We do not read that Colbert made serious remonstrances to the palace-building of the King, although afterwards Louis regarded it as one of the errors of his reign. But when Colbert died, in 1685, another spirit seemed to animate the councils of the King, and great mistakes were made, which is the more noteworthy, since the moral character of the King seemed to improve.
This building, one of the most beautiful in Italy, was copied by Francesco di Giorgio and Bernardo Fiorentino for the palaces they constructed at Pienza. This was the age of sumptuous palace-building; and for no purpose was the early Renaissance style better adapted than for the erection of dwelling-houses that should match the free and worldly splendour of those times.
Believing that the Suez Canal would bring boundless wealth to his land, Ismail persisted in his palace-building and other forms of oriental extravagance, with the result that in the first twelve years of his reign, that is, by the year 1875, he had spent more than £100,000,000 of public money, of which scarcely one-tenth had been applied to useful ends.
And the same inflated pride and vanity which led Louis to trample on the rights of other nations, led him into unbounded extravagance in palace-building. Versailles arose, at a cost, some affirm, of a thousand millions of livres, unrivalled for magnificence since the fall of the Caesars.
This gallery, the work of "moderns," is no mean example of palace-building, either. It was the work of Visconti and Lefuel, and with the adoption of this plan was finally accomplished the interpolation of that range of pavilions which gives the architecture of the Louvre one of its principal distinctions.
The court became very decorous, if it was hypocritical. The King interested himself in theological discussions, and became as austere as formerly he was gay and merry. He regretted his wars and his palace-building; for both were discouraged by Madame de Maintenon, who perceived that they impoverished the nation.
Perhaps palace-building may be considered a mistake, since it diverted the revenues of the kingdom into monuments of royal vanity. But the sums lavished on architects, gardeners, painters, sculptors, and those who worked under them, employed thousands of useful artisans, created taste, and helped to civilize the people.
The love of glory ever has been one of the characteristics of the French nation, and this passion the king impersonated, which made him dear to the nation, as Napoleon was before he became intoxicated by power; and hence Louis had the power of rallying his subjects in great misfortunes. They forgave extravagance in palace-building, from admiration of magnificence.
There were no destructive and wasting wars, no passion for military glory, no successions of court follies, no extravagance in palace-building, no egotistical aims and pleasures such as marked the reign of Louis XIV., which cut the sinews of national strength, impoverished the nobility, disheartened the people, and sowed the seeds of future revolution.