Architecture in France in the Seventeenth Century

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Architecture in France in the Seventeenth Century

A Century of Greatness.

The later sixteenth century had been a time of great troubles in France, with religious and civil wars threatening on many occasions to tear the country apart. The accession of Henri IV (r. 1589–1610) paved a way for an era of greater peace and stability. Henri's conversion to Catholicism in 1593, and the granting of a limited degree of religious toleration to French Protestants through the Edict of Nantes (1598) were both controversial measures at the time. Yet both royal actions provided a foundation for France's relative domestic peace and stability in the seventeenth century. Although Henri IV was to die the victim of an assassin's dagger in 1610, France weathered this crisis and did not return to the chaotic civil conflict of the kind that had raged in the sixteenth century. As a result, the seventeenth century saw a period of unprecedented growth in royal power and authority, a growth reflected in the architecture of the period. The new political goals and ideology of the age have frequently been called absolutism, meaning that the king was the sole source of political authority in the realm. In practical terms, this meant that seventeenth-century French kings aimed to strengthen their power by reforming the government's finances and administration, by weakening the local control of the country's nobles, and by enlarging French territory and the country's role on the international scene through military engagements. The emerging Baroque style in architecture provided an ideal way in which to express the enhanced power of France's royal government, and for much of the seventeenth century it was the city of Paris that benefited architecturally from the wealth and resources that France's new stability afforded. In Paris, the seventeenth-century French monarchy supported a number of new projects that made use of the developing tenets of Baroque design. At the same time the Baroque in Paris re-interpreted the dramatically imaginative and irregular spaces Italian designers favored so that monuments built in Paris during the seventeenth century displayed a more severely classical, if no less monumental imprint.

Paris in the Seventeenth Century.

In 1600 Paris was one of continental Europe's largest cities. Although the developments that most tourists associate today with Paris—the city of attractive squares, public monuments, and grand boulevards—were largely creations of the nineteenth century, Paris was still one of Europe's fastest growing seventeenth-century cities, and one that was beginning to be shaped by the techniques of urban planning. At the time, new districts and suburbs were continually being opened up for settlement, and many projects undertaken in these areas anticipated, if on a smaller scale, the grand Paris of modern times. A growing willingness, too, to attack and surmount the problems that nature presented is evident in many of the projects undertaken during the Baroque period. Two districts—the Marais and the Île Saint-Louis—show the appetite that existed for land for development close to the heart of the city. Though they were less-than-ideal sites, their proximity to the medieval core of Paris made them prime locations for townhouses for the city's nobles and wealthy burghers. The Marais—meaning literally "swamp" or "marshland"—lay directly east of Paris's early medieval walls. During the Middle Ages, the Knights Templar and several other religious orders had drained the area of its swamps, and set up religious houses in the district. Eventually, the area was brought within the town's walls, and Paris's Jews were allowed to settle there. In the fourteenth century, two royal residences were built at the north and south edges of the district, making the Marais a center of artistic and cultural life in the later Middle Ages. By the late sixteenth century, though, much of the Marais was still susceptible to flooding, and its previous medieval and Renaissance glory had languished as the court had again taken up residence in the Louvre. Henri IV decided to reinvigorate the area, and he devised a plan to construct Paris's first purpose-built square, the Place Royale, later known as the Place des Vosges. Plans for the area had already been set down during the time of Catherine de' Medici in the 1560s but, given the turbulence of the later sixteenth century in France, they had not been undertaken. In 1603, Henri began to sell plots to buyers who agreed to construct their houses along the predetermined designs for the site. The result produced one of Europe's most dignified and attractive city squares, a site that has changed little since the seventeenth century. The houses of the Place des Vosges were constructed from stucco and brick. Facing inward toward the square, the buildings were united by a single continuous colonnaded arcade with the projecting stories of the houses that lay above providing shelter from the elements. On both sides of the square, two taller and larger houses were reserved for the king's and queen's use, while the other houses cannot be distinguished from one another, except by looking at the lines of the mansard, or steeply pitched, roofs. Elaborate festivities commemorated the inauguration of the site in 1612, and the square quickly became a favorite for nobles and wealthy burghers who served the court. By the mid-seventeenth century, Henri IV's foresight had reinvigorated the Marais as the center of Parisian life and culture. In the mid-to late century one of its more famous residents was Madame de Sevigné, a noblewoman and author of a voluminous correspondence with her daughter, one of the most revealing records of upper-class French life at the time.


