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Exhibitions/ Visitors to Versailles (1682–1789)/ Binaural Audio Experience

Visitors to Versailles (1682–1789)

At The Met Fifth Avenue
April 16–July 29, 2018

Binaural Audio Experience

Binaural audio guide

This immersive audio experience brings to life the impressions of those who visited the palace and court in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It presents adaptations of their written accounts dramatized within atmospheric 3-D soundscapes.

Instead of traditional commentary by experts about specific objects, this audio experience is "hosted" by royalty, ambassadors, architects, travel writers, and tourists—in their own words. These historic visitors virtually accompany Museum visitors as they travel in an open carriage from Paris to Versailles; witness the entrance of the Ambassador of Siam and his entourage into the Hall of Mirrors—in the company of 1,500 courtiers; attend an intimate performance of one of Handel's most beloved arias in a salon off-limits to most palace visitors; "eavesdrop" on a letter John Adams wrote to his wife about meeting the king; and more.

Conrad Detlev, Count von Dehn An excerpt from Count von Dehn's unpublished correspondence is included in the audio experience in soundscape #504—Foreign Diplomats. Right: Nicolas de Largillierre (French, 1656–1746). Conrad Detlev, Count von Dehn, 1724. Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 28 15/16 in. (92 x 73.5 cm). Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig, Kunstmuseum des Landes Niedersachsen [Lower Saxony State Museum of Art] (GG 521)

Produced with binaural audio recording methods, including sound effects and music, the project features theatrical performances by a dozen noted international actors. The resulting soundscapes mimic the 3-D experience of how we hear sound with our own ears, and sometimes give the uncanny sense that the listener shares physical space with those speaking. To provide authentic acoustics, production took place in historic locations, including Oldway Mansion in Devon, England, an estate with rooms modeled after those in the Palace of Versailles.

The audio experience is self-guided and consists of ten distinct soundscapes, plus an introduction. The total running time is 31 minutes. Audio players and special headphones are complimentary for all visitors and can be obtained at the exhibition entrance in gallery 899. The experience is also available in the Visitors to Versailles exhibition galleries online.

For optimal sound quality, please wear over-the-ear headphones while listening to this binaural audio experience.

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Director, Producer, and Writer: Nina Diamond
Associate Producers:
Skyla Choi and Austin Fisher
Immersive Audio Production:
Aurelia Soundworks UK

Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies

View the complete credits for the Visitors to Versailles binaural audio experience.


English Female: Welcome to the exhibition Visitors to Versailles. This immersive audio experience brings alive travelers' impressions of the palace when it was home to the royal court in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Your guides will include royalty, ambassadors, architects, travel writers, and tourists who visited the Palace. You'll hear dramatizations adapted from their written accounts.

This tour is designed to accompany you as you explore; you may start, pause, or stop listening as you wish. In each gallery, you'll find a number on the text panel; enter it into the keypad on your device to hear the audio experience relating to that distinct space.

To ensure the optimal 3-D sound, please check that your headphones are positioned correctly

English Male: You should be hearing my voice in your left ear.  If not, please turn your headphones around.

Are you hearing my voice in your left ear? Then let's get started in the next gallery.

French Tailor: Soyez la bienvenue cher Monsieur Smollet. [Welcome, Mr. Smollett.]

Tobias Smollett: When an Englishman comes to Paris, he cannot appear until he has undergone a total metamorphosis. At his first arrival, he finds it necessary to send for the tailor, a wig maker, hatter, shoemaker, and every other tradesman concerned in the equipment of the human body. The good man, who is used to wearing clothing quite plain all the year round, must here provide himself with a suit of goat hair and silk, trimmed with silver for spring and autumn, with silk clothes for summer, and cloth laced with gold, or velvet for winter. He must even change his buckles, and the form of his ruffles.

Robert Adam: Here I am with a most Frenchified head of hair, loaded with powder . . . a complete suit of cut velvet of two colors. White silk stockings and embroidered silk gussets. Moroccan leather pumps with red heels. . . . A gold-handled sword, with white and gold handle knot.

Henriette Baroness d'Oberkirch: I was obliged to rise at six o'clock to get my hair dressed, so great was the demand for hair-dressers.

Tobias Smollett: Neither old age nor infirmity will excuse a man from wearing his hat upon his head. Females are still more subject to the caprices of fashion. It is enough to make a man's heart ache to see his wife surrounded by a multitude of couturieres, milliners, and ladies-in-waiting.

All her negligees must be altered and newly trimmed. She must have new caps, new laces, new shoes, and her hair newly cut.

Henriette Baroness d'Oberkirch: I had my hair dressed, very high, according to fashion.

