No matter how often you’ve visited Versailles, you’ve never seen it like this. A collaboration by historian Guillaume Picon and photographer Francis Hammond, this sumptuous volume is indeed a private invitation to the château, whose opulent rooms, geometric gardens and hidden stairways are captured in extraordinary photos and explanatory texts. From the glorious gilded entrance gates, through public rooms and private suites (some inaccessible to the public), the art gallery, gardens, stables, Grand and Petit Trianon and the Queen’s Hamlet, Hammond’s photos display not only the majesty of showpieces like the Hall of Mirrors, but also intimate details impossible to see when you tour—secret drawers inside the king’s desk, a Japanese lacquer puppy from Marie Antoinette’s collection, delicately carved bathroom boiseries depicting swans, crayfish, reeds and seashells.

Picon, a specialist in the kings of France, wrote the short texts that provide the château’s history and background for the photographs, and also selected quotes from the palace’s inhabitants and visitors, including passages from Marie Antoinette’s letters to her mother and tart excerpts from the Mémoires of Saint-Simon, bringing the palace and its royal residents to vivid life.

Versailles: A Private Invitation By Guillaume Picon. Photography by Francis Hammond. Flammarion, 2011. 360 pages, $95

Originally published in the February 2012 issue of France Today

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