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Francis I To Louis XVI

( Originally Published 1910 )



HERE the second period of Renaissance progress begins with the death of the energetic and beauty-loving Francis I. of the pointed nose, ending with Henry IV. (from 1547 to 1642) —ninety-six years. It marks the final sloughing off of the Gothic influence and a ripening of the new style into a rich and distinctive entity.

It is difficult to trace any special influence of great world developments in the architecture of this active constructional period, probably because the century was one of stirring events on every hand, without any dominant new force visible in the affairs of men.

Protestantism was, of course, gaining ground rapidly in the Teutonic countries, but it invaded France in much lesser degree and is hardly to be reckoned with in the architecture of this time. France's war with Spain, begun earlier, continued into the seventeenth century. At one time it seemed as if France must surely become, with Austria, the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Naples and Burgundy, the property of the Spanish king, Charles V. With the treasuries of the Incas at his command, this ruler, his territory surrounding France, actually claimed the French capital as his own city. He was unsuccessful, however, and France, chastened, went on with her building of châteaus for the nobility.

In the religious warfare between the Church of Rome and the new Protestant sects, Italy, France, and Spain maintained their Catholicism in form mostly. The followers of John Calvin were given the derisive and political nickname of Huguenots, which they still carry. These Huguenots were involved in civil wars in France, for religion in those days was a matter of arms and bloodshed. The French kings alternately favored and persecuted this sect according to their political needs, but the policy of suppression became dominant, and the poor Huguenots were defeated in battle, banished, and variously persecuted until the horrors culminated in the dreadful Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572, when more than twenty - five thousand men and women were slaughtered throughout France. This massacre was instigated by that lovely and fascinating woman, the ferocious Catherine de' Medici, whose son, Charles, fired the first shot from the windows of the Louvre.

Large numbers of Huguenot artisans had been banished, and sailed to England and America, and this retarded in some degree the country's creative power. France's astonishing reserve force, however, came to her rescue, and when Henry IV. closed the war with Spain, and the Edict of Nantes in 1598 gave a measure of freedom to the Huguenots, trade and manufactures revived rapidly, and an impetus was added to the civil life of the nation that resulted in the third or culminative period of the Renaissance.

Henry IV. was the dominant figure in the constructional period. His reign was one of tremendous importance to France. He was far-sighted, just, and able. The way he brought France out of the chaos of foreign antagonism and internal dissension was masterly, and the constructive statesmanship by which he quickly made France the strongest among European nations endeared him to the people for all time. Under him the intellectual life of the nation blossomed richly. He encouraged the arts as they had seldom been encouraged, providing working and living quarters for the artists in the Louvre. It is easy to under-stand that under these conditions much was accomplished.

On the other hand, here again there was no big, dominant inspiration to creative work. In religion, adherence was divided between a reduced Catholicism and a new Protestantism, in politics the national idea was full-flowered, in science activity was in the direction of re-search. So in architecture we find no stirring innovations, but a crystallizing of laws, a broader recognition of the self-sufficiency of the classic forms, and a certain solidifying and harmonizing of the discoveries made and experimented upon during the preceding reigns. It is for this reason that it might well be called the period of construction. All the wealth of suggestion that had been drawn from ancient Rome, from her modern interpreters in Italy and from the French adapters of the classic idea in the period of Renaissance discovery, were sifted and organized. A strengthening measure of scholastics of sound reasoning was added to the flights of Renaissance fancy that laid a solid foundation for the rich decorative fruitage of the time of the Louises.

The practical Henry, busy as he was in repairing the depleted national treasury without imposing too heavy a burden on the people, did not do much building of palaces, and the church-building time in France was over for the present. He did, however, add a wing to the Louvre, and continued the palaces at St. Germain and Fontainebleau. The work reflects the dignified and scholarly attainments of the ruler, but is identified as belonging to his reign only by minor individualities in the decorative detail.

In this country these individualities of Henry IV. architecture may be discovered by the student among the older mansions of the older cities, but their differentiation is too slight to warrant an investigation on our part at this time.

Henry was assassinated in the streets of Paris in 161o, and was succeeded by his wife, Marie de Medicis, as regent for young Louis XIII. Under the weak hand of the woman all the careful building of Henry fell to the ground, and France was again in political chaos. Even after the young Louis made himself king at the age of seventeen matters were no better, nor were anything like normal conditions restored until the brilliant and astute Cardinal Richelieu got the reins of power in his hands and began an administration much like that of Henry IV. Richelieu again placed France in the position of dictatorship over Europe, and he built up his country to his own honor and glory. This wonderful statesman was as keen as Henry in his encouragement of the arts and sciences, and architecture began an auspicious activity. The period of study and formulation which marked Henry's reign now began to bear fruit. Not a great many important buildings were begun, but the architecture of the period shows a new sureness of grasp, a reverence and appreciation of classic tradition, and a certain dignified beauty that is a delight to modern students, and was lacking in the earlier period of transition.

