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French Renaissance - Examples

( Originally Published 1921 )


The Chateau de Blois (A.D. 1508) (p. 618), begun in the thirteenth century, was continued in the fifteenth and afterwards added to by Louis XII and Francis I, and was finally completed by Gaston d'Orleans in the reign of Louis XIV. All the buildings, belonging to successive periods, were grouped around an irregular quadrangle (p. 618 E), with central entrance enriched with statuary, and its picturesque appearance is shown in the bird's-eye view (p. 618 B). The pilaster treatment of the facade, the windows with panelled instead of moulded mullions (p. 618 c), the ornate crowning cornice and carved roof dormers and chimney-stacks (p. 618 D), make a picturesque and characteristic combination, which is further enhanced by the famous spiral staircase of Francis I in its open tower (p. 618 c), in which the letter F and the Salamander, emblems of Francis I, are introduced as heraldic decoration among carved balusters and vault bosses. The staircase (p. 618 A) has a beautiful architectural treatment, founded on the Mediaeval corkscrew stair, similar to a spiral shell, and is said to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who died at Amboise (A.D. 1519). The chimney-pieces (p. 618 F), with columns, entablatures, niches, and carving are ornate, and show that internal fittings were elaborated more than in the Gothic period. The part added by Gaston d'Orleans was designed by Mansard, and its stately formality forms a contrast with the early Renaissance work of the time of Francis I (p618 B

The Chateau de Bury (A.D. 1520) (p. 618), a few miles from Blois, consists of a large square court, fronted by a screen wall one storey high, with internal colonnade and terminated by circular towers. The central entrance, also flanked by towers, is provided with a " porte-cochere " for carriages. The courtyard is flanked by two-storeyed wings containing servants' apartments on one side and offices and stabling on the other, connected with the three-storeyed " corps de logis "—the block forming the residence of the family. Beyond this main building was the walled garden with the chapel at the centre of the further side facing the garden entrance of the house. In French country houses of this period, of which the Chateau de Bury is typical, the internal court, originally designed for security, was retained ; whereas in England, after the time of Henry VII, the closed court had become an exception. This description applies also to French town houses even up to the present day, with modifications dependent on site and local conditions.

The Chateau de Chambord (A.D. 1526) (pp. 621, 622 A), by Pierre Nepveu, is one of the most famous in the Loire district, and is semi-fortified in character. The plan is unusual and is made up of two rectangles, one within the -other, but the facade of the smaller is in the same line with that of the outer court, which thus protects it on three sides, while the fourth is protected by the moat (p. 621 c). This inner block or " donjon," 220 ft. square, corresponds to the keep of an English castle, and has four lofty halls on each floor, finished by elliptical barrel vaulting (p. 621 G) ; at the junction of these halls is the world-famous double spiral staircase, by which people can ascend and descend simultaneously without being visible to each other. It is built up in a cage of stone (p. 621 G), crowned with a storeyed lantern which forms the central feature of the exterior (pp. 621 A, F, 622 A). There is much waste of space, as rectangular rooms are formed in the circular towers. This remarkable pile has many Gothic features clothed with Renaissance detail, and a vertical Gothic effect is produced by wall pilasters with unique carved capitals (p. 643 C, F), and angle towers with domes or with conical roofs (p. 621 A) ; while the high-pitched roof with ornate dormers (p. 643 H) and lofty chimneys (p. 621 B, E) combine to make the variegated sky-line of one of the most typical of early French Renaissance buildings (p. 622 A). It may be contrasted with the palace at Caprarola by Vignola.

The Palais de Fontainebleau (A.D. 1528) (p. 622 B), the favourite residence of Francis I, was designed in the first instance by Le Breton on the site of a convent, and has subsequent extensions by Vignola and Serlio, which account for its irregular plan. Unlike the Chateau de Blois, the exterior is remarkably plain and ineffective in composition, and the palace depends for most of its attraction on the lay-out of its formal gardens, terraces, lakes, and radiating vistas, while the chief interest lies in the architectural features of the interior (p. 643 A, B, D, E) and in the sumptuous saloons decorated by Benvenuto Cellini, Primaticcio, and Serlio (p. 620).

The Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau (A.D. 1520), the Chateau de Chenonceaux (A.D. 1515–23), picturesquely situated on a bridge over the lake, with a characteristic doorway (p. 643 G), and the Chateau de S. Germainen-Laye (A.D. 1539) are all in the transitional style.

