In 1641, Nicolas Fouquet purchased land where two small valleys converge to build a château. The old château and the village of Vaux and two nearby hamlets had to be torn down to complete the new château and garden. The buildings, garden, and waterfalls covered almost two miles from north to south when they were completed.
Fouquet was the Superintendent of Finances for France. This meant that he was the Chancelor of the Exchequer and the Lord High-treasurer of the kingdom. Along with his wealth and desire for power, Fouquet was a master of the French art of living. Vaux le Vicomte was a beautiful and brilliant demonstration of that mastery. He selected the place, the architect, the painters, and the gardeners to build the château to suit his tastes. It remains as one of the supreme feats of seventeenth-century French architecture.
On August 17, 1661, Fouquet had a large party to show off his new château even though all of the rooms weren't completely decorated and the interior of the buildings for the servants weren't completed yet. He was at the peak of his power and the finest intellects and greatest talents in the kingdom helped him celebrate. The king himself, Louis XIV, was also there to see the new château.
However, the magnificent château drew attention to his wealth and made people jealous of him, including Louis XIV. Louis was convinced that Fouquet was misappropriating funds and even plotting against him. Less than a month after the party at the château, Fouquet was arrested and thrown into prison where he would remain until his death in 1680. Some people speculate that he was the man in the iron mask.
The king confiscated Vicomte and took all of the furnishings to use at Versailles. He then used the same people that had built Vaux le Vicomte to work on the improvements of his château and garden at Versailles.
The garden of today is not three centuries old. It is the product of a restoration project that was started in 1875 by Alfred Sommier. The details of the garden that were preserved in drawings and engravings were closely followed so the garden looks much like it did at the party in 1661.
Vicomte was surrounded by water-filled moats, and there was a large, wide courtyard in front of the building. Farther in front of Vicomte, near the entrance gate, were buildings for servants and guests, as well as the stables.
Madame Fouquet's closet is typical for how the rooms were decorated.
The Antichambre d'Hercule was an antichambre to Fouquet's apartment. It gets its name from the ceiling where the life of Hercules is depicted. Hercules was used as a symbol of strength, a clear reference to Fouquet's success and power. The painting on the ceiling depicts the apotheosis of Hercules. On the left in the sky is Jupiter with Juno and Diana welcoming Hercules to Olympus. On the right he is crowned by Victory.
The Cabinet des Jeux is a bright little room that is also part of Fouquet's apartment. Like most of the other rooms in Vicomte, the ceiling is elaborate and beautiful. Charles Le Brun is responsible for most of the beautiful ceilings, including this one.
Of the first-floor apartments, only Fouquet's Bedroom has retained its complete decoration.
The tapestries on the walls of the bedroom were commissioned by Fouguet. The originals were confiscated by Louis XIV and destroyed in 1787 to recover the gold and silver threads. The tapestries are copies that the Gobelins factory had made.
The original purpose of this room is not known. It was unfinished at the time of the party in 1661. It was apparently decorated quickly just prior to the party. There are still areas of the paint on the walls with the Fouquet monogram. In later years when Field Marshal de Villars was at the home, the room was used for billiards.
The Chambre des Muses was the state apartment intended for Fouquet. It has several beautiful tapestries on the walls but gets its name from the nine Muses on the ceiling. The ceiling is magnificent. It is regarded as one of the masterpieces of Charles Le Brun. Unfortunately, this photograph shows only a small portion of the ceiling.
The Louis XV Bedroom was decorated in eighteenth-century style. Straight lines and pomp were abandoned in favor of curves. Gold was not completely abandoned, but more whites and bright colors were used. Notice the open door in the corner of the room. It was the servant's entrance. It led to bedrooms for the servants in the interior of the building and to areas for secret liaisons.
This is a typical bathroom of the 1700's.
During part of the 1700's, the château was owned by the Praslin family. Keeping with the trend of the time, c. 1780, they preferred smaller rooms that were easier to heat. They subdivided Madame Fouquet's antechamber into a bedroom, a bathroom, an antechamber, a servant's bedroom, and a water closet. As you can see here, the bed was built into the wall to conserve space.
The garden was designed by André Le Nôtre. He worked at Vaux le Vicomte for nearly ten years. The style of garden that he designed here has been copied and popular ever since. His next project was the design of the magnificent garden of Versailles.
You can see additional photos and learn more about the château and garden at the official Vaux le Vicomte web site. On the upper left-hand side of this site there is a link to some photos.
Most of the information on Vaux le Vicomte on this site is from Vaux le Vicomte, published by Editions Scala, Paris for Les Amis de Vaux-le-Vicomte.