have been sent to the French court by Roentgen and purchased in 1784 by Marie-Antoinette. Aware of its scientific interest and perfection, the queen had it placed in the cabinet of the Academy of Sciences in 1785.
Catherine Pégard, President of the Palace of Versailles
Laurent Salomé, Director of the museum
Thierry Gausseron, General administrator
Hélène Delalex, curator at the furniture and art object department
Géraldine Bidault, in charge of the photography library and the digitization of the collections, curator of the digital exhibition
Ariane de Lestrange, Head of communication
Paul Chaine, Head of digital service
Gaëlle Bertho, coordinator of the digital exhibition