introduction: During the early years of Louis XIV's reign the king was constantly involved with new architectural projects as a way of enhancing his own kingly status. Later, the king decided to shower most of his attentions on the Palace of Versailles. But in the years just after he emerged from his minority, he concentrated more on quantity than quality.

However, the young king had not as yet made any definite choice of his favourite place. He was building, enlarging and making alternations nearly everywhere, even in Paris which he had never liked since the Fronde. It was his firm belief that glory and reputation were also to be gained by magnificent buildings. In January 1664 he made his Intendant of Finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Superintendent of Buildings as well. But as early as 1661, he had already acquired the unrivalled team of men who had built Vaux for Fouquet: Le Nôtre, Le Vau, Lebrun, the 'engineers' of the waterworks and even the orange trees. Very soon he had repairs, enlargements and new buildings going on practically everywhere: at Fontainebleau, Vincennes, Chambord and Saint-Germain with its marvellous terrace. With the Pope's permission he brought Bernini from Rome to complete the Louvre in the Italian style but then changed his mind and chose Claude Perrault whose colonnade was begun in 1667. Also in Paris, the portes Saint-Denis and Saint-Martin, the Collège Mazarin, the Observatory and the Invalides were gradually taking shape. Versailles to begin with had been turned from a hunting lodge into a park and pleasure gardens. Groves, a labyrinth, grottos, a lake and waterways, the first ornamental and allegorical statues, the first fleets of boats and the first menageries were all designed by Le Nôtre. The house itself was scarcely touched. Le Vau, who wanted to pull it down, was obliged to be satisfied with padding it out a little while one of the earliest follies in the shape of a Chinese pavilion, the porcelain Trianon, was built at a little distance. In 1670, much against Colbert's wishes, Louis decided to move in. In 1671 it was decided to transform the neighbouring hamlet into a royal town. But Le Vau was dead, leaving countless plans behind him, and others were to build the Versailles of the king's mature years. Le Nôtre, too, redesigned his park.

Like Colbert and the learned Chapelain, Louis considered that buildings alone were not enough for his glory. All the arts, letters and sciences must come together, as in the time of Augustus, to glorify his person and his reign, and all naturally, in perfect order and obedience.

source: Pierre Goubert, Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen. Trans. Anne Carter (New York: Random House, 1970): 80–81.

The Île Saint-Louis.

Only a few years after the death of Henri IV, his wife, the regent Marie de' Medici, undertook a similarly ambitious project on a long-neglected island adjacent to the Marais in the Seine. At the time, the island was known as the Île Notre Dame, since it had once belonged to the canons of Notre Dame and lay directly beside the city's cathedral on the Île de la Cité, the heart of medieval Paris. The Île Notre Dame had long served as pasture land and a place where Paris's washerwomen beat clothes on the river shores. The island's dubious notoriety had also been sustained by its venerable status as a dueling ground. Low lying, the area was regularly subjected to flooding, and a channel dug through it in the fourteenth century cut one side of it off from the other. It was, in fact, a poor site for a residential quarter, although the aplomb with which these problems were solved suggests some of the ingenuity and determination with which Baroque architects and urban planners aimed to conquer nature. In 1614, the crown awarded the island to a partnership consisting of several military engineers and financiers hired to supervise the filling in of the channel and its development as a residential quarter. The group's finances were always shaky, and a portion of those who had bought land on the island eventually took over the project's control, ensuring that, by 1650, the channel between the two parts of the island had been filled in and that a series of quays 32 feet high now kept the river at bay. On this safe surface above the Seine, grand rows of townhouses began to take shape, while a bridge conveniently connected the island with the Marais that lay to the north. On this small site—less than 120,000 square feet—towering town-houses became an undeniable testimony to Paris's wealth and the seventeenth-century's will to surmount nature. The arrangement of these houses, too, points to a changing sensibility among Paris's upper class about the River Seine, a changing sensibility that has defined Parisian life since the seventeenth century. For centuries, the river's role in Paris had been either lamentable or utilitarian. On the one hand, the Seine had been a highway for provisioning the city; on the other, it had been an ever present cause of misfortunes made palpable in perpetual dampness, flooding, and disease. Now on the safe promontory that the island's quays provided, the prominent designers Le Vau, Mansart, and Le Brun built elegant houses for the city's wealthy that looked outwards toward the river. Nature, tamed in the way it had been in the middle of the Seine, now served as an enhancement to real estate.

