Film: Design & Architecture

Vatel (2000)

Louis XIV portrayed by Julian Sands
Louis XIV portrayed by Julian Sands

Impressive sets for the Sun King as only Hollywood could imagine it. Repeat viewing of the film Vatel is one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve referred to it once before on my blog, but this time I would like to focus on the elaborate sets designed, as imagined by Hollywood, to entertain Louis XIV and win his favor during an historical event in 1671. I feel confident that nothing as elaborate as these sets in the film were ever created for those three days of revelry, but they are still fun to look at. The historical genius behind the festivities was François Vatel, who was the Master of Festivities and Pleasures in Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé’s household. You see, it was the Prince who desperately needed to win over the sun king, hoping for a commission as a general and an end to his financial struggles. Vatel was already renowned for having served Louis XIV’s superintendent Nicolas Fouquet in the splendid inauguration fête at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte ten years earlier, but that occasion lead to the unfortunate Fouquet’s downfall.

There are historical inaccuracies in the film, and occasionally, I will point them out in the captions under the following images. Don’t expect to see the Prince’s Château de Chantilly as it was in his day, because it was totally rebuilt in the latter part of the nineteenth century and reflects the unfortunate taste of those times.

(above) Vatel (Gérard Depardieu) utilizes scaled models to illustrate his plans for each of the three banquets.
(above) Vatel (Gérard Depardieu) utilizes scaled models to illustrate his plans for each of the three banquets.
(above) Here Vatel explains his theme: “This one is for the first day depicting the glory of the sun and the bounty of nature.”
(above) Here Vatel explains his theme: “This one is for the first day depicting the glory of the sun and the bounty of nature.”
(above) Vatel: “The second day on the lake, fireworks, the sun banishes the night.”
(above) Vatel: “The second day on the lake, fireworks, the sun banishes the night.”
(above) Another view of the model for the second day.
(above) Another view of the model for the second day.
(above) On the first day at the first banquet, as Louis XIV proceeds forward, the sets unfold. He commands the moment.
(above) On the first day at the first banquet, as Louis XIV proceeds forward, the sets unfold. He commands the moment.
(above) waiting for the popups
(above) waiting for the popups

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(above) Another inaccuracy is how the main female characters are dressed. In 1671, women of rank would never appear in public wearing the déshabillé (undressed) clothing you see in the above still, which consisted of a loosely fastened nightgown over a voluminous chemise, with tousled curls. This fashion had only recently become popular and was strictly reserved for commissioned portrait paintings. For an example of what a high ranking lady would wear in public, go here, here, and here. For an example of a portrait of a high ranking lady in undress, go here, here, here, and here.
(above) Another inaccuracy is how the main female characters are dressed. In 1671, women of rank would never appear in public wearing the déshabillé (undressed) clothing you see in the above still, which consisted of a loosely fastened nightgown over a voluminous chemise, with tousled curls. This fashion had only recently become popular and was strictly reserved for commissioned portrait paintings. For an example of what a high ranking lady would wear in public, go here, here, and here. For an example of a portrait of a high ranking lady in undress, go here, here, here, and here.

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(above) The second day on the lake with fireworks — the sun banishes the night.
(above) The second day on the lake with fireworks — the sun banishes the night.
(above) Every detail is noticed by Louis. Here is a linen napkin embroidered with the royal arms of France. From my research this regalia is not accurate and would be the arms used prior to Henry IV. It should show two shields — one for France and one for Navarre.
(above) Every detail is noticed by Louis. Here is a linen napkin embroidered with the royal arms of France. From my research this regalia is not accurate and would be the arms used prior to Henry IV. It should show two shields — one for France and one for Navarre.
(above) The Prince of Condé’s staff uniform pairs somber black with red silk stockings and red leather shoes.
(above) The Prince of Condé’s staff uniform pairs somber black with red silk stockings and red leather shoes.
(above) The desserts are paraded in.
(above) The desserts are paraded in.

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(above) a view of the festivities from above
(above) a view of the festivities from above
(above) The water and fireworks show has begun.
(above) The water and fireworks show has begun.

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(above) The royal pavilion
(above) The royal pavilion

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(above) Another inaccuracy was the music used for this fireworks display. The music played and sung is 'Music for the Royal Fireworks' by George Frideric Handel, who composed this piece in 1749. The film is set in 1671. This doesn’t bother me as much as inaccuracies with costumes, furniture, art, and architecture. But the wow factor of the music was perfect for the entire scene.
(above) Another inaccuracy was the music used for this fireworks display. The music played and sung is ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’ by George Frideric Handel, who composed this piece in 1749. The film is set in 1671. This doesn’t bother me as much as inaccuracies with costumes, furniture, art, and architecture. But the wow factor of the music was perfect for the entire scene.
(above) The aftermath of third and final banquet. Unfortunately this was the only scene shown to us, but there was a good reason for it which I won’t tell. You’ll have to rent the DVD to find out why. Earlier in the film, Vatel had explained the theme: “The third day is to be presented on a sea of ice with Neptune’s tribute to Helios, the Sun God.”
(above) The aftermath of third and final banquet. Unfortunately this was the only scene shown to us, but there was a good reason for it which I won’t tell. You’ll have to rent the DVD to find out why. Earlier in the film, Vatel had explained the theme: “The third day is to be presented on a sea of ice with Neptune’s tribute to Helios, the Sun God.”

2 thoughts on “Vatel (2000)”

  1. Theresa Cheek says:

    I just found your blog! I am a decorative artist living a little over an hour away from Dallas. I love your mind and am obsessed with Vatel(which led me to you)

    1. Patsy Ann says:

      Thanks, Theresa! It’ so wonderful to hear from like-minded folks like you and learn that I’m not alone in my interests.

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