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This Exhibition of Versailles Treasures Is Perfumed with Louis XIV's Favourite Scent

A French master perfumer has painstakingly recreated the orange blossom notes that once infused the palace.
The Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles. All images courtesy NGA

A new exhibition at Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia recreates the Palace of Versailles, complete with its signature scent. Versailles: Treasures from the Palace marks the first time that the priceless jewels, carpets, paintings, candelabras, clocks, musical instruments and sculptures have left their gilded Paris home. With even the olfactory details taken care of, they won’t feel out of place.


The orange blossom scent, based on King Louis XIV’s favourite flower—it can also be found in the gardens of Versailles—is disseminated in the exhibition’s foyer using AllSense technology. It was created by French master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, who has previously recreated Marie Antoinette’s personal perfume, as well as a bespoke candle inspired by Monet. He’s also worked with fashion houses like Guerlain, Dior, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Speaking to The Creators Project, Kurkdjian explains how he researched the Louis XIV’s life to come up with a unique perfume formula that the Sun King would have loved. “Orange blossom was one of Louis XIV’s favourite notes,” he explains. “He really loved perfume, and in fact throughout his life he used so much perfume that at the end of his reign he couldn't stand it any more. The only scent he could still enjoy was orange blossom.”

Jean Varin's bust of Louis XIV, 1665-1666

Orange blossom wasn’t the only scent that Kurkdjian considered on his quest to recreate Louis XIV’s favourite perfume. “Other fragrances that were popular in France at that time were quite musky though,” he explains. “Today when we think of  musk, we think of something clear, sheer, bright. But at the time it was dirty, animalic, waxy—kind of weird for now. So we chose orange blossom, because it’s a scent people can still enjoy today.”

The bright summery fragrance also has undertones of honey, emulating the waxy notes that typified the solid perfume cones popular during Louis XIV’s reign. The French royals were obsessed with finding new ways to experience scent, not only wearing perfumes on their bodies but also disseminating their smells throughout the palace with large gilded potpourri pots filled with solid perfume. They also scented their fans, handkerchiefs, and leather goods.


Marie-Antoinette's harp from 1775

It’s a perfect way to set the ambience, but Kurkdjian’s orange blossom fragrance isn’t the only aspect of the exhibition worth taking note of. Visitors are treated to more than 130 paintings and objects, some of which were of extremely personal significance to their royal owners. Marie Antoinette’s harp, for instance.

There are a few surprises in store, too—including an incredible video footage re-imagination of the palace’s fountains, and a leaf-filled room that recreates its famous topiary bushes.

Latona fountain, Palace of Versailles

Versailles: Treasures from the Palace continues until 17 April 2017 at the National Gallery of Australia. You can find out more about it here.


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