Fouquet purchased the estate of Vaux-de-Vicomte in 1641. When he became King Louis XIV’s superintendent of finances in 1657 he commissioned Le Vau (architect) Le Brun (interior designer) and Le Nôtre (garden designer) to renovate his estate. To secure the necessary grounds, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. Construction employed eighteen thousand workers. The result was an unusually coherent and spectacular château and garden. Indeed, Vaux-de-Vicomte was so remarkable that it led to the downfall of Fouquet.
Soon after the completion of the work, Fouquet held a famous fête on 17 August 1661. He invited King Louis XIV. Though Fouquet’s intentions were to flatter the King, the celebration turned out to be too impressive; the superintendent’s home was too luxurious. Fouquet’s competitor, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, led the King to believe that his minister’s magnificence was funded by the misappropriation of public funds. Soon after the party, Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned in Pignerol for the rest of his life. Colbert was a beneficiary. He went on to assume the role of Louis XIV’s superintendent of finances.
After the demise of Fouquet, Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre took on to an even bigger project. Louis the 14th, though jealous of Fouquet’s château, was clearly impressed. The Sun King hired the trio behind Vaux-de-Vicomte to expand the royal palace in Versailles.
And like Vaux-de-Vicomte, the Palace of Versailles too became an emblem of excess. This time it was the people of France who found the overindulgence symbolized by a grand building objectionable. After the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Versailles’ owners, King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, were stripped of power, brought to Paris, and ultimately beheaded.