Ballet royal de la nuict. Divise en quatre parties, ou quatre veilles. Et dansé par Sa Majesté le 23. Fevrier 1653

Benserade, Isaac de (b.c 1613, d.1691)
printed by Robert Ballard (French, d.1679)
title-page woodcut by A B (French, active c 1653)
Place of production:
Paris, France
letterpress and woodcut on paper
Type of object:
Accession number:
One of a set, see others


The sumptuous "Ballet de la Nuit" was staged for the French court six times between 23 February and 16 March 1653. This is the published booklet of the ballet, detailing the roles played by the 29 courtiers, 59 professional dancers, 11 children or minor courtiers, and the King himself. It also describes the 43 scenes of the four acts and records the dialogue sung or recited by some of the characters.

This version of the booklet was printed for the courtier Louis Hesselin (1602-1662), the controller of the King’s privy purse whose charge included royal entertainments. He was also known as a choreographer and dancer and probably oversaw the planning and execution of the ballet. He also appeared in it twice, as Master of the Court of Miracles and as Jupiter. Other copies of the booklet with the same text but with a less ornate title-page were printed in different formats for public sale. The title-page of this edition has an elaborate woodcut of musicians, Venus and Virtue, the latter being the printer's device of Robert Ballard.

The "Ballet de la Nuit" was a highly complex production that took 13 hours to perform. The four acts present the four periods, or watches, of the night. The booklet notes over 150 different roles divided among 99 named dancers and 6 unnamed singers. Professionals and courtiers took to the stage at the same time but the more lowly roles such as beggars and cripples were not performed by the highest members of the court. All the performers were men, apart from four very young girls, daughters of professional dancers, who danced in Spanish costume.

The booklet gives some details about the stage sets, with notes about some of the stage machinery and painted backdrops used for each scene. Cloud machines were probably used throughout the ballet including in the grand final scene where Louis XIV appeared as the sun god Apollo shining through the clouds on his chariot. An eye-witness report of the first performance told of a misfortune when fire took hold of one of the backdrops during the first act. The King took control of the situation, the fire was extinguished and the ballet continued (see Michael Burden, 'A spectacle for the King', in Burden and Thorp, 2009, pp. 3-8).

The story of the ballet follows the activity of the night. The first act is made up of the activities at the end of the day; the second, the entertainment of the evening; the third, the fantasies, freedoms and horrors of the night; and the fourth, the activities at dawn. This range of subjects allowed a panoply of characters to be showcased, from shepherds leaving the fields; to actors from plays within plays; to mythological characters such as Diana and Endymion; to townspeople dealing with a house fire; to witches at a sabbath; and finally to the sun restoring order to the world at dawn.

The ballet was performed at the end of a series of civil wars in France. During the period known as the Fronde (1635-1653), different groups of nobles rose up against the monarchy. The ballet was organised by Cardinal Mazarin, the hated First Minister of the King. It appears to have been designed to show Mazarin's loyalty in the face of opposition to his ministry. It also provided a way to bond the group of loyal nobles around the King against rebellious nobles such as the Prince de Condé (see David Parrott, 'Art, ceremony and performance Cardinal Mazarin and cultural patronage at the court of Louis XIV', in Burden and Thorp, 2009, pp. 9-18).

The booklet of the ballet is bound with a poem entitled "Le Docteur Muët", possibly performed at the same time, and 129 original designs for the ballet's costumes and stage sets (acc. no. 3666.1-3). There are a number of characters mentioned in the booklet for which there are no record amongst the 117 costume designs. There is no particular pattern to these omissions. The most important missing costume is that of the King as the Sun, which is preserved as a separate sheet in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Estampes, Hennin 41/3674).

Phillippa Plock, 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
342 x 243
Physical details:
folio, 55 pages, printed on both sides. Title-page woodcut on p. 1 by A. B.
Signature & date:
signed in the block on the title-page, lower centre: A. B. [in monogram]
Virtue leads to Fortune


Owned by Louis Hesselin (b.1602, d.1662); acquired by a M. Bourdillon (d. c. 1855); acquired by Marquis de Coislin (b.1801, d.1873) as part of Bourdillon's library before 1847; this volume sold to Baron Jérome Pichon (b.1812, d.1896) circa 1847 for 400 or 500 francs; sold in his sale, Paris, 17-21 May 1897, lot 961; bought at the Pichon sale by Damascène Morgand (b.1840, d.1898) for 3,951 francs; sold to Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898) by Morgand for 3,420 francs plus 15% commission; inherited by his sister Miss Alice de Rothschild (b.1849, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
Part of:
Le Ballet Royal de La Nuit: A book made up of two publications and a collection of costume and scenery designs based around Isaac Benserade's "Ballet de la Nuit" which was danced in 1653. 3666.1-3
Exhibition history:
'Versailles: The Chateau and its History in Books and Pictures', National Book League, London, 1853, no. 62
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957