Tobias Smollett: This variety in dress is absolutely indispensable for all those who pretend to any rank above the mere bourgeois. On his return to his own country, all this frippery is useless. He cannot reappear in London until he has undergone another thorough metamorphosis. . . .

John Adams: Paris furnishes the materials and the manner, both to men and women, everywhere else. France has established such a dominance over the industry of fashion, that neither clothes, wigs, nor shoes made in any other place will do. This is one of the ways in which the French nation taxes all Europe, and will tax America.

Tailor: Ça c'est tout pour aujourd'hui. [That's all for today.]

Henriette Baroness d'Oberkirch: These court toilettes are never ending, and the road from Paris to Versailles very fatiguing, especially when one is in continual fear of rumpling her petticoat and flounces.

Harry Peckham: You must now proceed with me the twelve miles from Paris. Versailles was built by Louis XIV with more expense than judgement, on an artificial eminence in a swampy valley.

Henriette Baroness d'Oberkirch: The carabas are heavy carriages containing twenty persons drawn by eight horses, and which occupy six and half hours in going from Paris to Versailles.

Louis-Sebastian Mercier: Imagine a long-gated cage made of wicker, holding twenty persons, who shift and struggle for an hour before they can fit themselves, and when the machine at last jerks forward all the heads go—bump—together, so that you fall into the beard of a Capuchin monk or wet nurse's bosom.

Henriette Baroness d'Oberkirch: It is a curious sight–all these people heaped together. We have not an idea of such things in provincial towns . . . but the dust is particularly annoying. I had not yet learned to accustom myself to the annoyance of going in a carriage from Paris to Versailles in full dress. One could scarcely be more uncomfortable.

Reverend Garland: The road from Paris to Versailles is very fine. Rows of trees, on each side country seats, and chateaus present themselves almost every step

Harry Peckham: As you approach, by a fifty-yard-wide, tree-bordered avenue, you cannot imagine the grandeur of this amazing pile of building.

Louis-Sebastian Mercier: If the day is sunny, you arrive grilled like a steak; if it's wet, then you arrive moist and steaming, like a soup. And thus, at the gilded gates of this amazing palace of the richest sovereign in Europe, you are set down.

Major Richard Ferrier: You have a view of as fine a building as one can possibly make. Built of stone and set forth with a great number of turrets and gilded lanterns, it almost dazzles your eyes to look up.

The English Traveler: The Gardens of Versailles are delightful and pleasant, and you may walk in them any time of the day; but you had best contrive to speak to one of the gardeners.

Major Richard Ferrier: Ascending some steps, you pass into a garden where before you, down a large gravel walk, you see a fair small river which the king has there cut to take his pleasure on. On the right and left are two groves wherein are all manner of birds which sing very melodiously.

There are also the finest images of marble, so well done that you can hardly persuade yourself that they are only statues.

There is through the whole garden, which is of vast bigness, such curious water works, as horses, cows, toads, and such like, casting up water out of their noses, ears, mouths, and eyes, as is very strange. Then, in the labyrinth, you see creatures from Aesop's Fables spitting water at one another.

Martin Lister: But I must ask whether the statues of wild beasts vomiting water is in good taste? A jet of water may be tortured into a thousand shapes without causing disgust, but the statues at Versailles must be condemned. Here the lions and wolves are put in violent action, each has seized its pray, a deer or a lamb, and is in the act of devouring it.

Major Richard Ferrier: And now to the menagerie, where we find all the strange creatures belonging to the king.

Teofila Konstancja z Radziwiłłów Morawska: A special guard showed us around. We saw many curiosities, birds and other animals from various countries. They showed a Ukrainian crane, called by us a steppe crane, as a rare thing. 

Hester Thrale: The menagerie, well nothing was new to me. It was indeed agreeable enough to see the pelican catch fish in the little basin, kept for its own use. And to stroke a Siberian fox who was as tame as a lap dog.

Teofila Konstancja z Radziwiłłów Morawska: Among the animals that I did not know was a rhinoceros which in size and color is similar to an elephant but its skin that looks like armor makes it look unusual. There is also an elephant, a lion, a tiger, a leopard, a baboon, wild goats, fallow deer, sheep of many kinds, and various American animals. . . .

Count Conrad von Dehn: It has been decided that the twenty-fourth of August (1723) would be the day of my public audience with the king.

We arrived at Versailles at half past eight. We used the ordinary stairs because the very large Ambassadors' Staircase near the chapel was only used by the ambassadors from overseas.

We crossed through the guards' room, and through two anti-chambers until we reached the council chamber where the king nowadays meets with his counsel. Each time, only one of the door panels was opened. To open both doors was a privilege reserved for the ambassadors.

