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Louis Le Vau

Louis Le Vau

The French architect Louis Le Vau (1612-1670) was one of the creators of the French classical style, which dominated the academic architecture of the 17th century.

Louis Le Vau was born in Paris, the son of a master mason of the same name. By 1639 he was a successful architect whose interests centered on developing île Saint-Louis as a residential area. There he designed town houses for a number of wealthy patrons, including Sainctot, Hesselin, Gillier, Gruyn des Bordes, and Jean Baptiste Lambert. The Hôtel Lambert reveals the architect to be a brilliant innovator in adjusting an imaginative plan to a highly irregular site. He also designed country residences. Before 1645 he built the château of Livry, later named Le Raincy (destroyed in the French Revolution).

In 1654, with his appointment as first architect to the king, Le Vau was catapulted into the limelight. Three years later he received from Nicolas Fouquet the important commission for the château of Vaux-le-Vicomte. The building and its garden complex outshone in splendor all others of the day. The grouping and the contrasts of shape within the heavy masses of the building, monumental in scale, assure an impressive visual effect. In general, Le Vau was more interested in an overall effect of grandiosity than in properly applying the classical idiom to structural problems.

Particularly noteworthy at Vaux is the great central oval salon facing on the gardens; it represents the culmination of a novel idea employed at Le Raincy, where a similar form governed the shape of the principal section of the building. Le Vau collaborated closely at Vaux with the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun and the landscape architect André Le Nôtre.

During the 1660s Le Vau was occupied largely with royal projects. In his capacity as first architect he made additions to the château of Vincennes, designed the hospital of La Salpêtrière, reworked the facade of the Tuileries, rebuilt the Louvre's Galerie d'Apollon, which had been destroyed by fire in 1661, and designed and erected the new south wing of the Louvre. He also executed a plan for an additional wing for the Louvre facing St-Germain-I'Auxerrois, but it was rejected by Jean Baptiste Colbert; the final design of this facade (the Colonnade) appears to have been a collaborative effort of Le Vau, Le Brun, and Claude Perrault.

From 1661 until his death Le Vau worked sporadically at Versailles. Initially his work was confined to altering the château built by Louis XIII in 1624. Later he added service the I wings to the sides of the forecourt, and after 1668 he created his famous "envelope," which completely cloaked the garden facade of the older structure in magnificent, monumentally scaled classical dress. The grand staircase, or Escalier des Ambassadeurs, designed by Le Vau, was constructed after his death by François d'Orbay, Le Vau's constant collaborator. The staircase (destroyed in the 18th century) was considered one of the most impressive in Europe. The decorative scheme was planned by Le Brun.

One of Le Vau's most enduring contributions was his design (1660s) for the Collège des Quatre Nations (today the Institut de France) in Paris. Executed after his death by D'Orbay, it is unique to France in embodying in its plan and elevation many of the principles of Roman baroque architecture as practiced by Pietro da Cortona and Francesco Borromini. The design reflects Le Vau's constant quest for visual grandeur.

Further Reading

Le Vau has been neglected by architectural historians. Hence, the definitive study of his life and works has yet to be written. Presently the best reference to his architecture is the general study of French art by Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700 (1954; 2d ed. 1970). □

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Vau, Louis Le

Vau, Louis Le (1612–70). French Baroque architect. With a team of decorators, sculptors, gardeners, and painters he was largely responsible for creating the Louis Quatorze style at the great palace of Versailles from 1667. His earliest buildings were Parisian hôtels particuliers, notably the fine Hôtel Lambert on the Île-St-Louis (1639–44), where he created a formal staircase leading to a landing flanked by an octagonal vestibule on one side, and, on the other, an elliptical vestibule leading to a long gallery terminating in a bowwindow affording views over the Seine. In 1656 he began Vaux-le-Vicomte, a great château for Nicolas Fouquet (1615–80), with interiors decorated by Charles Lebrun (1619–90) and others. It incorporated a grand vestibule and stair, with a domed saloon behind partly projecting on the garden-front, the whole set in formal gardens designed by le Nôtre. Le Vau and Lebrun rebuilt the Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre, Paris (1661–4), and, with Perrault, designed the celebrated east front of the Louvre (1665–74—a harbinger of C18 Classicism) so admired by Wren and others. At the Collège des Quatre Nations, Paris (1661–74—now the Institut de France), with a pedimented front (behind which rises a tall cupola) flanked by two quadrants terminating in pavilions facing the Seine (so the composition has a concave façade contained by the wings), Le Vau demonstrated a strong affinity with Italian Baroque, and possible influences from Bernini and Borromini. The front and pavilions are graced by Giant Orders, and the quadrants by subservient superimposed Orders. His most ambitious work, however, was at Versailles, where he remodelled and expanded the château. Le Vau's new garden-front can still be seen, although considerably altered and extended by Hardouin-Mansart. At Versailles and the Collège des Quatre Nations he was assisted by François d' Orbay, who probably contributed to the overall design.

Bibliography

Architectura, vi/1 (1976), 36–46;
Ballon (1999);
Blunt (1982);
Bordier (1998);
GdBA lxiv (1964), 285–96, 347–62, cii (1983), 193–207;
Hautecœur (1948);
Laprade (1960);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Jane Turner (1982);
D. Watkin (1986)

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Le Vau, Louis

Louis Le Vau (lwē lə vō), 1612–70, French architect, involved in most of the important building projects for Louis XIV. He settled on the Île Saint-Louis, where he built his own house and the Hôtels Lambert and Lauzun. In 1655, Le Vau succeeded Jacques Lemercier as architect for the Louvre, on which he collaborated with Claude Perrault. He designed the palace of Versailles, where he worked with Lebrun, creating a nucleus later completed by J. H. Mansart. Among his other designs are the château of Vaux-le-Vicomte; the Collège des Quatre Nations, Paris, now the Institut de France; and the Church of St. Sulpice, Paris, the facade of which was later built by Servandoni.

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Le Vau, Louis

Le Vau, Louis (1612–70) French architect. Inspired by contemporary Italian Baroque buildings, Le Vau evolved a classic 17th-century French style, seen most spectacularly in his designs for the Palace of Versailles (1669–85).

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Le Vau, Louis

Le Vau, Louis (1612–70). See Vau.

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