Paris - Scattered Treasures
( Originally Published 1921 )
THERE are amongst the monuments of Paris those which astound by their grandeur, like Notre-Dame and the Louvre; those which satisfy by the perfection of their setting, like the Luxembourg, the Concorde, and the Place des Vosges; those which act as great architectural axes, like the Sacre-Coeur, the Pantheon, the Madeleine, and Saint-Sulpice; those which serve a more intimate purpose of decoration, like the Sorbonne, Val de Grace, the Institut, and the Invalides; and those which stand apart and unique, scattered like jewels through the city—l'Auxerrois, Carnavalet, Cluny, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Triumphal Arch of the Carrousel, and Saint-Etienne-du-Mont.
Of these last, each so perfect in its way, it is, perhaps, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont which rests closest upon the heart—this bijou of the Renaissance, this delicious flower of architecture, so perverse, so quaint, so exquisite, which, though half hidden by the Pantheon, makes of that vast monument its background.
Irregular and capricious in its construction, it charms by its coquetry and its movement, by its variety and its grace. From the peak of its exceedingly pointed gable to the base of its quasi-classic portico; from the vaulted north porch with its period doors to the tip of the lanthorn surmounting the tall, slim tower; from the urns and statues of the lower facade, to the oval rosace of the gable with its expressive symbol of eternity, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont charms.
Nothing more indigenous could possibly grow out of that wayward old Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve, of which it seems the ultimate expression—the ultimate expression of that old Paris, of which this street, for those whose vision can pierce the shabbiness of its decline, was the very essence and character. Clovis himself might have blazed the trail over the virgin soil of the mountain, when he picked its summit for his renowned basilica.
The antiquated north porch, with its semi-circular flight of stone steps, which continue the upward slope of the hill, set in strangely under the slender belfry, is all in keeping with the old neighbourhood and the oddly precipitous place before the entrance. The west portail, built during the first years of the XVIIth century, turns sympathetically to meet the north porch and invites the loiterer to round the bend to inspect the chief entrance. At the angle a mediaeval tourelle, with a conical top, hugs closely to a bit of high-pitched roof, and, above the whole, the svelte belfry rises to an elegant height, supported by the finest of tourelles enclosing the spiral stair-way, and at the top of the tower an octagonal lanthorn dominates the platform. The piquancy of the belfry is accentuated by long rifts in the stone, for so appear the windows, both pointed and round arched, contributing to its lightness ; the ornaments of the lower story are still Gothic, and from the entablature grotesque gargoyles jut out from the face of the wall and spill the rain from the steep roof upon the passers-by.
The origin of the church is confounded with that of Sainte-Genevieve, to which an earlier XIIIth century edifice was intended as a succursale. The present church was projected during the first years of the reign of Francois I and the portail was built by that naughty Queen Margot, for though the Medicis had replaced her, she too would leave her monument to Paris.
And was she as naughty as they said? Her portraits are so contradictory; in one she is a beautiful child, in another a designing young minx, another shows a dignified woman, and a fourth—well it is all headdress, one does not know what to make of it. They said she chose a hotel in the Rue de Seine as her domicile, because " il lui parut piquant de demeurer vis-a-vis du Louvre, ou regnait Marie de Medici." Coryat writes, in 1611, " I saw Queene Margarite, the king's divorced wife, being carried by men in the open streets under a stately canopy." But Sully whom Marie de Medicis had alienated, by her extravagant caprices, found her—by contrast surely—resigned, disinterested, and sweet of temper.
Saint-Etienne was begun at the apse; the choir was finished in 1537; and on August 2, 1610, Marguerite de Valois placed the first stone of the portail, and gave three thousand livres towards its erection. Finally we read, on a black marble tablet imbedded in the north wall of the nave that, in 1626, on Sexagesima Sunday, under Pope Urbain VIII and in the reign of Louis XIII, the church and high altar were consecrated, under the evocation of Saint Stephen. Another inscription, placed under the first, relates that, during the ceremony of consecration, two girls of the parish fell from the galleries of the choir with a portion of the balustrade upon which they were leaning, and were miraculously preserved from all hurt, and that their fall occasioned no accident, though the assemblage of persons was great.