I was able to see the king on the other side of the counsel table sitting in a small armchair, wearing a hat.  After I made the third and very deep bow, I held my speech to compliment his majesty on the duke's behalf. When I had finished, the king answered with just a few words. After I made three bows the introducer conducted me back to the ambassadors' salon.

[Music plays]

Johann Peter Willebrand: Above all, Versailles gives you the great liberty to enjoy all the wonderful sights of the palace as if it were your own. The name "foreigner" is the title which entitles you to all freedom.

It's as if you are the master of it all: in the garden, in the royal apartments. You can go with the king to mass, you can stand near the table when he dines, you can go to the gaming tables when the king plays.

With other words, you can do at Versailles as you please. A good suit and a noble brazenness turns you into the person you want to be. Do you now understand why foreigners lust for France? By contrast, just think how it is at many of the smaller courts.

Henry Swinburne: About eleven the introducers gave notice of the king's ritual awakening being ready, and so, in company with a German baron, we trudged upstairs and surprised His Most Christian Majesty in his waistcoat, for none but the family ambassadors may see him in the buff.

Henriette Baroness d'Oberkirch: When I was first presented to the king it was a very awful moment. So many persons looking on! I forgot the lessons for walking backwards and kicking back my train so as not to become entangled in it. One was so much afraid of being considered excessively awkward.

Swiss Guard: The queen!

Madame Cradock: We arranged ourselves on one side of the room, while her Majesty turned herself very graciously towards us and made it clear with a smile and a slight nod of the head that we were welcome and that we could continue our visit.

I cannot describe my maid's emotion and astonishment, when she became aware that the lady she had just seen was actually the queen.

Henry Swinburne: After all these perambulations, upstairs and down stairs through the royal family, we climbed up a dark winding staircase, which I should have suspected would have led to an apartment of the Bastille prison rather than to the temple of love and elegance. In a low attic, we found the favorite sultana, that is, the king's mistress, Madame Du Barry; she was very gracious, and chatted a good deal, as everybody else seemed to do at Versailles, about the opera.

Servant: Bonjour monsieur. [Hello, sir.]

Henry Swinburne: Henry Swinburne, merci [thank you].

[Music plays]

Richard Valpy: What particularly attracts the public attention is the gallery. The length of mirrors on one side, the view of the gardens on the other, the paintings, and other appendages of royal magnificence, render this the most magnificent room in the world.

American Wanderer: It is wide, of a prodigious length and proportion. The ceiling, painted by Le Brun, represents the victories of Louis XIV. On the garden side of this gallery are seventeen lofty windows—the opposite side is wainscoted with looking glass.

Otto Bosch: This morning at eleven o'clock the overseas ambassador will have his public audience with the king. His majesty will be seated on a throne in a magnificent gallery which has been specially prepared for this occasion. All the princes and princesses, the king's relatives, will be present as well as the Gentlemen and Ladies of distinction, and all the foreign ambassadors.

Crowd Gossip: Have you heard what they will give to the king? Two pieces of cannon, six feet long; a small lacquer cabinet—a curiosity! Twelve different kinds of lacquer boxes; 1,500 pieces of porcelain; a goblet covered with silver, standing on a golden foot; a box with its basin of copper-gold alloy and porcelains.

Court Reporter: The visit of the ambassadors of Siam took place on September 1, 1686. It had been ordered that there had to be thirty-six drummers and twenty-four trumpets at the base of the Staircase outside. The entourage donned their hats, which were a sign of their rank. . . . At the base of these hats are gold crowns two or three fingers wide, from which grew flowers made of very thin gold leaves. In the middle of these are rubies. When they entered the Hall of Mirrors there were 1,500 people assembled in rows of six or seven deep.

They made three deep bows, and joining their hands, they raised them to their foreheads. When the three ambassadors reached the dais, they made their third bows. These were so deep, that one could say their heads touched the ground; the King also salutes them.

Kosa Pan: Very great king. Who, by your might, have conquered all your enemies. We seek of your Majesty the favor to be willing to listen to us. The Very Powerful King of Siam, our Master, whose greatness dazzles the eyes of all the kings and all the princes of the orient, and who has with your Majesty so strong a friendship that it is impossible for us to express it.

Court Reporter: When he finishes speaking, the three walked backwards all the way to the end of the Hall of Mirrors. They never turned around even when they could no longer see the king.

Gustav III King of Sweden: I've been here in Versailles since yesterday evening. The party given by the queen at the Trianon was charming. All the royal family and the courtiers were there.