Other Parisian Ventures.

Attentions similar to those showered on the development of the Marais and the Île Saint-Louis focused elsewhere throughout the city of Paris in the seventeenth century. During the reign of Louis XIII (r. 1610–1643) many of these projects continued along the lines of the Mannerist style that had been popular in late sixteenth-century France, including the construction of the Luxemburg Palace (b. 1615), just outside the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank of the Seine. The palace became home to the Queen Mother Marie de' Medici. Its style, however, was largely traditional and there was as yet little of the elegant garden that eventually so enhanced the palace's rather small scale. Another project of Louis XIII's reign imitated the style of early Baroque newly ascending to popularity in Rome: the construction of the Chapel of the Sorbonne, the university's church designed by the architect Jacques Lemercier and begun in 1635. This domed structure largely copied the Church of San Carlo ai Catinari, completed in Rome in 1620. Cardinal Richelieu, Louis' powerful minister, ensured that this building could be properly seen from its street angle by demolishing a group of medieval buildings that had stood on the site. In flavor, though, the building remains a conservative imitation of the grand Italian style, and nowhere in Paris does one find the kind of daring uses of dramatic and unusual shapes and spaces like those that prevailed in the architecture of Borromini and Guarini in Italy. Instead, the native French Baroque architects of the time looked conservatively to late Renaissance models or to those of the early Baroque, rather than to more innovative designs. Although more conservative in spirit, the buildings of the period nevertheless embraced a monumental scale similar to those being constructed in Italy at the time. Examples of this monumentality can be seen in the new additions and remodeling undertaken at the Palace of the Louvre. This grand structure, the largest urban palace in Europe, was almost continually in a state of repair, refurbishment, and remodeling until the nineteenth century. Renaissance alterations at the site had included the destruction of the medieval tower of the original castle, and the construction of two new wings according to designs set down by Pierre Lescot. These structures were the first truly Renaissance designs in the city of Paris. Slightly later in the sixteenth century, Catherine de' Medici took up residence in the Louvre and began to construct a second enormous building, the Palace of the Tuileries, to the west of the original Louvre complex. Although a mob eventually burnt down that palace during the Revolt of the Paris Commune in 1871, a long Gallery constructed during the reign of Henri IV joined both the Tuileries and Louvre together. Louis XIII and Louis XIV continued to add to the palace, with Louis XIII beginning the construction of the massive Cour Carrée, the square courtyard that was four times larger than the original internal courtyard of the Renaissance palace. This enormous project consumed the efforts of the architect Jacque LeMercier for many years before finally being completed under the direction of Louis Le Vau. By the 1660s, and the reign of Louis XIV, the only major project left at the Louvre included the construction of a new façade for the palace's East Wing, an important part of the entire venture since it faced eastward toward the city of Paris. To complete this project, Louis first imported the Roman architect Bernini, who drew several plans for the site—plans that, if they had been undertaken, might have completely altered the Renaissance appearance of the structure. Not entirely convinced of the wisdom of Bernini's designs, the king's ministers solicited plans from French designers, too, and soon after Bernini's return to Rome, the king selected designs drawn up by the architect Louis Le Vau and Claude Perrault, a physician, scientist, and scholar, as well as a writer on architectural theory.

