Judge Augustus Woodward
Versailles—the grand palace and gardens started by Louis XIV, King of France—was built in the 17th century during the Age of Enlightenment. Work on the elaborate gardens and waterworks on the west side of the chateau lasted for roughly forty years. The buildings, with their 700 rooms, could not be more orthogonal; almost all of them are rigidly rectangular. The extensive gardens, however, are one of the most iconic and extensive representations of diagonality in landscape design ever built—and may remain so forever. The gardens were designed and installed over a period of many years by the great landscape architect and gardener Andre Le Nôtre, also known as Le Nostre. What is seen while moving through the gardens, but is not seen just looking at the plan, are the architectural and artistic features that attract the eye, and surprise the visitor, features that make the plan with many of its angular, seemingly whimsically placed pathways appear to be randomly situated. It is that array of pathways, looking almost like a tabletop full of tossed pick-up sticks, that makes Versailles such a powerful emblem and antecedent of Diagonality in the Modern Era.
A very modest expression of diagonality had a forerunner, so to speak, at this location when the first Versailles of 1624 was built by Louis XIII. That king's hunting lodge was surrounded by a dry moat whose shape followed the arrowhead, non-orthogonal features embodied in many fortifications of that era. In his informative book Gardens of Illusion—The Genius of André le Nostre, F. Hamilton Hazlehurst describes how important landscape design was in seventeenth-century France. "[it] was as important an art form as architecture, sculpture, and painting.” Hazlehurst goes on to say, “This was a period when the practitioners of gardening were also theorists, eager to commit their thoughts to paper."
When one looks at the site plan of Versailles just as a graphic work, one can imagine light sources positioned where paths radiate out in various directions like rays of light. In fact, radiation is almost a hidden sub-theme in the gardens of Versailles. The seventeenth century was a period during which light was studied from many points of view.