Life Lessons · Quiet Times

The Secret of Versailles


It’s all breathtakingly beautiful, glorious, magnificent. From the Hall of Mirrors to the vast gardens. The reception rooms with vaulted ceilings. Chandeliers, tapestries abound. The Palace of Versailles is althogether a breathtaking experience. Each room as glamourous as the last. Rich panelling and gilded furniture, murals painted in great detail on the ceilings. Paintings the size of walls. Portraits of Kings and Queens staring down at you, paintings of battles and victories. Everywhere you walk your gaze alights on beauty.

There is much to take in. Yet it was not the Hall of Mirrors or state rooms that had me captivated. It was not the magnificence of each room. Instead, it was a part of a large painting that transfixed me – Sacre de l’empereur Napoleon et le couronnement de l’imperatrice Josephine – (Consecration of the emperor Napoleon and the coronation of empress Josephine) by painter Jacques-Louis David. What captivated me was not Napoleon but his wife Josephine praying as she is crowned Empress of France. I spent ages looking at it. Taking in the detail of this larger than life painting.

What was it that drew me to linger on the praying Josephine? Her serene countenance? How in amongst the huge historic event, with all the people surrounding her she seemed focused on prayer. Praying for strength perhaps for the position she was to hold? Praying for courage, for wisdom? As much as people stand in front of the Mona Lisa seeking to understand the mystery behind her smile, I stood before Josephine.

For me, I placed my own interpretation on the artwork, on Josephine – the call to prayer. The call to turn aside from all the glamour, busyness and distractions of the day and focus on God. That in amongst a room of courtiers, ladies in waiting and nobility she could bow her head. That I, in amongst the busyness and distractions of my day, can also bow my head in prayer. That I can ask for courage, that I can ask for wisdom.

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