Saint-Etienne has all the advantages. It has an ancient and romantic history, it has a beautiful shell, it has a noble destination as the reliquary of the only tangible souvenir of Sainte-Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, its interior exceeds, if possible, the adorable beauty of the outside, and it has a glorious series of windows.
The aisles are the whole height of the church, the monotony broken by the triforium which runs merely from pillar to pillar along the sides of the nave and choir and is interrupted by the transept. In the choir it is reached by twisted stairways wreathed around the pillars on each side, the whole contrivance of triforium and spiral stair-ways leading up to the feature of the curious interior, the unique and beautiful rood-loft, the only one left in Paris, and considered a chef-d'oeuvre of open stone work. It was erected by Pierre Biard, in 1609.
Thrown boldly across the face of the sanctuary, its tourelles mounting well above the platform, the balustrades suspended in mid-air, and thin colonettes forming the only visible means of sup-port, this jube presents in its construction a series of fabulous difficulties which the architect set him-self as though merely to show his dexterity. An-gels, palms, foliage, interlaced motifs, masks, deco-rate the spandrils, the archivolts, and friezes. The jube is completed by two doors which close the ambulatory, so that the whole of the choir and apse is screened off from the nave and aisles. These doors are again in openwork design, in keeping with the lightness of the effect intended; and above them, in the broken pediments, sit two figures in stone, gracefully modelled.
The organ is a magnificent specimen of wood-carving of the XVIIth century; the pulpit is carried on the shoulders of Samson.
When the abbey of Port Royal was destroyed, in 1710, the body of Racine was transferred to Saint-Etienne and buried in the vault of the chapel of the Virgin, near the remains of Pascal.
When Sainte-Genevieve was destroyed the stone sarcophagus of the saint was found in the crypt, where it had been since 511, though the relics had long since been removed and put into the chasse of which we have spoken. The poor relics of the body, so piously reverenced by the Parisians, so often carried in processions through the streets in times of stress, were, as we know, burned during the Revolution, in the Place de Greve. Deputy Fayau had the delicacy to send the pope an ac-count of this pretty ceremony. But the sarcophagus somehow escaped, and, having always been venerated, now became the last link with that precious legendary figure.
Enclosed in a modern receptacle it is preserved in one of the chapels of the apse. Candles are always burning at the shrine and at the neuvaine of the saint thousands come to pray at the sepulchre.
Saint-Etienne is a rich museum of painted glass, possessing an almost complete collection of remarkable models from the middle of the XVIth century to the epoch of the last painter of note at the commencement of the XVIIth century. The oldest glass is contained in the five high windows of the apse, and there are others in the nave, and in the chapel of Sainte-Genevieve, where have been assembled the nine windows formerly placed under the arches of the charnel house, which, attached to the apse, was disposed in the form of a cloister enclosing a small court.
The windows display the art of the ablest painters of their day—Jean Cousin, Claude Henriet, Enguerrand Lepreuce, Pinaigrier, Michu, Francols Periez, Nicolas Desengives, Nicolas Levasseur, and Jean Mounier are represented. Six large windows have been preserved in the col-lateral chapels of the choir, and the western rose is exceedingly handsome. The parishioners of Saint-Etienne were inordinately fond of glass and the list of donors, headed by a rich wine merchant, who made the most liberal foundations for the purpose, is a long one.
What Saint-Etienne represents for ecclesiastical architecture the Hotel de Cluny, which is but a short walk down the hill, represents for civil architecture. Constructed both at a moment of transition, both show Gothic principles cheered by a strain of the Renaissance. Cluny is older and more serious ; in Saint-Etienne the Renaissance strain develops a theme, with variations.
If Carnavalet is the most consistently charming of the few preserved private residences of older Paris, Cluny is clearly the most distinguished. Large and stately, the walls, the court, the gar-dens, the ornamentation, the many-sided tower with its stone staircase, the open balustrade, the chimneys, and the windows, all bespeak the taste and elegance of its builders ; while the polished interior of this harmonious and beautiful old house is all in keeping with the best traditions.
From the point of view of its destination, the Hotel de Cluny is even more fortunate than Carnavalet, though one museum complements the other and the history of Paris is grasped between the two. The building, the furniture, and the ornaments of Cluny are in perfect keeping and the illusion of the past is admirably maintained. With the Hotel de Sens it may be considered a model of XVth century civil architecture.
