By Catherine Rush Thompson
French gardens are a feast for the senses. They can provide a visual array of beautiful colors, fresh herbs for culinary magic, and delightful fragrances to create world-famous perfumes or simple sachets. In his closing words of Candide, Voltaire wrote, "Il faut cultiver notre jardin” (“Let us cultivate our garden”). What better way to start Spring than to design and cultivate a beautiful French-inspired garden!
Many are familiar with the famous gardens at the Palace of Versailles, designed by André Le Nôtre, a French landscape architect and the principal gardener of King Louis XIV of France. Creation and renovation of the gardens started in 1661 and lasted for more than 40 years. His inspiring gardens represent the French formal garden style, or jardin à la française, featuring symmetry, geometrical designs, gravel paths, manicured hedges and topiary, and fountains with cascading water running into tranquil reflection pools. No doubt Moliere saw these gardens being created as he wrote Impromptu at Versailles (1663), a one-act prose play about the rehearsal of a play ordered by King Louis XIV.
Take a closer look at these magnificent gardens: en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/estate/gardens
Other familiar gardens include “Les Jardins de Monet à Giverny” that inspired Monet’s series of impressionistic art. While less formal, Monet’s gardens offer unique perspectives, symmetries and colors. Asked in 1905 what colors he used, Monet said: "The point is to know how to use the colors, the choice of which is, when all's said and done, a matter of habit. Anyway, I use flake white, cadmium yellow, vermilion, deep madder, cobalt blue, emerald green, and that's all."
The transcendent beauty of Claude Monet’s gardens is captured in his masterpiece, Water Lilies, also known as The Agapanthus Triptych. This painting is one of two triptychs by Monet that can be found in the United States. As you wait for this winter to end, you can fully immerse yourself in Monet’s Water Lillies at the Nelson Atkin’s Museum of Art’s special exhibition. To learn more about this exhibit see: nelson-atkins.org/news/water-lilies-moved/#:~:text=Feb.,12
In 2003, Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens dedicated their Monet Garden with cascading flowers, inviting visitors to walk across the bridge and view the upper and lower gardens along the path. This inspiring one-acre garden features hundreds of species of flowers, trees and shrubs, creating the same ambience of Monet’s garden in France. Learn more: https:/www.visitoverlandpark.com/things-to-do/attractions/arboretum-botanical-gardens/
As you reflect on the many options for adding French flair to your garden, consider several characteristics of French gardens that make them unique and appealing. Formal French gardens incorporate more symmetry, order, and alignment of garden elements. Informal French gardens rely on less structure to achieve their romantic atmosphere. Here are some elements to consider when planning your garden, whether it be on a grand scale or an intimate place to retreat:
As you imagine your garden, consider the following:
As for any design, sketch out the areas you plan to fill with your French garden. Allow space for perennials to fill in between larger plantings. Limit your plant selection to those that offer beauty and color throughout the summer and fall, considering colors that provide a pleasing palette. And, finally, imagine yourself sitting in your garden enjoying a nice glass of wine and reading a play by Molière.
Claude Monet’s Agapanthus Triptych.www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5nPXFv517w
Design Tips for The Ultimate French Garden In Kansas City.
Life on La Lune: A journey through life in Southwest France - Glorious French Gardens. https://vanessafrance.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/glorious-french-gardens/
Life on La Lune: A journey through life in Southwest France - Monet’s Garden at Giverny. https://vanessafrance.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/monets-garden-at-giverny/
The Monet Garden at the Overland Park Arboretum.
Palettes and Techniques of the Impressionist Claude Monet. https://www.liveabout.com/impressionist-masters-palettes-techniques-claude-monet-2578614
Robert Schwartz. “France in the Age of Les Misérables, Formal Gardens.”
Wikipedia. “French formal garden.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_formal_garden
Zanger, A. Acting as Counteracting in L'Impromptu de Versailles. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3208118?seq=1
By Rebecca Smith
It is well known that Louis XIV played a major role in the life and career of Molière - in good and bad ways. The king’s support and sponsorship propelled Molière’s work and livelihood but it also restrained his creativity and freedom to create.
Surprising is how, even to this day, we live with influences handed down from Louis. These include our tastes in fashion and its seasonality, and even our eating habits (the tradition of salt and pepper on the table and dessert as an end to the meal is described in an earlier blog here on this site). Even Louisiana is a hand-me-down from the French king.
But can Louis’s XIV's long reach really extend to our handling of . . . childbirth?
The last thing one expects in reading about the disturbing “My Birth” painting by Frida Kahlo is the accompanying paragraph, “Initially it was deemed indecent for a male doctor to be present with a woman lying on her back, her knees bent. This changed in the seventeenth century when Louis XIV of France started a trend by having his mistresses use a new birthing bed during delivery. The king apparently found viewing a woman with her legs splayed open while giving birth lying down sexually titillating. He requested his mistresses give birth this way while he looked from behind a screen.”
“Louis XIV became a peeping Tom, turning the natural process of birth into something salacious.” In “My Birth” Frida “places viewers in the position of Louis XIV.” www.fridakahlo.org/my-birth.jsp#prettyPhoto[image1]/0/
The standard practice of childbirth in ancient Egypt has long been known. A woman would deliver her baby while squatting on two large bricks, each colorfully decorated with scenes to invoke the magic of gods for the health and happiness of mother and child. Source: https://www.midwiferysupplies.ca/blogs/ancient-midwifery-blog/295322-ancient-egyptian-midwifery-and-childbirth
Research seems to back this up. In ancient Egypt, women squatted to give birth. In engravings, Cleopatra gave birth kneeling. In Greece of long ago, a birthing stool was used. Throughout history women almost always gave birth upright – gravity advanced the baby’s movement. Plus these methods were thought to provide to the women the greatest pain relief in this most agonizing process. Studies done as late as 2012 revealed that squatting and kneeling widen the birth canal rendering the whole experience shorter and more comfortable. Walking and being upright in the first stage of labor shortens the length of time in labor and reduces the risk of an epidural or cesarian. Until the 1600s “upright” was standard practice worldwide.
The one argument for a supine birth is that it offers more space for examination and medical interference, if needed. Episiotomies and other required procedures are facilitated.
Those reasons seem not to have been Louis’s motivation.
Louis fathered six children with his first wife, Marie-Therese, seven more with his mistress, the Marquise de Montespan, four with another mistress and, undoubtedly many more, and he supposedly was determined to watch all the births.
“According to some scholars and Lauren Dundes’ research paper for the American Journal of Public Health” entitled ‘The Evolution of Maternal Birthing Position’, King Louis XIV reportedly had a strange fixation and enjoyed watching women give birth but couldn’t under normal circumstance for a chair (birthing stool) obscured his view. Clearly frustrated, in a pursuit of greater happiness and ultimate satisfaction, he promoted a new method. Lying down, legs up and spread as wings of an eagle so he could closely inspect what was going on in detail.”
And we describe Frida’s paintings as disturbing?
She at least is reflecting on her own body and her life. The power of the “My Birth” painting shocks in its gruesomeness but also in its gutpunching interpretation of her personal struggles and, possibly, her inability to have a child herself. It was for those reasons Madonna purchased the painting and hung it in her entry hall daring guests to confront it.
The thrill for Louis XIV, on the other hand, was voyeuristic and, we can imagine, euphoric at the results of his divine sperm. He was, after all, the Sun King, directly chosen by God and without equal. Each birth, regardless of the mother’s certain torment, provided him with a sense of sordid excitement and corroboration of his own majesty.
Frida in America by Celia Stahr
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