The Palais du Louvre, Paris (A.D. 1546–1878) (pp. 623, 624), continued in course of construction from the time of Francis I to Napoleon III in the nineteenth century, and thus exhibits a complete history of the progressive stages of French Renaissance art carried out in successive periods (p. 623 E). The Louvre, together with the Tuileries, constituted one of the most imposing palaces in Europe, and enclosed an area of over 45 acres. Pierre Lescot (A.D. 1515–78) was employed by Francis I to design a palace in the new style on the site of the old Gothic chateau which occupied the south-west quarter of the present court, and he commenced the west side of the Renaissance palace (A.D. 1546) (p. 623 E). The facade of this early design consists of two storeys with Corinthian and Composite pilasters surmounted by an attic storey, and is enriched with beautiful sculptured detail by Jean Goujon (A.D. 1510–72) (pp. 623 A, B, 624 A). Catherine de' Medici continued Lescot's design round the south of the court, and conceived the idea of connecting the Louvre and the Palais des Tuileries by a gallery along the Seine, a scheme which was not completed till some 300 years later. Henry IV, who was the last monarch to live in the Louvre, instructed Du Cerceau to erect (A.D. 1600–9) the gallery facing the Seine, in which pilasters including two storeys were surmounted by alternately triangular and segmental pediments, but this was remodelled under Napoleon III (A.D. 1860–65). Louis XIII, with Cardinal Richelieu, enlarged the original scheme, and in A.D. 1624 the north and east sides of the old chateau were pulled down. Lemercier then commenced the present court, which, measuring 400 ft. square, is four times the area of the Mediaeval court, but he only completed (A.D. 1624–54) the north-west part, including the Pavillon de 1' Horloge, which became the centre of the enlarged facade on the west. Louis XIV, with Cardinal Mazarin, commissioned Le Vau to complete the north, east, and south sides of the enlarged court (A.D. 1650–64), and with his minister, Colbert, employed Claude Perrault to erect (A.D. 1667–74) the eastern external colonnade, and a pilaster treatment was then carried round part of the north and south external facades. This eastern facade (p. 624 B), probably suggested to Perrault by Bernini, is of a much more monumental character than the court facades. It is 600 ft. in length, and consists of a solid-looking basement which supports a colonnade of coupled Corinthian columns, stretching between the pedimented centre-piece and the side wings, instead of the usual and more effective pavilion blocks. As Perrault's design was higher than the portions already erected, a third Order was now substituted for the attic storey on the east side and on the eastern half of north and south sides of the court, which, as completed with the three storeys of Orders (p. 623 B), contrasts with the portion with two storeys and an attic as designed by Lescot. The courtyard of the Ospedale Maggiore, Milan (p. 572), is the only one in Italy that is comparable to the completed court of the Louvre. There is, however, this striking national difference, that, whereas the Italian cortile has open colonnades in two storeys, the arcading in the French version is only on the surface of the walls.

In A.D. 1675 the work was suspended, as Louis XIV was directing his energies to his palace at Versailles, and very little appears to have been done to the building until Napoleon I employed Percier and Fontaine to continue the Order to the third storey on the western half of the north and south sides of the court, and a small portion at the north-east angle of the Place Louis Napoleon. Between A.D. 1806 and 1813 the same architects commenced the north wing from the Pavillon de Marsan to the Pavillon de Rohan, to connect the Louvre to the Palais des Tuileries, but this wing lost its significance when the latter was destroyed. Napoleon III conceived the idea of effecting a satisfactory junction between the Louvre and the Tuileries, and in order to mask the converging sides of the connecting wings he employed (A.D. 1850–57) Visconti and Lefuel to erect the building known as the " Nouveau Louvre " on the north and south of the Place Louis Napoleon. Lefuel refaced (A.D. 1860–78) the Pavilion de Fiore and the adjacent wing towards the Seine, and also the Pavillon de Marsan and a small portion adjacent, and at the same time the facing of the north wing fronting the Rue de Rivoli was taken in hand. The Pavilion de l'Horloge (pp.623 A, 624 A), designed by Lemercier, is a fine composition, obviously derived from the high towers of the Mediaeval period, and gave the keynote for the subsequent Pavilion Turgot (p. 623 c) and the Pavilion Richelieu (p. 623 D), which form most pleasing specimens of modern French architecture in which dignity is combined with picturesqueness.

The Palais des Tuileries, Paris (A.D. 1564–1680) (p. 623 E), was commenced for Catherine de' Medici by Philibert de l' Orme, who, however, only erected a domical central pavilion, flanked by low wings (A.D. 1564–70). A wing was added (A.D. 1570–92) by Jean Bullant, and further extensions were begun by Du Cerceau (A.D. 1600-9), but not completed till A.D. 1680 by Le Vau and D'Orbay. The Palace was rich in historical associations, especially in connection with the overthrow of the French monarchy in A.D. 1792, and from the time of Napoleon I, who erected the Arc du Carrousel to serve as a monumental entrance, it was the constant residence of the French rulers, till its destruction by the Communists in A.D. 1871. There is a small portion of the facade in the Tuileries gardens.

