[copyright Kip Mistral 2023. “Dame de la Brigade des Abeses” by Jean Berain, Illustrator, 1685.]
I spent the pandemic in 18th century France.
For month after month I sift through faded, handwritten registers of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths, and a 2,000 page historical almanac of the time. The purpose is to research the lives of several of the King of France’s royal ecuyers, about whom little is really known. (But that will be changing soon.)
“You should have seen this noble old man with silver hair wearing his classic manège hat, sixty-five years old! This venerable Count of Abzac gave these lessons with a clearness, a precision, an air of court, which filled the spectators with admiration. Mounted on a horse “Isabelle” [in Europe refers to pale palomino of different shades] with white mane and tail, academically seated, he was the type of the rider-gentleman and recalled the engravings of the old squires at the same time as he was the noblest impression of perfection that can be achieved, even at an advanced age in academic riding!”
Comte de Noë, d’Abzac’s former pupil under the Restoration. View Post
[“The Stables Viewed from the Forecourt of the Château de Versailles,” by Jean Baptiste Martin 1688, Grande Ecurie on the left of the two stables]
‘One must agree that if the true principles of the art had not been maintained, with a certain austerity in the royal riding school in Versailles, if they had not been constantly practiced, someday one might be hard pressed to find a way to renew the principles.’ ~ Charles Prosper Claude Chevalier le Vaillant de Saint Denis (1753-1790) Ecuyer du Roi
Wandering through this lovely, pale gold city, up the broad tree-lined Avenue de Paris toward the Château de Versailles, would seduce all but the most hardened traveler to dream of times long past. As the Château’s magnificent edifice comes into view and its buildings seem to go on and on, one can’t help but remember that, designed and created as it was by the finest thinkers and artists of their time to perpetuate knowledge and beauty, the highest cultural values embodied in European civilization at the time were showcased at the Château de Versailles.
In the same way the Manège du Grande Ecurie du Château de Versailles (the Riding School of the Great Stable) came to influence the fine equitation of its age. The stately Grande Ecurie, built with soaring, harmonious proportion and exquisite ornamentation, was constructed in 1683 by Louis XIV to celebrate his passion for elaborate equestrian performances, and to stable the most superb horses in the world.
[“30 Years With Master Nuno Oliveira: Correspondence, Photographs, and Notes” Chronicled by Michel Henriquet. Translated by Hilda Nelson. Published by Xenophon Press LLC 2011]
This remarkable book will be of great interest to anyone following the work of Master Nuno Oliveira, its author French écuyer Michel Henriquet, and the subjects of classical training of the highest level and equitation history in general.
[© 2021 Kip Mistral. Eugène-Louis Lami (1800-1890) “Un Manège”: gouache, 1878]
Since it first floated by me, I have loved this charming painting of riders and noise-desensitizing helpers carrying on in a small manège somewhere in time. The drummer is taking a rest, the trainer is comforting his horse in the pillars. A young couple are managing to court in the middle of it all as the amazones and cavaliers continue their tight circles together on their supercharged horses. I had the brilliant idea of doing a reverse image search for it, and found one instance of it on the entire internet. Yet that was enough to find the artist’s name and further search unexpectedly unlocked a whole treasure trove of equestrian art.