|Louis XIV, the Sun King|
Nicolas used his wealth to build a rather lavish home, and he hired the Three Musketeers of the design world to do it. Architect LeVau, painter LeBrun, and gardener LeNotre all conspired together to build what was then the most magnificent, most opulent, most exuberant, ostentatious, sumptuous, posh, recherché, très scandaleux, etcetera estate that a French noble ever clapped eyes on. It took almost 20 years from start to finish and by the time it was done, Fouquet was rightfully pleased and did what any house-proud member of the King's court would do: he threw a house-warming party! (oops!)
Well! You can imagine old Louis' response. After all, he was the King - Le Roi Soleil! - the center of the French universe around whom all else orbited, and all he had to show for his polestar position was a swampy old hunting lodge that his dad left him. So he did what any outraged, absolutist Sun King with stellar footwear would do: he had poor Fouquet arrested on trumped up charges and thrown in jail for the rest of his life, then took the design team and most of the interior and exterior decorations and ordered them to do it up one better at Versailles.
|Versailles circa 1701|
|Closeup of the Latona Fountain, frogs and all|
One of the things that was en vogue in garden design of this time was the use of classical motifs in the form of statuary and ornament, a trend surviving from Italian Renaissance gardens. Louis had them all over his garden, from the Apollo fountain (Apollo was the Roman sun god) to the Latona Fountain, which represents an episode from Ovid's Metamorphosis. In that tale, Latona, the mother of Apollo and Diana, suffered indignities from the peasants at Lycia. She was so outraged that she turned them all into frogs. King Louis' mom, likewise, suffered the disrespect of the people and the fountain was his response. Basically, it's saying "Don't mess with this Apollo or bad things will happen to you". Fouquet's arrest and disgrace would have been clear in every one's memory, and Louis wasn't one to shy away from exercising his divine right as King and Absolute Monarch when it came to (mis)interpretations of the law. He was the law, and if you crossed him, you were in for it.
Thanks to the Renaissance's revival of classic literature and mythology, people would have understood this allusion pretty clearly. Sadly, I think, much of that understanding has been lost. But now you, mon cher, know the fountain's secrets and can go out into the world and dazzle them with your je ne sais quoi!
And that, mon loutre, is the significance behind the frogs. Which made me wonder, when I saw the same motif on the fountain in the Italian Water Garden at Longwood, who Mr. DuPont had a beef with, or was he just enjoying the joke?
That, mon petit chou, is for you to ponder. And with that, I bid you adieu!