Paris – The Louvre

PARIS, which spread rapidly southward at first, was somewhat slower in its north-ward development. Nevertheless, by the time of Philippe Auguste, the Town (La Ville) — the commercial portion north of the river—more than equalled the learned district on the southern side. This central northern region, however, containing the Hôtel de Ville, St. Eustache, and some other important buildings, I purposely postpone to the consideration of the Louvre and its neighborhood, which, though later in date, form the heart and core of Renaissance Paris, — the Paris of François Ier and his splendor-loving successors.

Most of the buildings we have hitherto considered are mediæval and Gothic. The Louvre introduces us at once to a new world,—the world of the Renaissance. The transition is abrupt. In Italy, and especially in Florence, the Renaissance was a natural growth ; in France it was a fashion. It came in, full-fledged, without history or antecedents. To trace its evolution, one must follow it out in detail in Florence and Venice. There, it grows of itself, organically, by gradual stages. But in France, Gothic churches and medieval châteaux give place at once, with a bound, to developed Renaissance temples and palaces. The reason for this fact is, that the French kings, from Charles VIII. onward to Henri IV., were thoroughly Italianate. They fought, travled, and married in Italy, to parts of which they laid claim ; and being closely allied with the Medici and other Italian families, — husbands of Medici wives, sons of Medici mothers, —they introduced at once into France the developed pro-ducts of the Italian Renaissance. At the same time the increased and centralized power of the Crown enabled them to build magnificent palaces, like the Louvre and Fontainebleau ; and to this artificial impulse is mainly due the sudden outburst of art in France under François Ier and his immediate successors.

It is impossible to characterise the Renaissance in a few short sentences. In one aspect, it was a return from Gothicism to classical usage, somewhat altered by the new conditions of life. At first you will probably only notice that in architecture it substituted round arches for pointed, and introduced square doors and windows ; while in other arts it replaced sacred and Christian subjects and treatment by mythological and secular. But, in contrast with mediævalism, it will reveal itself to you by degrees as essentially the dawn of the modern spirit.

The Louvre is the noblest monument of the French Renaissance. From the time of St. Louis onward, the French kings began to live more and more in the northern suburb, the town of the merchants, which now assumed the name of La Ville, in contradistinction to the Cité and the Université. Two of their chief residences here were the Bastille and the Hôtel St. Paul, both now demolished, — one on the place so called, the other between the Rue St. Antoine and the Quai des Célestins. But from a very early period they also possessed a château on the site of the Louvre, and known by the same name, which guarded the point where the wall of Philippe Auguste abutted on the river. François Ier decided to pull down this picturesque turreted mediæval castle, erected by Philippe Auguste and altered by Charles V. He began the construction in its place of a magnificent Renaissance palace, which has ever since been in course of erection. Its subsequent growth, however, is best explained opposite the building itself, where attention can be duly called to the succession of its salient features. But a visit to the exterior fabric of the Louvre should be preceded by one to St. Germain l’Auxerrois, the parish church, and practically the chapel, of the old Louvre, to which it stood in somewhat the same relation as the Sainte Chapelle to the home of St. Louis. Note, however, that the church was situated just within the ancient wall, while the château lay outside it. The visitor will doubtless be tolerably familiar by this time with some parts at least of the exterior of the Louvre ; but he will do well to visit it now systematically, in the order here suggested, so as to gain a clear general idea of its history and meaning.

Go along the Rue de Rivoli, past the Palais Royal, till you reach the Rue du Louvre. Turndown it, with the Louvre on your right. To your left stands a curious composite building, with a detached belfry in the centre, and two wings, as it seems, one on either side. The southernmost wing is the old church of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, the sole remnant of the earliest Louvre ; the northernmost wing is the modern Mairie of the first Arrondissement, unhappily intended to “harmonise” with it. The real result is, that the modern building kills the old one. The belfry was designed to fill up the gap between the two. Its effect is disastrous.