The Palais du Luxembourg, Paris (A.D. 1615–24) (p. 625), was erected by de Brosse for Marie de' Medici in the bold and simple style of her native city of Florence. The plan (p. 625 E) is of the recognised French type, and consists of a one-storeyed building with " porte-cochere," two-storeyed side wings for service and stabling, and the three-storeyed " corps de logis " forming a court, 240 ft. by 190 ft. The Palace is now used as the Senate House.

The Chateau de Maisons, near Paris (A.D. 1642–50) (p. 625), was designed by Francois Mansard on a symmetrical E-plan with central entrance and twin oval-shaped side vestibules. It is notable externally for the effective use of the Classic Orders and the high roofs, with prominent chimney-stacks, of the three pavilions, and internally for the refinement of detail of the balustraded stairs, carved chimney-pieces, and ornamented ceilings.

The Faiths de Versailles (A.D. 1661–1756) was erected for Louis XIV by Le Van, who designed a palace round the old. hunting chateau (A.D. 1624–26) erected by de Brosse for Louis XIII. Louis XIV later employed Jules Hardouin Mansard to extend the palace north and south, so as to form a building of over a quarter of a mile long. Other portions were added (A.D. 1756) by Gabriel for Louis XV. The park facade (p. 6z6 A) is remark-able for the uniformity and tameness of the three-storeyed facade, which has a rusticated ground storey supporting an Order of pilasters crowned by a high attic and a balustrade concealing the roof, producing a monotonous effect, devoid of interest and without any attempt to break the skyline. The sumptuous apartments form in themselves a veritable museum of the decorative art of the period. The magnificent " Galerie des Giaces " (p. 626 B), by Mansard, is 240 ft. long by 34 ft. wide and 43 ft. high, and may be compared with the Galerie d'Apollon at the Louvre. Decorated by Le Brun in A.D. 168o, its walls are ornamented with Corinthian pilasters of green marble, supporting an entablature surmounted by trophies, and a fine ornamental vault with painted panels representing the apotheosis of " Le Roi Soleil." This royal residence is typical of the period to which it belongs, both in the magnitude of its lay-out and in the enormous expenditure in money and labour which it involved. The magnificent formal gardens laid out by Le Notre, on axial'lines cleverly manipulated to give vistas of avenues and water canals, are liberally adorned with fountains, terraces, and arbours, set off with statues and vases in the antique style (p. 629 D, F). This ostentatious palace and pleasure garden was at once the expression of the irresponsible extravagance of " Le Grand Monarque " and the aggravation of popular discontent. Its later historical significance lies in the fact that here (A.D. 1871) King William of Prussia was proclaimed German Emperor, and in 1919 the Germans were forced to sign the peace terms required by the Allied Nations.

The Petit Trianon, Versailles (A.D. 1762–68) (pp. 629, 63o), erected by Louis XV for Madame Dubarry, was a favourite residence in later years of Marie Antoinette. The entrance facade (p. 629 A) is a typical example of late French Renaissance, with its rusticated basement and its upper storeys included in one Order of Corinthian pilasters. The salon (p. 63o A) is also a typical example of the Louis XV period, with its panelled walls, large mirrors, double doors, consoled chimney-piece, coved ceiling, and elaborate chandelier, while the chairs and the table with its Hermes legs complete this interesting interior.

There are also throughout France, both in town and country, numerous Renaissance buildings of varying degrees of importance, such as the House of Agnes Sorel, Orleans, the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, Rouen, and the Hotel de Ville, Beaugency, a beautiful instance of municipal architecture.


The earliest indications of Renaissance in France, as in England, occur in sepulchral monuments, pulpits, portals, and fittings of existing Gothic churches, such as the Tomb of Louis XII (A.D. 1515) in S. Denis Cathedral (p. 63o c), the Tomb of the Cardinals d'Amboise, Rouen (p. 63o B), the portals of La Trinite, Falaise, the external pulpit at the Chateau de Vitre and the apses of S. Pierre, Caen.

S. Eustache, Paris (A.D. 1532) (p. 633 A), by Lemercier, is planned like a five-aisled Mediaeval church with apsidal end, high roofs, window tracery, flying buttresses, pinnacles, and deeply recessed portals, all clothed with Renaissance detail, and is a remarkable evidence of how the Mediaeval plan lingered on into the Renaissance period.

S. Etienne du Mont, Paris (A.D. 1517–38) (p. 633 B), is on similar lines, with nave piers crowned with Doric-like capitals supporting ribbed vaulting, and there is an unusual ambulatory above the nave arcade. The famous Jube or rood screen has double staircases with ornate balustrades carved with Renaissance detail by the highly skilled masons of the period. The centre of the facade, added in A.D. 1620, has an entrance doorway framed with Composite columns, supporting an entablature and sculptured pediment. Above is a circular window with quasi-Gothic tracery, crowned with a steep-pitched gable to the nave, while beyond is a lofty tower.