The Foundations of French Classicism.

The project for the East Wing of the Louvre was of major significance in setting design standards that prevailed in public buildings in France for much of the rest of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While massive in its proportions, the façade's arcade of paired columns rising above a story of simple arched windows suggests a thorough knowledge of Roman temple architecture. The only break in the entablature running across the entire façade is in the single pediment that stands in the center, while at both ends of the structure simple pavilions with three windows, the center one arched in a Palladian manner, complete the structure. The serene and majestic face of the building became a premiere example of French "good taste" in construction. Shortly after the building's completion in 1670, Louis XIV's minister, Colbert, made the bold move of establishing the Royal Academy of Architecture in France, an academic body charged with meeting regularly to discuss and set the canons for public buildings. This body rejected the extravagantly ornamental forms favored by architects like Guarini and Borromini, and instead insisted that the canons of French architecture that had prevailed since the Renaissance should be safeguarded. Usually, the body supported "French restraint" in building as superior to Italian Baroque innovations. In particular, the academy rejected broken pediments and other Italian innovations, and instead insisted on the use of a harmonious and rationally understandable classicism inspired by Antiquity. It generally supported the use of the steep French, or mansard, roof as generally well adapted to the country's northern climate. In addition, the French Academy's influence penetrated into the building industry itself, as it became a body charged with establishing standards for construction and for the materials used in buildings as well as for stipulating correct building practices.


introduction: The Duc de Saint-Simon (1675–1755) was one of the most trenchant observers of the court life of Louis XIV's reign. In his Memoirs, which fill more than 25 thick volumes, he commented on almost every aspect of the life of the nobility, often calling attention to the way that squalor existed side-by-side at court with imposing grandeur. His comments here attack Louis' poor choice of Versailles' site, the violence the king wreaked on nature in his gardens, and the bad taste on display everywhere at the château.

He liked splendour, magnificence, and profusion in everything: you pleased him if you shone through the brilliancy of your houses, your clothes, your table, your equipages.

As for the King himself, nobody ever approached his magnificence. His buildings, who could number them? At the same time, who was there who did not deplore the pride, the caprice, the bad taste seen in them? St. Germains, a lovely spot, with a marvellous view, rich forest, terraces, gardens, and water he abandoned for Versailles; the dullest and most ungrateful of all places, without prospect, without wood, without water, without soil; for the ground is all shifting sand or swamp, the air accordingly bad.

But he liked to subjugate nature by art and money. He built at Versailles, on, on, without any general design, the beautiful and the ugly, the vast and the mean, all jumbled together. His own apartments and those of the Queen, are inconvenient to the last degree, dull, close, stinking. The gardens astonish by their magnificence, but cause regret by their bad taste. You are introduced to the freshness of the shade only by a vast torrid zone, at the end of which there is nothing for you but to mount or descend; and with the hill, which is very short, terminate the gardens. The violence everywhere done to nature repels and wearies us despite ourselves. The abundance of water, forced up and gathered together from all parts, is rendered green, thick, muddy; it disseminates humidity, unhealthy and evident; and an odour still more so.

source: Duc de Saint-Simon, Memoirs, in Louis XIV. Ed. H. G. Judge (London: Longmans, 1965): 48.

From Vaux-le-Vicomte to Versailles.