In the first half of the XIVth century, about the year 1340, Pierre de Chaslus, abbot of Cluny, bought the site of the old Palais des Thermes, intending to build a lodging near the college which his abbey possessed, not far from the Sorbonne. This project was not carried out, but in the XVth century Jean de Bourbon, a successor of Chaslus, undertook the construction of the present edifice and laid the foundations. Upon these foundations Jacques d'Amboise, abbot of Cluny, raised the present building. The principal entrance and facade were constructed from 1485 to 1514.
The approach is from the Rue de Sommerard, named from the archaeologist whose collection was the nucleus of the museum, and the solid, battlemented wall is pierced by a gate, surmounted by the arms of the abbey of Cluny, through which one enters upon the rich, atmospheric court of honour. The corps de logis presents as its chief feature the many-sided tower which encloses the stairway, and bearing the rose-medallions and cockle-shells of Saint James, in allusion to the builder, Jacques d'Amboise. Opposite is an old well from the manor of Tristan l'Hermite, near Amboise. The building on the west is richly decorated.
From the garden the bay-window and vaulted hall called la chapelle basse are the features, the upper floor being supported by a single column. Upon the capital of this column are the arms of Jacques d'Amboise and a crowned K (Karolus) for Charles VIII.
The famous bell of Rouen, known as Georges d'Amboise, is said to have been cast at Cluny and the great circle traced on the wall of the east wing is supposed to mark its dimensions.
The interior has been restored by means of contemporary pieces brought here from other buildings. Thus a chimney-piece dating from the end of the XVth century comes from Le Mans, and the beautiful Francois I chamber is a reconstituted room of the epoch of the monarch.
Between Saint-Etienne and Cluny, on the northern slope of Sainte-Genevieve's mountain, on the outskirts of the site of the gardens of Julian's palace, which lay along the Roman road to Orleans, lies the Sorbonne, the development of a college founded in 1250, by Robert de Sorbonne, a canon of Notre-Dame, under the protection of Saint-Louis. Robert de Sorbonne was the king's confessor and when Saint-Louis wanted to found a nunnery on this site he persuaded him to provide instead a charity college for theological students. The college thus founded soon became famous and the assembly of doctors of the Sorbonne formed a formidable tribunal, which judged without appeal theological works and opinions and even passed sentence upon popes and kings.
The title, docteur de Sorbonne, was gained only after many years of study in the institution followed by ten more years devoted to argument and debate and the preparation and defence of various theses, distinguished as minor, major, sabbatine, tentative, and petite and grande sorbonique. It was in this last that the aspirant for the degree was required to sustain and refute the attacks of twenty assailants or ergoteurs who, while the victim was forbidden to eat, to drink, or to leave the place, worked in relays, relieving each .other every half hour, and harassed him from six in the morning to seven at night.
The Sorbonne as it stands is Richelieu's great contribution to Paris. He was elected proviseur, or head master of the institution, in 1622, and his first care was to reconstruct the buildings of the college and to build the chapel, which, finished in 1635, was practically contemporary with the old church of Saint Paul and Saint Louis, in the Marais. Jacques Lemercier was Richelieu's architect. We have seen his work upon the Pavilion de l'Horloge of the Louvre, and he designed Saint-Roch and' the Palais Royal and worked upon Val-de-Grace. The chapel of the Sorbonne has the charm of complete unity, and being very small its view is well compassed by the width of the shady place which makes the effective approach, and from which the dome, built not too far from the facade, is agreeably dominant, the whole silhouette of the building flowing grace-fully towards its elevation. The front of the transept, towards the court, is even better, ornamented with a portico of detached columns on the lower story with a great semi-circular window above, and the dome rising near the wall with full effect. The dome and portico of the chapel are placed amongst the best works of Lemercier.
The chapel of the Sorbonne was destined to become the tomb of its illustrious builder, and the chief object of interest in the now denuded interior is the sumptuous mausoleum in marble erected over the sepulchre of the cardinal, in 1694, by Francois Girardon, after the design of Lebrun. Richelieu is represented reclining in the arms of Religion, who holds the book he wrote in her defence; Science weeps at his feet. The two figures are said to be portraits of the nieces of the cardinal. The group at the time of its execution was considered the greatest of funeral monuments—Louis XIV had imposed upon his subjects the taste of Lebrun, in which there is always something of the pedant, but the sculptor saves the day by his thoroughly capable rendering, his suave fluency of line and sympathetic draperies. The monument is too sophisticated to hold the interest long, but at the same time its very faults, concealed as they are by the smoothness of its technique, seem expressive of the subject. The tomb is a type of its kind, and has also historic value as having been that for whose preservation Alexandre Lenoir was prepared to shed his blood.