The Church of the Sorbonne, Paris (A.D. 1635–59) (p. 634 A), was designed for Cardinal Richelieu by Lemercier, with a facade of the usual arrangement of superimposed Orders, crowned by a pediment and connected to the aisles by deep consoles, while behind rises a fine dome, 40 ft. internal diameter.

The Church of the Val de Grace, Paris (A.D. 1645–50), by Francois Mansard, formerly attached to a monastery, now forms part of the Military Hospital. The exterior (p. 634 B), which has some resemblance to the Church of the Sorbonne, has a fine projecting portal, and the aisles are connected to the nave by consoles, while in the distance rises the massive dome, which forms the central feature of the group. The interior, with wide nave flanked by piers faced with Corinthian pilasters, vaulted roof and dome (56 ft. diameter), and saucer domes, undoubtedly influenced Sir Christopher Wren in his design for S. Paul's, London.

SS. Paul and Louis, Paris (A.D. 1627-41), a typical Baroque Jesuit church, florid in character, has a lofty nave and galleried aisles. The dome is one of the earliest in Paris, and the three-storeyed facade is characteristically overloaded with decoration.

S. Sulpice, Paris (A.D. 1650) (p. 633 c), designed by Le Van, is a church of vast size, with no less than eighteen chapels, and with domical vaulting borne by Corinthian columns. The famous facade (A.D. 1733–45) (p. 633 c), designed by Servandoni, is 205 ft. wide and forms a great two-storeyed narthex screen with superimposed Doric and Ionic Orders flanked by towers.

The Dome of the Invalides, Paris (A.D. 1706) (pp. 635, 636 B), by Jules Hardouin Mansard, completed the scheme of the Hotel des Invalides, commenced by Bruant in A.D. 1670, and is one of the most impressive Renaissance domes in France (p. 636 B). It has an internal diameter of 90 ft. 9 ins., and is placed over the centre of a Greek cross plan, resting on four piers in which openings lead by steps to four angle chapels (p. 635 B) which fill in the angles of the cross, making a square of 198 ft. externally. It has a high drum with coupled columns and lofty windows, and the dome proper is triple in construction (p. 635 c). The inner dome, 175 ft. high, has a wide central opening, through which are seen the painted decorations of the middle dome, lighted by windows at its base. The external dome is framed of timber covered with lead, and crowned by a high lantern and cross, rising to a height of 350 ft. The construction differs considerably from that of S. Paul's, London (p. 719), where an intermediate brick cone supports the external stone lantern.

The Pantheon, Paris (A.D. 1755–81) (pp. 634 C, 635, 636 A), erected from designs by Soufflot, has a fine portico with unusual arrangement of columns leading to the main building, which is a Greek cross on plan (p. 635 D). The four piers which support the central dome were originally so slight as to threaten the stability of the structure, and were afterwards strengthened by Rondelet. The dome, 69 ft. in diameter, is triple in construction (p. 635 E), as in the Invalides, but has an outer dome of stone covered with lead (p. 634 c). The interior (p. 636 A) owes much of its elegance to the unusually slender piers, the fine Corinthian columns, and the large clear-story windows, invisible externally (p. 635 F), surmounted by the domical vaulting. The general effect has recently been enhanced by the coloured frescoes of foremost French artists. The exterior (p. 634 c) is striking by reason of its magnificent hexastyle portico of Corinthian columns, thrown into relief by the unbroken, windowless walls, whose only decoration is a continuous entablature with carved festoons. The graceful dome is some-what marred by the appearance of weakness in the free-standing columns round the lofty drum—a defect avoided by the unerring genius of Wren in designing the dome of S. Paul's Cathedral (p. 720).

The Madeleine, Paris (A.D. 1804) (p. 636 c), was designed by Vignon in imitation of an octastyle peripteral Roman temple, 350 ft. by 147 ft., with a " cella " or nave divided into three bays, covered by saucer domes with central openings for lighting the church, which has a most impressive interior, while the apse at the sanctuary end has a semi-dome. The imposing exterior depends largely for its effect upon its island site, which is further accentuated by the podium, 23 ft. high, on which the building stands, and by the magnificent rise of the approach up the wide expanse of steps. The Corinthian columns of the grand surrounding peristyle are built up in thin drums; the joints of which somewhat confuse the lines of the fluting. This peristyle supports an entablature in which the architrave is formed of voussoirs instead of a series of horizontal lintels, and the principal pediment has a sculptured tympanum.

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