The main façade of the Petit Trianon. The structure has a balustrade atop the roof that softens the edge of the building and extends the vertical lines established by the Corinthian columns. (J.H.Smith/Cartio)
In 1761, King Louis XV (1710-1774) commissioned architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel to design a modest palace set far back in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles as a place of respite, away from the pressures of the main palace court. It became known as the Petit Trianon.
Gabriel had previously worked with his father, Jacques V. Gabriel, on various decorative designs in Versailles. They were designed in the Rococo style, which had become increasingly elaborate over time. However, in the Petit Trianon, Ange-Jacques’s work took inspiration from the more reserved Classical Greek architecture.
Classical Greek architecture was defined by an overall simplicity, with an emphasis on symmetry, proportion, and simple geometry. The Petit Trianon is arranged in a cuboid shape. Each façade is symmetrically made up of five vertically proportioned window bays that each included a rectangular lower window and a square upper window.
The main façade is defined by four Corinthian columns, emphasizing the tall proportions of the three central window bays, creating an upright quality.
The beauty of the Petit Trianon comes with its subtlety. The plain walls emphasize the minimal and carefully expressed ornaments. These refined ornaments give an overall elegance to the façade.
In the age of the elaborate Rococo, Ange-Jacques had created a refreshing and refined example of the classical tradition and an early step toward what would become known as the neoclassical style.