Richelieu died in 1642; a few months earlier Marie de Medicis had been taken from the scene and Louis XIII survived merely long enough to carry out the instructions of his tutor and to establish Mazarin as prime minister. The palace which Richelieu had built for his residence after his grandeur had outgrown the " little Luxembourg " which Marie de Medicis had allotted him, the dying minister, presented to the king. Thus the Palais Cardinal became the Palais Royal when Anne d'Autriche, finding herself a widow with two young children, adopted it as her residence during the long term of her regency.
We have said that the dome of the church of Saint Paul and Saint Louis, in the Marais, was one of the first erected in Paris; but now the taste was all for domes, inspired no doubt by the world-wide admiration of the great Saint Peter's, and Paris soon made a brave showing with the domes of the Sorbonne, Val-de-Grace, the Institut, and the Invalides, each one more beautiful than the last, and all designed within the last half of the XVIIth century.
We know that Louis XIII lived practically a celibate, so that a direct heir to the throne had been despaired of when, after twenty-two years of marriage, Anne d'Autriche gave birth to two sons, Louis, surnamed Dieu-Donne, and Philippe de France. It was in gratitude for the birth of Louis that the queen built the abbey and church of Val-de-Grace. Louis XIV placed the cornerstone of the church for his mother in 1645, when he was a child of seven years. Francois Mansart made the plans and began the work; Jacques Lemercier continued it to the great cornice, and Pierre Lemuet, seconded by Gabriel Leduc and Duval terminated the arches, the belfry, and the dome, in 1665.
Val-de-Grace makes the imposing vista through the street of that name into which one must re-treat a little to appreciate the value of the elegant dome. Through the narrow Rue Saint-Jacques one comes upon it suddenly, standing within its grand court, closed by a handsome grill.
All the decorations of the monument concern the birth of Christ by allusion to that of Louis XIV. The facade is inscribed: Jesu nascenti Virginique Matri; the words, in gold, are lettered across the roof of the portico under which one enters the temple. The interior is dominated by the vast dome or cupola; a brief nave serves as a mere preface to the sanctuary to which one mounts by a flight of steps and which is closed off by a magnificent grill. The cupola is one immense fresco, by Mignard, a remarkable composition of two hundred figures, in which Anne d'Autriche makes the centre of interest and, assisted by Saint-Louis, offers to the Trinity the model of the church, in the presence of all Catholic christendom.
The vaulting of the nave, its lateral arches, the pendentives of the dome are elaborated by figures sculptured by Michel Anguier, and under the baldaquin belongs the celebrated group La Creche, by Anguier, now at Saint-Roch. This sumptuous interior with its mosaics, its coffered roof, its marble pavings, the great grill before the choir, the bronze baldaquin, the imposing high altar—inspired by that of Saint-Peter's--is truly symbolic of its destiny, a fitting monument to the birth of that monarch whose reign saw the apogee of la grandeur francaise.
The abbey, now a military hospital, preserves none the less traces of its pristine magnificence. Its cloisters, its galleries, its great stairways still exist, and the rooms of Anne d'Autriche, through which Louis XIII and Richelieu searched for evidence of her intrigue, are still there.
Opposite the hospital, the rue Val-de-Grace leads through to the tip of the Allee de l'Observatoire, back to the site of the old Chateau Vauvert, and to the handsome Fontaine de l'Observatoire, erected in 1874. The most celebrated work of the sculptor, Jean Baptiste Carpeaux, the fountain is one of the most distinguished works of the last century. Upon a pedestal in the centre of the great basin four allegorical figures of the quarters of the globe bear aloft an armillary sphere, belted with the signs of the zodiac. This group is by Carpeaux. In the basin are eight sea-horses by Fremiet, and between them dolphins and tortoises spout abundant jets of water upon the horses and the group. The fountain in action, especially when the spray is caught by the wind, is an exhilarating sight.