The church is older than the oldest Louvre. St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre (d. 430), was almost one of the first generation of Gallic saints, celebrated for his visit to Britain, where he assisted in gaining the Hallelujah victory over the heathen invaders. A church on this site is said to have been erected in his honour as early as the days of Chilperic. Sacked by the Normans, it was reërected in something like its present form in the twelfth century, but received many subsequent additions.

The beautiful porch, which we first ‘examine, is of much, later date, having been added in 1431 by Jean Gaussel, at a time when the old château of the Louvre had become one of the principal residences of the French kings, in order to give greater dignity, and to afford a covered approach for the royal worshippers to what was practically their own chapel. It therefore contains (restored) statues, in niches, relating especially to the royal and local saints of Paris, whose names are beneath them, — St. Cloud, the princess Ste. Clotilde, Ste. Radégonde of France, St. Denis, St. Marcel, St. Germain himself, St. Landry, Ste. Isabelle, Ste. Bathilde, St. Jean de Valois, and others. The saints of the royal house are distinguished by crowns or coronets. Two of these statues are old : St. Francis, at the south end, and St. Mary of Egypt, nude, with her long hair, and the three loaves which sustained her in the desert, on the second north pillar. The mod-ern frescoes, destroyed, are by Mottez.

Observe the congruity of all these saints to the church and the château. St. Landry or Landeric, an early Frankish bishop of Paris, was buried within, and his shrine was a place of pilgrimage. St. Marcel was also a bishop of Paris. St. Cloud was a holy anchorite whose cell was in the wood which occupied the site of the palace (now destroyed) that bears his name. All these saints are therefore closely bound up with the town of Paris and the royal family. You must never forget this near alliance in France between the Church and the Crown : it colours all the architecture of the early period.

Within the porch, we come to the main façade, of the thirteenth century. To the right and left, two sainted bishops of Auxerre, successors of St. Germain. Central portal, a queen, a king (probably Childebert and Ultrogothe, the original Frankish founders), St. Vincent ; then St. Germain himself, and Ste. Geneviève, with the usual devil and candle, and her attendant angel, etc. On the pier, Madonna and Child, under a canopy. The tympanum had formerly the usual relief of the Last Supper, now destroyed, and replaced by a fresco. Reminiscences of its subject still remain in the quaint figures to the right and left on the arch, at its base, representing respectively, with childish realism, the jaws of hell and Abraham’s bosom, to which the wicked and the just were consigned in the centre.

In this church, and in that of St. Germaindes-Prés (see later), St. Vincent ranks as a local Parisian saint, because his tunic was preserved in the great abbey church of the other St. Germain beyond the river. He bears a martyr’s palm and is habited as a deacon ; whence he is often hard to distinguish from his brother deacon, St. Stephen : both are often put together in Parisian churches. It is probable that St. Germain of Paris consecrated this church to his older namesake and St. Vincent, — for his connection with whom you had better wait till you visit St. Germain-des-Prés.

The interior is low, but impressive. The right aisle is entirely railed off as a separate church or lady chapel. It contains an interesting fourteenth-century Root of Jesse, seldom accessible. Pretty modern font, by Jouffroy, after Mme. de Lamartine, in the south transept. Walk round the ambulatory (behind the choir), and observe the stained glass and other details which the reader may now be trusted to discover unaided. A mass of the detail is well worthy of notice. The Gothic pillars of the choir were converted in the eighteenth century into fluted columns. Over the sacristy, in the south ambulatory, is a modern fresco of St. Germain and St. Vincent. Note many other memorials of the latter. When you leave, walk to the south side of the church to inspect the exterior and the square tower, from which, as parish church of the Louvre, the bell tang for the massacre of St. Bartholomew, to be answered by that in the Palace on the island.

On emerging from the church, contrast its Gothic quaintness and richness of detail with the cold, classical façade of that part of the Louvre which fronts you. This façade, known as Perrault’s Colonnade, with its classical pediment and Corinthian columns, was erected by Claude Perrault for Louis XIV., whose LL and crown appear on every part of it. Nothing could better illustrate the profound difference between Gothic and classical architecture than this abrupt contrast.

