Mansart, François (1598–1666)

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MANSART, FRANÇOIS (15981666), French architect. The brilliant François Mansart, though praised as the "God of architecture" by the professor and theorist Jacques-François Blondel (Architecture françoise, 17521756), attained the international reputation he deserved only in the mid-twentieth century, thanks to Anthony Blunt. Mansart's buildings synthesized the French and Italian classical heritage in an original and subtle play of volumes and sculpted surfaces. The numerous sketches and alternatives for his projects testify to his irrepressibly fertile imagination. Yet his design process also made him costly and difficult to work with. He was willing to tear down portions of his buildings two and three times during construction. He therefore rarely saw his designs completed, and his surviving buildings are often in fragments or have been greatly altered. The greatest monument to his art consists of approximately forty manuscript drawings that have been preserved.

Mansart's commissions from the royal circle were thwarted or curtailed. His hopes of completely rebuilding the château (residential castle) of Blois for the presumed royal successor Gaston d'Orleans (16081660; brother to Louis XIII) were defeated with the birth of Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) in 1638. Only one wing was completed (16351638). In 16451646 he managed to build only the foundations and the facade, up to the first order (columns and entablatures), for the church of the Valde-Grâce, when the exasperated Anne of Austria (16011666; wife of Louis XIII) replaced him with Pierre Le Muet (15911669). In 1664, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the surintendant des bâtiments (royal superintendent of buildings) solicited Mansart's designs for the expansion of the Louvre and, c. 16641665, for a mausoleum for the Bourbon dynasty at the abbey of St.-Denis. But Colbert soon abandoned Mansart because the latter was unable to settle on one of his multiple proposals.

Most of Mansart's completed buildings are in the area of residential architecture, often built for the new socially ambitious class of financiers and royal officers. These include the châteaus of Balleroy (Normandy, from 1631); Berny (Val-de-Marne, 16231627); Maisons, built for René de Longueil (Île de France, 16411660); Fresnes-sur-Marne (rebuilt by Mansart with the addition of a chapel 16441666); and a series of Parisian hôtels (noble town houses), the Hôtel de la Vrillière (16351650), Hôtel de Jars (1648), Hôtel Guénégaud du Plessis, (expanded 1648c. 1660), and Hôtel Guénégaud-des-Brosses (16511653).

As was typical of architects of his time, Mansart came from a family involved in various building crafts. His father Absalon, who died when François was twelve, was carpenter to the king. François was trained by his brother-in-law Germain Gaultier, an architect and sculptor (and nephew of one of the greatest sculptors of the French Renaissance, Germain Pilon, c. 15251590), and by his uncle Marcel Le Roy, a master mason and civil engineer. Mansart did not travel to Italy, yet his collection of books attests to keen study of ancient monuments and French and Italian architects of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Born the same year as Gian Lorenzo Bernini (15981680) and considered his equal by his French contemporaries, he also shared with his Italian colleague dual sensibilities in both sculpture and architecture.

Mansart's buildings are often formed in overall pyramid-shaped masses, as exemplified by the Parisian churches of the Val-de-Grâce and the Minimes (16571665) or the châteaus of Balleroy and Maisons. Although some compositions did not employ orders (for example, Balleroy or the church of the Visitation, 16321634), Mansart typically used classical orders or ornament, down to the smallest molding, to create a tectonic system, which evoked its support structure and volumes. For example, on the Val-de-Grâce facade, the orders are superimposed vertically, while advancing and receding from pilasters to engaged columns and exquisitely articulating its volumes.

Although he did not invent the mansard roof, it is aptly named after him. Mansart used it to good effect, and it became widespread in his time. The roof's truss system spanned wider building units than would otherwise have been possible. Thus Mansart's Hôtel de Jars (1648) and Louis Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau (16421646) were the first to have double-depth corps de logis (main residential areas of a hôtel), allowing for more complex floor plan, variety in size and function of rooms, and even diagonal axes (as in the Louvre). Mansart designed staircases with particular virtuosity, suspending them from walls with an open well in the center, lit by a ceiling dome.

On a large scale, Mansart was sensitive to the placement of his buildings in their urban context; he proposed forecourts and designed his facades and domes with urban vistas in mind. The low entry wall and elegant classical entrance of the Hôtel de la Vrillière emphasized its placement, unique for its day, on an axis from the street behind it (the rue des Fossées). Mansart's designs of châteaus such as Blois and Maisons influenced the garden designer André Le Nôtre (16131700) by aligning the garden, the château, and the road approaching it in one long axis stretching out to the horizon. Mansart anticipated the collective work of architects and garden designers (for example, at Versailles) in his harmonious integration of building and landscape.

See also Architecture ; City Planning ; Classicism ; France, Architecture in .


Babelon, Jean-Pierre, and Claude Mignot, eds. François Mansart: Le génie de l'architecture. Paris, 1998. New research and original reproductions to supplement the research of Braham and Smith.