The composition differs slightly, however, from that immediately following it, until during the long reign of the "Grand Monarch," Louis XIV., the high point is reached, and we begin the downward glide in idealism, and in inventive power, toward chaos and the age of unreason.

Remember that the method of classifying styles of architecture has changed, and we now have not only the names of the ruling monarchs used to designate successive styles, but also the personal influence of the king exercised upon the architecture of his reign. It follows naturally that the influence of a king who reigns for seventy-two years is greater and more solidifying than that of one whose rule is of briefer duration. For this reason, the Renaissance must be considered as a whole, the artistic conscience yielding only slightly to the dominant taste of the court and changes in type varying according to the length of the reign. That is why it is frequently impossible to classify buildings except by the dates of their creation.

This second period, which I begin arbitrarily with the death of Henry IV., in 161o, ends logically and inevitably in 1774 with the execution of Louis XVI. and the down-fall of the monarchic rule of France. It therefore extends through a period of one hundred and sixty-four years, and includes the reigns of Louis XIII., XIV., XV., and X Richelieu and Louis XIII. died within a few months of each other. Anne of Austria became queen-regent for the young Louis, and her adviser and confidante was the scheming Cardinal Mazarin, who by good-fortune and his own adroitness was made prime minister, and kept the nation in his grasp until his death. In power Mazarin was a second Richelieu, but the latter was a patriot and played for the greatness of France. Mazarin played for personal power and for his pocket. Louis XIV., growing up under this influence, was unable to dominate it, but on Mazarin's death, in 1661, he rejoiced openly, and, to the astonishment of the politicians, took unto himself the command of the nation, which he ruled strongly, if arrogantly, and without ministers, for more than half a century.

Mazarin, though he died a multi-millionaire at the expense of the state, accomplished important things for France that must be considered in reviewing the political conditions which helped to mold the architecture of the reign. He signed the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which closed the religious revolution, giving the Protestants a measure of political privilege, and he also kept the fiery young king in control during his salad years.

Louis, however, soon proved himself an astute as well as a self-willed ruler. He concluded a peace with Spain that gave two new provinces to France and reduced the Spanish kingdom to second place, he himself taking and holding the dictatorship of Europe. Trade revived in consequence, ships were built for war and for trade with the New World, and the manufacture of fine textiles and glass developed. The arts and sciences were not only protected, but the notable group of scientists in France at that time were brought together under legal enactment as the Institute of France.

It is notable of the Renaissance, as of every other period of history, that the arts and sciences respond to the stimulus of broad and vigorous rulership. Under the weak or selfish regencies of the queen mothers and the dominance of the fortune - seeking Mazarin progress stops, to gather momentum again under a Francis I., a Henry IV., and now a Louis XIV. Louis went so far as to regard the state as his personal property, the reason for its existence the aggrandizement of his personal glory. His court was one of the most magnificent in history, the pomp and display beyond the dreams of his predecessors.

But if Louis was strong and proud, he was also fool-hardy and reckless, and it was only his extraordinarily long reign of seventy-two years that permitted him to accomplish as much as he did. For instance, he allowed that pious little hypocrite, Madame de Maintenon, to coax him into recalling the Edict of Nantes with which Henry IV. had secured religious freedom to the people. As a result more than a quarter of a million craftsmen and skilled artisans, the producing and, to a large extent, the thinking men of the nation, were driven into exile, greatly impoverishing France on her productive side.

Louis finally found himself at war with the entire continent of Europe consolidated against him, and that nothing worse happened than the loss of nearly all the American possessions is remarkable. Meanwhile, in spite of the continual turmoil and the frightful expense of the wars, this monarch found time and means to indulge his fad for beautifying the country and developing the creative arts. His death-bed offering to his small son, who was to become Louis XV., was: "Do not imitate me in my taste for building or my love for war."

The most costly and magnificent of his constructions is the palace at Versaille,on which he spent great sums, and in which he housed the nobility, the wit, and the artist of France. Under him Jules Hardouin Mansart created and embellished on the sturdy foundations of style developed during the previous century of research.

To Mansart, whose name is familiar to us as a form of roof which we to-day know well though sorrowfully, is largely due the glory of Versailles. This place is worthy of some study. The various parts of the composition are "tied together" horizontally with broad bands or belt courses and vertically by tall pilasters innocent of ornamentation except in the cap.

Ornament was not reduced as it was under Henry IV., nor was it used in the lavish fashion of Francis I. It has now become thoughtful and reserved. Under due observance of the laws of proportion and contrast, decoration is concentrated so as to secure for itself the most telling advantage, and at the same time to give most value to the plain surface.

The curious influence which has been growing through-out this whole period, and which came to full blossom in the lavishly ornate rococco of Louis XV., is apparent in the. free and playful twisting and curving of moldings. There is evident restraint, however, but without the masculine strength shown in the parallel development in northern Italy and in Rome.

