Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Book Review: Marie Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles

Title: Marie-Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles
Author: Christian Duvernois
Photographer: Francois Halard
Publisher: Rizzoli, 2008
Category: Non-fiction
Price: US$65, Canada $75

After Marie Antoinette received the Trianon as a gift from her husband the King, she immediately undertook to redesign the grounds and pavilions. Gardening was in her blood; both her imperial parents, Marie Therese and Francis I, had been enthusiastic gardeners. As well, they had allowed their children to roam the grounds of the imperial residences, especially the castle of Laxenberg, a favourite royal retreat. Knowing this, it is no surprise that Marie Antoinette approached the redesign of the gardens of Versailles with passion and became her private domain.

In my two prior visits to Versailles, I had not given much attention to the grounds, never realizing what I was missing (until I reviewed Chinoiseries). And then I found another beautiful book about the gardens: Marie-Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles.

The photo above is from the cover (I could find no identifying info for this photo but I am guessing it is of the pavilion Belvedere). Inside are many sumptuous images of the gardens of Versailles taken by renowned Vogue photographer Francois Halard.

This is not a coffee table book of pretty photos. The author Christian Duvernois departs from the traditional interpretations of Marie Antoinette's reign as a notorious spend-thrift and focuses instead on her passion for the natural world, including analysis of her design and management of the gardens.

This book is exquisite. It is full of information about the gardens that I've not read elsewhere (and that rarely happen when it comes to anything about Marie Antoinette). The images are hauntingly beautiful, subtly capturing the ravages of time and the emptiness of spaces that would normally be full of people.