Braham, Allan, and Peter Smith. François Mansart. London, 1973. The seminal work on Mansart.

Les Cahiers de Maisons 2728 (Dec. 1999). Special issue on Mansart; conference proceedings by a community of international experts.

Victoria Sanger

Mansart, François

views updated May 29 2018

Mansart, François (1598–1666). Leading French Classical architect. Establishing his own practice by 1624, he evolved a style influenced by de Brosse and du Cerceau. One of his most important works was the Church of the Val-de-Grâce, Paris (from 1645), completed by Lemercier and others when building had reached the nave entablature: the original design was probably a derivation of Palladio's Il Redentore, Venice. One of his earliest works was the Château de Balleroy, near Bayeux, Calvados (c.1626), with single-storey pavilion-wings set in front of a massive central block, the whole composed with assurance. With the Orléans wing, Château de Blois (1635–8), Mansart reached a mature architectural style derived from de Brosse but distinguished by purity of detail giving the building an unfussy Classical dignity. Later elevations were modelled more elaborately, as in his Château de Maisons, near Paris (1642–51), a serene, very French composition, with elliptical rooms set in the projecting wings. Elevations are treated as a regular grid with planes defined by pilasters, unengaged columns, entablatures, and architraves. The centrepiece has three superimposed Orders.

He also designed Ste-Marie-de-la-Visitation, Paris (1632–4), a circular domed church surrounded by small chapels, and prepared designs for a huge domed mausoleum for the Bourbons at St-Denis (1665), complete with chapels set around the main circular space, but this was not realized. However, the design demonstrates that Mansart was an architect of genius: it influenced J. Hardouin-Mansart's dome of the Invalides. Ingenuity and assured geometries were also demonstrated in Mansart's Parisian hôtels, although most of his work has been destroyed. However, his remodelling of the Hôtel Carnavalet (1660–1) survives in part: there he placed rooms all round the court, eliminating the usual wall with gate on the street-frontage. His ambitious schemes for the Louvre (1660s) survive only on paper.


Babelon & Mignot (eds.) (1988);
Blunt (1941, 1982);
B&Smith (1973);
Hautecœur (1948);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Jane Turner (1996)

François Mansart

views updated May 14 2018

François Mansart

François Mansart (1598-1666), one of the first French architects to embrace the ideals of classicism, was an eloquent spokesman for classical restraint, beauty of proportion, and clarity of form.

François Mansart was born in Paris on Jan. 13, 1598. A pupil of Salomon de Brosse, architect of the Luxembourg Palace, Mansart clearly derived his early style from this master. Together they worked on the château of Coulommiers, begun in 1618.

At 25, Mansart was well established and flooded with commissions, mostly from the wealthy officers of the Crown. Among his early works were the châteaux of Berny (1623) and Balleroy (begun 1626). From Gaston d'Orléans, brother of King Louis XIII, he received the important commission for rebuilding the château of Blois. The only part of the vast project executed was the principal corps de logis (1635-1638) with its high-pitched, broken roof of the type popularized by the architect and bearing his name (mansard roof). Of grand simplicity, the facade demonstrates Mansart's knowledgeable use of classical orders, restrained detail, and unusually harmonious proportions.

Mansart designed many town houses in Paris, among the most notable being the Hôtel de la Vrillière (1635) and the Hôtel Le Jars (1648). His best-known domestic structure is the château of Maisons (now Maisons-Lafitte; 1642-1646), built for Renéde Longueil. It reveals the architect's ability to deal with complex series of masses which are ingeniously related to one another so as to create a perfect visual harmony of the whole. The interior staircase, of unique design, mounts in four flights around a square chamber, and the whole space is covered by a dome. The crisp, restrained decoration of the interior is outstanding.

In 1645 Anne of Austria commissioned Mansart to design the church and convent of the Val-de-Grâce in Paris. Possibly inspired by Andrea Palladio's plan of II Redentore in Venice, Mansart's scheme was executed only through the entablatures of the nave and the first story of the facade; Mansart kept changing his original plan and hence was dismissed from the project, which was handed over to Jacques Lemercier. Mansart's obsession for modifying his designs lost him a number of commissions, not the least of which was that for the eastern wing of the Great Court of the Louvre, for which he was asked to submit plans in 1664.

The last decade of Mansart's life saw few significant undertakings. Arrogant and obstinate, he was unwilling to bow to the whims of his potential clients and therefore was virtually ignored by the time of his death in Paris on Sept. 3, 1666. His only solace was the certain realization that he had been instrumental in establishing a pure brand of classicism in France.

Further Reading

A detailed study of Mansart's life and works is provided by Anthony Blunt, François Mansart and the Origins of French Classical Architecture (1941). For a more general knowledge of the architect's work and contribution, Blunt's Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700 (1954; 2d ed. 1970) is adequate. □