Sciences at Versailles chapter 1: science & power

Palace of Versailles

If Louis XIV and his successors are not recognized for their science policy, it is not for lack of having conducted one. They supported scientists, put a framework on their researches, always betting on progress and modernity.

As the official seat of the absolute monarchy for more than a century, from 1682 to 1789, Versailles held sway over the various scientific fields through the Royal Academy. Founded in 1666, it established a new contract between royal power and scientists, who were required to serve the good of the kingdom.

At the beginning of his personal reign, Louis XIV came to understand the political, diplomatic and economic stakes of scientific research.

Presided over by Colbert, the newly-founded Academy redefined the balance of power between the authorities and France’s leading scholars: provided with steady salaries to enable them to continue their research, they were expected to put their talents at the State’s disposal, working to further the practical interests of the kingdom.

That meant prioritising astronomy in order to improve navigation, geometry and chemistry for better artillery, geodesy and cartography for fiscal and land registry purposes, medicine and pharmacology for public health reasons, botany and agronomy to fight famine, and physics for its technical applications.

Presentation of the royal Academy members to Louis XIV in 1667

In this scene, imagined by artist Charles Le Brun, Colbert presents the founding members of the Royal Academy to King Louis XIV.
The fictional setting of this encounter looks out over the Paris Observatory, designed by architect Claude Perrault, on which construction began that same year. In the background are various objects associated with scientific activities: animal skeletons representing anatomical dissections, a map of the Canal des Deux-Mers (now known as the Canal du Midi), a pendulum, an astrolabe, terrestrial and celestial globes, a sextant and a variety of scientific treatises including Claude Perrault’s Natural History.

The Court

1-The king Louis XIV (1638-1715)
2-Monsieur, brother of the King, Philippe I, Duke of Orléans (1640-1701)
3-Duke of Rochechouart (1600-1675), Chamber's First Gentleman
4-Claude Perrault (1613-1688), doctor and architect

The government

5-Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), Comptroller-general of Finances and Superintendent of Royal Buildings
6-Charles Perrault (1628-1703), First higher servant of Royal Buildings

The Royal Academy members

7-Abbé Du Hamel (1624-1706), Academy secretary, anatomist, King's chaplain
8-Pierre de Carcavi (1600-1684), mathematician, geometrician, King's librarian
9-Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), Dutch mathematician, physicist and astronomer
10-Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1626-1712), Savoyard engineer and asrtonomer

Hypothetical identifications

11-Abbé Jean Picard (1620-1682), astronomer and mathematician
12-Philippe de La Hire (1640-1718), astronomer, mathematician, geometrician, and member of the royal Academy in 1678
13-Abbé Edme Mariotte (around 1620-1684), physicist
14-Jacques Borelly (around 1623-1689), chemist.

Credits: Story

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 and curator of the digital exhibition

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

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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