Soufflot, Jacques-Germain

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Soufflot, Jacques-Germain (1713–80). French Neo-Classical architect. He studied in Rome (1731–8) before settling in Lyons where he built the Hôtel-Dieu (1739–48), the Loge du Change (1747–50), and the Théâtre (1751–6—destroyed 1826) which made his reputation. The last, with its relationship between stage and auditorium, was an important paradigm for later developments. He was a respected theorist too, and after a further nine-month visit to Italy (1750–1), he was able to demonstrate his knowledge of Classical antiquities, notably with his up-to-date reports on the latest archaeological discoveries at Herculaneum and elsewhere. This important Italian study-visit, which he undertook as part of the entourage of Abel-François Poisson de Vandières (1727–81), later Marquis de Marigny, and brother of Madame de Pompadour (1721–64), was highly significant in the history of French architecture, for it marked a change away from the Rococo of Louis Quinze to the Neo-Classicism of Louis Seize (apart from investigating Pompeii and Herculaneum, Soufflot was one of the first to continue his journey south to Paestum, where he made drawings of the Greek Doric temples from which Dumont made engravings published as Suite de plans de trois temples antiques à Paestum (1764) ). Marigny (Directeur-Général des Bâtiments du Roi from 1751 to 1773) called Soufflot to Paris in 1755, where he was made Contrôleur des Bâtiments du Roi au Département de Paris, and given the task of designing the new Church of Ste-Geneviève, the first great building of French Neo-Classicism. A Greek cross on plan, the nave and aisles were defined by rows of Corinthian columns carrying a continuous entablature over which light domes and vaults rose. Soufflot's pupil, Maximilien Brébion (1716–96—who carried out Soufflot's designs for the drum and dome over the crossing from 1780), wrote that in building the church Soufflot had reunited, under one of the most beautiful forms, the lightness of construction found in Gothic churches with the purity and magnificence of Greek architecture. With its great Roman temple-front, elegant columned drum and dome over the crossing, and rational geometry it made a great impact, and was much admired by Laugier as a seminal example of perfection in architecture. The gravitas of the Antique was eloquently expressed, especially in the severe crypt, where the impact of the Greek Doric Order from Paestum is clear. The Church was secularized in 1791, and altered under Quatremère de Quincy to become the Panthéon, with the character of a mausoleum(e.g. the lower windows were blocked up, so that the outer walls were blank—Summerson saw this as a strengthening of the building because the ‘factor of safety proved too low’, which is a misinterpretation). Soufflot also designed de Marigny's own house in the Faubourg du Roule (from 1769), and various fabriques (including a fine nymphaeum) at the Château de Ménars (from 1764), in a dessicated Neo-Classical style. He also designed the sacristy at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris (1756–60).


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Jacques Germain Soufflot

views updated Jun 11 2018

Jacques Germain Soufflot

The French architect Jacques Germain Soufflot (1713-1780) was in the forefront of those responsible for launching the neoclassic movement that was to sweep over Europe in the early 19th century.

Jacques Germain Soufflot was born in Irancy, Yonne, on July 22, 1713. After briefly studying law in Paris, he traveled to Italy, where his interest turned irrevocably to architecture, and in 1733 he was admitted to the French Academy in Rome. He was in Lyons by 1739, where he published a book on St. Peter's.

Soufflot's design for the enormous Hôtel Dieu (1742) in Lyons made his name known in Paris and brought him to the attention of the influential Marquis de Marigny, brother of Madame de Pompadour and later directeur des bâtiments. In 1750 Soufflot accompanied Marigny to Italy, where they examined the recent excavations at Herculaneum and measured the Greek temples at Paestum; the architect's Suite de plans de trois temples àPéstum was published in 1764.

Soufflot also appreciated the Gothic style, whose structural qualities he particularly admired. His paper De l'architecture Gothique, read in 1742, reveals an awareness of the Gothic structural lightness and soaring elegance, which he wished to apply to buildings cast in the classic mode.

Although Soufflot built two town houses in Paris and several garden pavilions at Ménars for Marigny, these architectural accomplishments pale beside his imaginative design for the church of Ste-Geneviève (now the Panthéon) in Paris; begun in 1756, it was finished in 1792, 12 years after his death in Paris on Aug. 29, 1780. The structure was the first of its kind in France to convey a true feeling of Roman classicism. The hugely scaled hexastyle Corinthian portico was inspired by the Temple at Baalbek or the Roman Pantheon. The peripheral walls are starkly simple, the only embellishment being a continuous entablature with a carved frieze of decorative festoons. The building is a Greek cross in plan; its multidomes recall the disposition of St. Mark's in Venice and St-Front at Périgueux. The interior provides a sense of monumental ordered elegance and a certain "sublime simplicity" much sought after in the subsequent neoclassic movement. A multitude of colossal but slender Corinthian columns conveys, however, something of the lightness of the Gothic idiom.

Most unusual is the treatment of the vast dome, which, though inspired by St. Peter's in Rome and more particularly by St. Paul's in London by Sir Christopher Wren, rests not on the usual heavy piers but on daringly light supports. Although they were later reinforced by his pupil Jean Baptiste Rondelet, the original delicate piers must have produced a feeling of airy fantasy akin to that of the works of Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

Further Reading

There is no biography of Soufflot in English. Material on his life and work is in William Henry Ward, The Architecture of the Renaissance in France (1911; 2d ed. 1926), and Reginald Blomfield, A History of French Architecture from the Death of Mazarin till the Death of Louis XV, 1661-1774 (2 vols., 1921). A brief appraisal of Soufflot's work is in Emil Kaufmann, Architecture in the Age of Reason (1955). □

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Jacques Germain Soufflot

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