Versailles Gets First New Fountain in 300 Years by Artist Jean-Michel Othoniel

Louis XIV would have approved.

The new fountain is the first waterwork to be commissioned for Versailles in over 300 years. Photo: Photo Thomas Garnier via Château de Versailles

A new fountain has been unveiled at Versailles for the first time in over 300 years. Made from 2,000 gilded glass orbs, Les Belles Dances (2015) by French sculptor Jean-Michel Othoniel is a permanent commissioned artwork designed to honor King Louis XIV.

Collaborating with landscape architect Louis Benech, Othoniel’s design was influenced by the King’s personal dance instruction book. A trained ballet dancer, Louis XIV wrote a detailed manuscript on baroque dance, complete with annotations and diagrams.

The sculptor drew inspiration from the Sun King’s manual and combined it with his signature tangled glass orbs to create a spectacularly vibrant and colorful fountain.

“What’s important is to show how it is possible for an artist today to create a link with the past, rather than working on the idea of fracture. I’m an artist who takes inspiration from the past and brings a new form to it,” the sculptor told Forbes.

The fountain is made of 2,000 hand-crafted glass orbs. Photo: Château du Versailles

The fountain is made of 2,000 hand-crafted glass orbs.
Photo: Château de Versailles

In the painstaking manufacturing process, Swiss glass blowers hand-applied and sealed gold leaf into each bowling-ball sized orb in a process that took five days for each bead. In addition, every orb had to be installed by hand to ensure the correct water trajectory.

“It was a crazy project, the biggest piece I’ve ever worked on,” the artist admitted. “But it was very moving to be in Versailles as a French artist, building something there,” he told Quartz.

The project also marks the first technological upgrade to the garden’s waterworks in three centuries. To this day, the fountains in the palatial gardens are managed by so-called “fountaineers,” descendants of the experts who managed them during King Louis XIV’s reign.

The waterworks are controlled by automatic pumps and filtration systems. Photo: Château du Versailles

The waterworks are controlled by automatic pumps and filtration systems.
Photo: Château de Versailles

Unlike the other fountains on the grounds, which are turned on and off using a key and cleaned by fish, Othoniel’s fountain is completely digitalized, using modern automatized pumps and filtration technology.

“It was a big shock for them, and a big fight for us,” the artist said. “But now they are the biggest fans of the project because they can run the fountain through their iPhones.”


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