The foundation of the Royal Academy of Architecture in Paris established the canons of French classicism as normative in public building projects undertaken in the country during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At the same time, the construction of private residences and country châteaux displayed considerable variety as well as a taste for extravagance. One of the most significant of the many country retreats built in this period was the Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, constructed for Louis XIV's chief minister of finance, Nicholas Fouquet. This massive project, perhaps the most comprehensively successful of the many French country châteaux completed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was a collaborative project undertaken by the architect Louis Le Vau, the interior designer Charles Le Brun, and the garden designer André Le Nôtre. Although Vaux-le-Vicomte's extravagance eventually spelled disaster for Fouquet, the structure was important in that it was one of the first highly successful integrations of outdoor landscaping, architecture, and interior design. Seen from its gardens, Vaux embodies many qualities of elegance, particularly its domed central salon adapted from Italian Baroque architecture of the period. Less exuberant than similar palaces constructed in Italy at the time, the structure and its gardens, nevertheless, were the envy of French nobles at the time. Shortly after completing the structure in 1661, its owner, Fouquet, entertained the king and the court at a lavish celebration, which included impressive fireworks and even a specially commissioned comedy written by Molière. Even before the king arrived, however, Fouquet's undoing had been planned. Convinced that Foquet had long embezzled from the royal treasury, Louis accepted his minister's hospitality before imprisoning Fouquet for life two weeks later. The king seized Fouquet's pride, the Château at Vauxle-Vicomte, as well as his other possessions. The extravagant displays that he had seen while in Vaux-le-Vicomte steeled Louis' resolve to punish the extravagant upstart. While at Vaux, though, Louis was so impressed with the quality of the château's garden, its interior decoration, and façades that he recruited the team of designers—Le Vau, Le Brun, and Le Nôtre—to join his service. Within a few years, these three collaborated on the greatest project of the age: the Palace of Versailles.

A Royal Hunting Lodge.

The building that became known as the wonder of the age, Versailles, began as a simple hunting lodge, constructed for the pleasure of Louis XIV's father in 1624. Its rise to prominence as the seat of the French monarchy began in the 1660s for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the restiveness of the country's nobility, which had recently been evidenced in the Fronde of 1648–1653. This series of rebellions of French nobles and parlementarians occurred in and around the city of Paris during Louis XIV's minority. Since he had acceded to the throne when he was only five years old, Louis' government had been largely presided over by his mother, Anne of Austria, and her chief minister, the Italian Cardinal Mazarin. Their actions to strengthen the power of the crown and set royal finances on a firmer footing angered the Parlement of Paris, which rose up in revolt in 1548 and 1549. Slightly later, a faction of nobles rebelled, too, raising an army against the crown and succeeding in driving the king, the Queen Regent, and Cardinal Mazarin from Paris. For a time the city fell under blockade, but the successful quashing of the rebellion actually enhanced royal authority. Although Louis had been only ten years old when these disturbances began, he never seemed to forget his humiliation at the hands of the country's nobles, and his later decision to move his government to Versailles, away from the Parisian nobles, was in large part inspired by the embarrassment of the fronde. With the death of his chief minister Mazarin in 1661, Louis resolved to rule alone, and, particularly, to bring into submission the French nobility. When he first began to visit his father's small hunting lodge at Versailles in the 1660s, though, Louis considered it no more than a place of diversion. To make the site more suitable to royal entertainment, the king enlisted Le Nôtre to design lavish gardens there for court festivities. A few years later, in 1668, Louis decided to extend the small château that stood at the site, adding three large wings constructed from stone rather than the original brick and stucco. With these additions, he completely dwarfed the rather modest structure that had originally stood at the site. In truth, Versailles was always a poor choice for the construction of Louis' ambitious designs. The land was marshy and had to be extensively drained. An inadequate supply of fresh water meant that a complex system of pumps had to be built to bring water miles from the Seine to the château in order to feed its 1,400 fountains as well as its enormous canal. The palace that Louis built had an unyielding symmetry and logic, and this made Versailles a cold and drafty place, where opposing windows and cold marble floors produced many a chill and pain in the joints. Equally unwieldy was the complex and highly contrived court etiquette that developed for the courtiers who attended the king there. Every move of the court and the king had to be choreographed according to an unbending etiquette that lasted long after Louis had died. The king intended these intense displays of court ritual to tame his nobles, to make them into obedient subjects. Curiously, perhaps the only one that Louis showed deference to at Versailles was his father: he carefully preserved his father's original hunting lodge as the core of the château, continuing to build around it for the rest of his life, even though its style was greatly at odds with the Italianate palace that sprang up around it.