Charles I. Silin; Benserade and his Ballets de Cour; Baltimore; John Hopkins University Press; 1940; pp. 214-28.
Versailles: The Chateau and its History in Books and Pictures, Catalogue of an Exhibition; London; National Book League; 1953; no. 62; with attribution to della Bella.
Marie-Françoise Christout; Le Ballet de Cour au XVIIe Siècle; Geneva; Minkoff; 1987; pp. 36, 87, 100, 103, 105, 175, 181, ill.
Stanley Sadie; The New Grove Dictionary of Opera; London; Macmillan & Co Ltd; 1993; pp. 293-4, ill.
Alain Gruber, The Ballet Royal de la Nuit, Apollo, 139, April 1994, 34-40; pp. 34-40, ill.; with some inaccuracies.
Roger Parker; Oxford Illustrated History of Opera; Oxford; Oxford University Press; 1994; p. 34, ill.
Andre Chastel; L'art francais - L'Ancien Régime, 1620 - 1775; Paris; Flammarion; 1995; pp. 21-22, ill.
Jérôme de La Gorce; Féeries d'opéra: Décors, machines et costumes en France, 1645-1765; Chateau de Chambord, Chambord, Loir-et-Cher, 5 juillet-20 novembre 1997; Paris; Editions du patrimoine; 1997; pp. 34-7, figs 12, 14.
Francesco Milesi; Giacomo Torelli: l'invenzione scenica nello'Europa barocca; Italy; Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Fano; 2000; pp. 236-40, figs 2, 4, 6, 8.
Juliet Carey, Louis XIV and dance: an examination of Waddesdon's source for Le ballet de la nuit, 6th Annual Dance Symposium, 21 April 2004, Early Music, 32, August 2004, 486-7; pp. 486-7.
Juliet Carey; Des chefs-d'oeuvre discrets: la collection de dessins; Les collections exceptionnelles des Rothschild: Waddesdon Manor (Hors-série de l'Estampille/l'Objet d'Art, No. 14), Dijon, Éditions Faton, 2004; 56-63; pp. 56-63.
Marie-Françoise Christout; Le ballet de cour de Louis XIV 1643-1672 (Nouv. éd.); Paris; Éditions A. et J. Picard; 2005; pl. IV, fig. 6.
Michael Burden, Jennifer Thorp; Ballet de la Nuit: Rothschild B1/16/6; Hillsdale; Pendragon Press; 2009; pp. 90-117 (facsimile).
Muriel Zagha, Divine Right, World of Interiors, April 2010, 77-81; pp. 77-81, ill.
Hendrik Schulze; Französischer Tanz und Tanzmusik in Europa zur Zeit Ludwigs XIV.: Identität, Kosmologie und Ritual; Hildesheim; Olms Verlag; 2012; ill. [n. p.]; as part of front matter.
Michel Jeanneret; Versailles: ordre et chaos; Paris; Éditions Gallimard; 2012; pp. 189, 192, figs 72, 74.
Craig Koslofsky; Evening's Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe; Cambridge; Cambridge University Press; 2011; pp. 93-95.
Giles Barber, Graham Pollard, Geoffrey de Bellaigue; Printed Books and Bookbindings: The James A. de Rothschild Bequest at Waddesdon Manor, The National Trust; 2 volumes; Waddesdon; The Rothschild Foundation, RF; 2013; vol. 2, pp. 546-49, cat. no. 36.

Indexed terms

People as subject
Orléans, Philippe, Duc d' (b.1640, d.1701)
Louis XIV of France (b.1638, d.1715)
Amville, François-Christophe de Levis Ventadour, duc d' (b.1603, d.1661)
Bontemps, Alexandre (b.1626, d.1701)
Buckingham, George Villiers, Duke of (b.1628, d.1687)
Canaples, Alphonse de Créqui, comte de (b.1628, d.1711)
Créquy, Charles, duc de (b.1624, d.1687)
Lude, Henri de Daillon, comte du (b.c 1622, d.1685)
Plessis-Praslin, Alexandre de Choiseul, comte du (b.c 1635, d.1672)
Hesselin, Louis (b.1602, d.1662)
Froulé, Comte de (active 1651-1653)
Genlis, Claude Brulart, marquis de (d.1673)
Gramont, Marquis de (active 1653)
Guiche, Armand de Gramont, comte de (b.1637, d.1673)
Humières, Louis de Crevant, marquis d' (d.1694)
Joyeuse, Louis de Lorraine, duc de (b.1622, d.1654)
Joyeux (active 1648-1661)
Chesnaye, Monsieur La (active 1651-1658)
Meilleraye, Charles de la Porte, duc de la (b.1602, d.1664)
Lecomte de Troye (active 1648-1663)
Louvigny, Comte de (active c 1653)
Mirepoix, Gaston Jean-Baptiste de Lévis et Lomagne, marquis de (b.1636, d.1687)
Montglat, François de Paule de Clermont, marquis de (b.1620, d.1675)
Roquelaure, Gaston, duc de (b.c 1615, d.1683)
Saint Aignan, François de Beauvillier, comte de (b.1607, d.1687)
Villequier, Louis d'Aumont de Rochebaron, marquis de (b.1632, d.1704)
Villeroy, François de Neufville, marquis de (b.1644, d.1730)
Vivonne, Louis de Rochechouart, comte de (b.1636, d.1688)
James II of England (b.1633, d.1701)
Research keywords
Dance Culture
Theatre Culture
Allegory & Personifications/Virtue
Mythology/Gods & Goddesses/Venus
Allegory & Personifications/Fortune
Work & Occupations/Arts & Entertainment/Musician
Allegory & Personifications/Good Government
Allegory & Personifications/Time & Old Age
Everyday Life/Court Life & Court Ceremonial
Work & Occupations/Governance & Public Administration/Courtier
Work & Occupations/Governance & Public Administration/Monarchs
Work & Occupations/Arts & Entertainment/Dancer
Mythology/Gods & Goddesses/Apollo