This locality is further enriched by Rude's great statue of marechal Ney, which, placed amongst the trees at the convocation of several streets be-fore the cafe, Closerie des Lilas, marks the spot where, on the 21st of November, 1815, le brave des braves," as Napoleon called him, was shot for high treason by order of Louis XVIII. Ney deserted with his army and joined Napoleon after his escape from Elba.
From the Sorbonne and Val-de-Grace we pass easily to the Institut, whose dome is a feature of many characteristic views of Paris. It marks Mazarin's foundation and sepulchre. He left a fortune to found a college here and was buried in the chapel. His tomb, a great work by Coyzevox; is now in the Louvre.
Attached to the older church of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides, as an admirable afterthought, is the gilded dome, the most beautiful of the domes of Paris. It holds for us the added significance of marking the sepulchre of Napoleon, but dating from Louis XIV it shows * in its relation to the large ensemble of the Hotel des Invalides, a new development of Paris, which from this time began to be laid out on a grander and more comprehensive scale. Louis XIV extended Paris in all directions. The Places du Carrousel, Vendome, and des Victoires made centres which contributed to the elegance and splendour of the city; the Champs Elysees were planted, laid out with walks, and transformed into a superb public garden; great improvements were made on the river by the formation of new quays and the building of stone bridges. Louis XIV thought that ramparts were unnecessary to the capital of a great empire and that Paris should have for gates triumphal arches. He tore down the ancient fortifications of Charles V and laid out in their place the present grands boulevards, along which rows of trees made a pacific wall. The old Portes Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin were built to commemorate the king's victories in Germany and the capture of Besancon.
Amongst these activities of the roi-soleil was the erection of the old soldiers' home—the Hotel des Invalides. Henri IV had wished to provide a refuge for the numerous army veterans, who, old, impoverished, mutilated, were forced to beg their bread in the streets. Louis XIV devoted himself with zest to carrying out the enterprise of his grandfather and built the magnificent Hotel des Invalides at the western extremity of the faubourg Saint-Germain. Liberal Bruant was the architect. It was finished in 1674.
Thirty years later the church, begun by Bruant and finished by Mansart, was achieved. The church was to serve the occupants of the hotel and was approached therefore through the vast courtyard, behind the facade of the institution, surrounded by open corridors. But the king required a chapel and this was the motive of the construction of the great dome which makes the crowning feature of the church and the pivot of those handsome avenues which approach it from the Place Vauban. The king arrived from this side with more pomp, descending from his carriage at the steps of the dome, whose door opened but for him.
Bruant died before finishing the edifice and the royal chapel was completed by Jules-Hardouin Mansart, a nephew of the designer of Val-de-Grace. We enter, as did Louis, by the south end of the church, through a great gilded door, surmounted by two angels who hold the arms of France. A grill separates the church from the dome, making what seems at first glance to be a separate edifice, whose great point now is the tomb of Napoleon, lowered into the circular, open crypt, under the dome. The form of the chapel is that of a Greek cross. The tombs of Turenne and Vauban, two marshals of France, under Louis XIV, occupy the east and west branches of the cross. We know that Napoleon himself gave Turenne this sepulchre after the desecrations at Saint-Denis.
Four smaller cupolas encircle the great dome, and in the chapel to the left of the entrance the remains of Napoleon were deposited before the ceremony of the great interment. These four corner chapels are richly decorated to harmonize with the magnificence of the dome and are ornamented with statues and reliefs by the ablest sculptors of their century. Espignole, Coustou, Adam, and Coyzevox enriched the parts under the arches, Girardon directed the composition. The cupola was painted by Lafosse and Jouvenet.
Through the grill are seen the standards captured by the French armies arranged along the cornices of the nave.
Leaning over the white marble balustrade, which surrounds the circular opening, we see in the centre of the crypt the rich sarcophagus of Siberian porphyry which contains the remains of the first emperor, brought back from Saint Helena, by Joinville, in 1840. The tomb is the design of Visconti, the younger, accepted from a concours of eighty-one projects exposed at the Beaux-Arts, in 1841. The entrance to the crypt, at the back of the high altar, is guarded night and day by an old soldier from the Invalides, and above the doorway is inscribed Napoleon's wish: " Je desire que mes cendres reposent sur les bonds de la Seine, an milieu de ce peuple francais que j'ai tant aime."