The Seat of Government.

The Roman Baroque style of the period heavily influenced the interiors of this palace, although in subsequent alterations, parts of Versailles took on a more classical flavor. The huge structure and its surrounding gardens always remained a hodgepodge of conflicting elements and styles, yet they all curiously adhered to each other by virtue of the palace's overwhelming grandeur and scale. At the center of this structure there was one constant: the king's bedroom, where his rising and going to bed became one of the central rituals of the state. At the height of the society Louis created there, more than 10,000 courtiers were often in attendance at court. During the late seventeenth century, Versailles was almost constantly under construction. Within a decade of the major expansions begun in 1668, a second set of alterations began, this time with the purpose of moving the court and royal government permanently to Versailles. Thus, between 1677 and the transfer of government to Versailles in 1682 a small city sprang up around the palace to serve the king and his courtiers. The king's architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart supervised this second expansion, which included two gigantic wings built at the north and south of the structure. These radiated off at perpendicular angles from the U-shaped block that now stood at the center, and they brought the total width of the palace's front façade to more than 600 yards. Seen from this angle, Versailles remains a not-altogether pleasing construction, although one that nevertheless continues to amaze and confound visitors by its sheer size. It is from the gardens, however, where the palace's design clearly shines. The geometric patterns created by the gardens' many walks and broad avenues and the placement of the fountains and more than 4,000 pieces of sculpture combine to make the palace's enormous garden façade appear strikingly beautiful, even delicate, against the sky. As in the palace proper, the central placement of the king's bedroom and the daily path of the sun from east to west were the major principles around which the gardens were organized. Known as the "Sun King," Louis ensured that this motif of the sun recurred in many other places at Versailles.

Other Constructions.

As Louis and his court settled in Versailles as a permanent residence in the 1680s, even the king began to tire of the elaborate protocol and uncomfortable spaces of his creation. In 1687, he commissioned his chief architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, to build a smaller palace at the far edges of Versailles' garden, where a small village known as Trianon had once stood. This "Marble Trianon" replaced a small Chinese pavilion constructed at the site in the 1670s. Louis intended the Grand Trianon, as it later became known, to be a private retreat, where he might bring ladies from the court for private suppers. The gardens were more informal and the scale of the small palace less forbidding than the great château. Unlike the many-storied creation of Versailles, the Trianon had a single story of family bedrooms and drawing rooms. When completed, the palace had two large wings separated by a marble colonnade. As Louis mended his wayward marital habits later in life, the Trianon took on more the nature of a family house in which the king, his children, and wife might escape the pressures of court life. In these later years the king also constructed Versailles' sumptuous royal chapel, an oval two-storied construction where the king heard Mass from the balcony above. The lines of this high building can be seen today towering above the town façade of Versailles, and even at the time of its construction the chapel was criticized for destroying the view of the palace from the front courtyard. Inside, however, was one of Hardouin-Mansart's most beautiful and restrained creations. Below, a colonnade of Roman-style arches are decorated with simple, yet elegant reliefs, while, above, on the second-story balcony, plain white Corinthian columns support a broad entablature that runs around the structure's oval shape. Simple arched windows emit a striking light into the chapel, whose ceiling is decorated with gilt and murals. The royal chapel was the first freestanding church to be built upon the grounds at Versailles, although five smaller chapels had preceded it. It was completed only in 1710, five years before the king's death. Its light and airy spaces reflect the developing tastes that made Rococo architecture so widely popular among nobles and wealthy city dwellers in France in the early eighteenth century. Still, the overwhelming feeling that the chapel presents is of a restrained classicism, one that since the mid-seventeenth century French architects had been anxious to develop as a native style. Louis reputedly built the structure to satisfy his second wife, the commoner Madame de Maintenon, whose piety was well recognized at the time, and who helped wean Louis away from his self-indulgent nature. Nevertheless, the structure is fully consonant with the aims of Versailles, which were, in large part, to create spaces befitting of a monarch with grand pretensions and a love for the adulation of his subjects. The daily hearing of Mass that occurred within the space was in and of itself one of Versailles' most important rituals.