Footman: Announcing Count Haga!

Party-Goer: Actually, that is Gustav the III, King of Sweden!

Henriette Baroness d'Oberkirch: I made lengthy preparations, in order to attend the queen's party for the Countess du Nord. I tried a new fashion–one which was more than a bit annoying. I wore in my hair little flat bottles shaped to the curvature of the head; into these a little water was poured, preserving the freshness of the natural flowers worn in the hair. Nothing could be more lovely than the floral wreath crowning the snowy pyramid of powdered hair.

Gustav III King of Sweden: In the small theatre, there was a performance with music by Grétry. The ballet dancers from the opera, reunited with actors from the Comédie Italienne. We dined in the garden pavilions and after dinner the Garden was illuminated. It was a perfect enchantment.

The queen permitted guests who were not dining to walk around the gardens, and we learned that they had to be dressed in white, which truly formed the spectacle of Elysian Fields.

Henriette Baroness d'Oberkirch: Oh! If I lived a hundred years I could not forget that evening, its festivities, those exclamations of joy uttered by a people so delighted by the presence of their king and queen.

We left Versailles to return to Paris at four in the morning. A night passed at such a celebration seems very decadent to a person of my quiet habits. I fell asleep in the private carriage: the weather was delightful; it was broad daylight, and the peasants were repairing to their daily labors. What a contrast between their calm, contented faces, and the weary expression of our own features. The rouge had fallen from our cheeks, the powder had been shaken from our hair.

[Music plays]

John Adams: The ceremonies at this court were very simple.

Dr. Franklin and Mr. Lee went with me to Versailles to attend my presentation to the king. This monarch is in the twenty-fourth year of his age.

French Footman: Announcing Monsieur John Adams. . . . Mr. Adams will not answer your Majesty.

John Adams: I could neither speak, nor understand the language in a manner to support a conversation, but I had soon the satisfaction to find it was a silent meeting, and that nobody spoke a word, other than the royal family to each other, and they said very little. Neither the king, nor any of the royal family, commonly spoke to any of the diplomats except to the ambassadors. And to them they said but a few words. Therefore, I determined That I would assume a cheerful countenance, enjoy the scene around me, and observe it as coolly as an astronomer contemplates the stars. The eyes of all the assembly were turned up on me, and I felt sufficiently humble and mortified, for I was not a proper object for the criticisms of such a company.

Duc de Croy: The astonishing presentation and open union between France and America took place on Friday, March 20, 1778. I encountered the famous Monsieur Benjamin Franklin with two other American deputies, surrounded by many people who were struck by this important spectacle. The picturesque figure of this handsome and learned old man with his spectacles and his bald head, the patriarch and founder of the new nation, This, combined with his celebrity as the inventor of electricity, and legislator of the thirteen united colonies—this all added to the beauty of the scene.

The king spoke first and with much care and with the most grace I have ever heard him speak.

King: Please assure Congress of my friendship. I hope that this will be for the good of both nations.

Duc de Croy: Everyone was exalted, struck, and roused by Franklin. It certainly was becoming for the inventor of electricity to electrify the two ends of the world!

Nikolai Karamazin: I return to Paris, throw myself on the bed, and say to myself: I have never seen anything more magnificent than the palace of Versailles

Where was one to begin? Without any doubt, Versailles. I recalled the fourth October, that awful night when the menacing crowd of Parisian thugs were at the doors of Versailles.

The town has become an orphan, it is morose. Where formerly carriages clattered and the people thronged about, now you hardly meet a soul; a deadly silence and tedium. All the residents had very sad expressions.

I was slow to turn my gaze to the decorations and paintings in the rooms. In the throne room, under a magnificent ceremonial canopy, stands the throne.

Louis XIV wished to effect a miracle; he gave the command and in the midst of the rude, sandy wilderness, there materialized the palace which has no equal for majesty in Europe.

But now. . . . Versailles without the court is like the body without the soul.

Narrator: You've reached the end of this audio experience. To learn more about the visitors' accounts and music you've heard, please visit The Met's website,

Please return your headphones and device as you leave the exhibition. Thank you.

Marquee: Charles-Gabriel Sauvage, called Lemire pere (1741–1827). Figure of Louis XVI and Benjamin Franklin, 1780–85. Porcelain, 12 3/4 x 9 1/2 x 6 in. (32.4 x 24.1 x 15.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of William H. Huntington, 1883 (83.2.260). Now at The Met: Attributed to Étienne Allegrain (French, 1644–1736). View of the Château de Versailles and the Orangerie, ca. 1695. Oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 64 15/16 in. (115 x 165 cm). Musée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon (MV 6812)