Manners seem to have been more important than morals in the time of Louis XIV. The social refinements were carried to a point of extreme cultivation and covered the undercurrent of loose living that permeated the court and the nobility. An observance of decorum was rigidly exacted. The magnificent entertainments of the court were charming in their external aspects.

So we find in the architecture of this reign a certain restraint coloring the warm-blooded treatment of decorative forms. There is much power expressed in this subtle reserve, this decorous observance of the rules, and it shows that neither vagaries and instability of kings, nor all the misfortune of war or license of living, had sufficed to dull the edge and dampen the ardor of the extraordinary Gallic temperament. The France that we know —the France of the post-Gothic era—was in full blossom. The supreme glory of Renaissance invention was shown at this time. The style did not end as the Gothic did, but is with us to this day. It even showed some development of importance. But nothing riper, richer, or more self-sufficient has come out of the entire Renaissance movement than the building done under the "Grand Monarch."

It is interesting that during the latter part of the reign of Louis XIV. a return to pure Roman classic was attempted. The Trianon at Versailles is an example. It is an arcade of twin pilasters and columns supporting a complete classic entablature with arched openings between. Although fine, dignified, and in the best of taste, it fails to express the spirit of the time as the more local interpretations did, and is therefore less satisfactory in its relation to the period. Another example is the eastern front of the Louvre, by Perrault, which is dominated by a great colonnade that quite lacks the Gallic spirit.

At this time more attention than ever before was given to the decoration of interiors, a result of the development of court ceremonial and elaboration of costume. For these magnificent affairs it was natural that harmonious architectural backgrounds should be required; so the architect becomes artist, decorator, and furniture designer as well as constructor.

The self-restraint that we observed in the exterior decoration of this time is also seen in the embellishment of the interiors. Ornament was centred or grouped with due regard to the value of plain surfaces. The moldings that made lines of separation between dado, wall, and cornice were strengthened and ornamented on the corners, with scrolls in place of the earlier and more masculine square block, against which the panel molding ended abruptly.

The tapestry decoration of earlier reigns largely gives way to wood-panelled walls, frequently finished in white and gold. There is a nice sense of contrast and proportion shown in the treatment of these interiors which marks the advance in the art. Squares and circles are rarely used, because these forms lack the contrast of oblongs and ovals, and when they are used the geometric line is ingeniously broken with ornamentation. This is carried further in the grouping of panels, the panels of the dado being used horizontally, for instance, and those of the wall vertically, so as to give variation in the mass as well as in the units.

In the plan of the rooms also there is the same regard for proportion and balance. The fireplace was placed in the middle of the wall, making a focal centre, and was richly ornamented with mirrors and carved panels, the sides always balancing. Doorways no longer appear at haphazard, but are designed to balance a corresponding door. If a door must be out of balance it is made secret, cutting invisibly through panels and dadoes, so as not to break the composition.

The planning of the interior of the building is also symmetrical, room balancing room in equal proportion of size or "weight," even when it is necessary to sacrifice utilitarian requirements. This is in strong contrast to the rigid utilitarianism of the admirable thirteenth-century Gothic.

This system of symmetrical designing, which is one of the keynotes of the Renaissance, has come down to us almost as unyielding, as it was at that time. It applies to all architectural ornament from the balancing of the main wings of a great building to the smallest added feature of a delicate molding.

Even more exacting are these laws of balance and pro-portion as applied to texture or surface, to material, to the graining of woods, the intensity and quality of colors, the use of gold for sharpness and contrast, the degree of thinness or depth of raised designs, of applied pictures and tapestries, and the weight and openness of the furniture and accessories of the room.

These laws were a legacy from the Romans, rediscovered after their extinction in the monasteries and the lodges of the Freemasons. Now they became codified through the activities of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, or College of Architects, and from mysteries became public property of recognized authority.

The use of the styles of Louis XIV., XV., and XVI., or "Quatorze," "Quinze," and "Seize," to give them their familiar French appellations, for furniture and decorations in this country has made them the three best-known styles, by name at least. Most of the product of our furniture factories is adapted from this period, and a great majority of our Renaissance buildings may be traced to a parentage within these three reigns in France. Their differentiation is rather an intricate matter, so intermingled have their interpretations become under the irreverent hand of the manufacturers. Even the parent French products have so much in common that it would be outside the field of this book to give anything like a complete exposition of the styles. It is sufficient to understand the human characteristics that underlie all three and to define their essential differences on this general basis.

Of monumental buildings in America a majority are in the more restrained style of Louis XVI., the characteristics of which are reviewed in the next chapter. There are, in fact, few notable examples of the other two, while of this one the new Public Library in New York is but one of the many striking and typical examples, designed from the book, and very dry, simply because the designers have failed to comprehend the human characteristics which lie behind the creation of the original style.

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