Even in his own day, Louis XIV's Versailles was often criticized as a palatial stable, and it was attacked for its bad taste and lack of comforts. Yet despite the frequent aesthetic judgments that have been made against the structure from the seventeenth century onward, it is difficult to overestimate Versailles' influence on the palace architecture of Europe during the early eighteenth century. In Germany and central Europe, in particular, where scores of territorial princes competed against one another for political advantage and glory, Versailles came to be widely imitated. A host of smaller Versailles, in other words, soon popped up on the European landscape. The widespread emulation of the French model involved more than just creating public spaces and gardens that imitated Versailles, for courtly taste adopted the elaborate etiquette and rituals that prevailed in the French palace, too. Versailles, in other words, embodied the absolutist and courtly aspirations of the age.

Parisian Developments.

The king's and court's move to Versailles, some fifteen miles southwest of the center of Paris, consumed an inordinate amount of France's state treasury at the time. As a result, few great architectural projects could be completed in France's largest city in the later seventeenth century, although there were several important exceptions. In 1670, Louis founded the Hospital of the Invalids, a home for France's war veterans. Over the years, this complex grew in the western part of the city to accommodate more than 4,000 veterans. A handsome addition to the complex was the construction of its massive, domed church, designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and begun in 1687. At Les Invalides, as it has long been known, Hardouin-Mansart used a design detail, the cut-off ceiling, adopted from the repertory of his uncle François Mansart. In the interior of the high dome, in other words, he included an inner dome that was much lower than the external structure, yet cut off at the top to allow views to the much higher structure above. The result creates an impression of soaring height and a dramatic vista from the floor of the church below. The exterior of this structure, too, makes use of the severe classicism that French designers favored at the time. The project of Les Invalides, taken up in the west of Paris and on the Left rather than the Right Bank of the Seine, also signaled an important shift in the city's population. As the court congregated more and more outside the city at Versailles, the wealthy and cultivated elites that remained began to move from the Marais and other districts on the edge of Paris' medieval core westward, particularly into the regions around St. Germain-des-Pres, an ancient abbey that had once stood on the western fringes of the city. At the end of the seventeenth century the area began to be filled with handsome townhouses. Further south of the heart of medieval and Renaissance Paris, new suburbs began to spring up on the Left Bank, too. This shift in residential development in the city continued throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, making the Left Bank one of the most desirable locations for residences in the city, while leaving the former residential areas of the Right Bank open more and more to commercial development. One final important project begun during the late seventeenth century was the construction of the Place Vendôme, under the direction of the royal architect Hardouin-Mansart. This planned square stood at the time on the Right Bank north and west of the Louvre, in an as yet little settled area. The square had been planned as early as 1685 to accommodate a group of public buildings, but the project stalled because of lack of funds. Eventually, Hardouin-Mansart laid out the square and began to build a series of classical façades, but a royal shortage of funds forced the king to sell the entire project to the city of Paris. At this point, the project languished until the 1720s, when the French king's Scottish financier, John Law, succeeded in precipitating a real-estate boom in and around the square through the skillful sale of stock in its development. From Law's time, the classically inspired square has managed to remain one of the most stylish areas of Paris.


Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France, 1500–1700 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999).

J. S. Held and D. Posner, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Art (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1971).

F. Hartt, Art. A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, 3rd ed. (New York: H. N. Abrams, Inc., 1989).

Vernon Hyde Minor, Baroque and Rococo. Art and Culture (London: Laurence King Publishing, 1999).

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Architecture in France in the Seventeenth Century

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