The portion of the palace that faces you is the real front. door of the Louvre. Notice the smaller barred windows on the ground floor, and the upper story converted into a loggia. Now pass in through the gateway, under the Chariot of the Sun, — an apotheosis of Louis, —into the first court, known distinctively as the Cour du Louvre. For all that follows, consult the excellent coloured map in Baedeker. I advise you to cut it out and carry it around in your hand during this excursion.

Begin by understanding distinctly that this court (le vieux Louvre) is the real and original Louvre. The rest is mere excrescence, intended to unite the main building with the Tuileries, which lay some hundreds of yards to the west of it. Notice, first, that the Palace as a whole, seen from the point where you now stand, is constructed on the old principle of relatively blank external walls, like a castle, with an interior courtyard, on which all the apartments open, and almost all the decoration is lavished. Reminiscences of defence lurk about the Louvre. It can best be understood by comparison with such ornate, yet fortress-like, Italian palaces as the Strozzi at Florence. Notice the four opposite portals, facing the cardinal points, which can be readily shut by means of great doors ; while the actual doorways of the various suites of apartments open only into the protected courtyard. This is the origin of the familiar French porte-cochère.

Again, the portion of the building that directly faces you as you enter the court from St. Germain is the oldest part, and represents the early Renaissance spirit. It is the most primitive Louvre. Note in particular the central elevated portion, known as a pavillon, and graced with elegant caryatides. These pavillons are lingering reminiscences of the mediæval towers. You will find them in the corners and centres of other blocks in the Louvre. They form a peculiarly French Renaissance characteristic. The palace is here growing out of the castle. The other three sides of the square are, on the whole, more classical and later.

Now cross the square directly to the Pavillon de l’Horloge, as it is called, from the clock which adorns it. To your left, on the floor of the court, are two circular white lines, enclosed in a square. These mark the site of the original château of the Louvre, with its keep, or donjon. François Ier, who began the existing building, originally intended that his palace should cover the same area. It was he who erected the left wing, which now faces you, marked by the crowned H on its central round gable, placed there by his successor, Henri II., under whom it was completed. To the same king are also due the monograms of H and D (for Diane de Poitiers, his mistress), between the columns of the ground floor. The whole of the Pavillon de l’Horloge, and of this west wing, should be carefully examined in detail as the finest remaining specimen of highly decorated French Renaissance architecture. (But the upper story of the pavillon, with the caryat ides, is an age later.) Observe even the decoration lavished on the beautiful chimneys. Pierre Lescot was the architect of this earliest wing ; the exquisite sculpture is by Jean Goujon, a Frenchman, and the Italian, Paolo Ponzio. Examine much of it. The crossed K’s of certain panels stand for Catherine de Médicis.

The right wing, beyond the pavillon, was added, in the same style, under Louis XIII., who decided to double the plan of his predecessors, and form the existing Cour du Louvre.

The other three sides, in a more classic style, with pediments replacing the pavillons, and square porticoes instead of rounded gables, are for the most part later. The south side, however, as far as the central door, is also by Pierre Lescot. It forms one of the two fronts of the original square first contemplated. The attic story of these three sides was added under Louis XIV., to whom in the main is due this Cour du Louvre. A considerable part of Louis XIV.’s decorations bear reference to his representation as le roi soleil.

Now, pass through the Pavillon de l’Horloge (called on its west side Pavillon Sully) into the second of the three courts of the Louvre. To understand this portion of the building, you must remember that shortly after the erection of the Old Louvre, Catherine de Médicis began to build her palace of the Tuileries, now destroyed, to the west of it. She (and subsequent rulers) designed to unite the Old Louvre with the Tuileries by a gallery which should run along the bank of the river. Of that gallery, Catherine de Médicis herself erected a considerable portion, to be described later, and Henri IV. almost completed it. Later on, Napoleon I. conceived the idea of extending a similar gallery along his new Rue de Rivoli, on the north side, so as to enclose the whole space between the Louvre and the Tuileries in one gigantic double courtyard. Napoleon III. carried out his idea. The second court, in which you now stand, is entirely flanked by buildings of this epoch —the Second Empire. Examine it cursorily as far as the modern statue of Gambetta.

Stand or take a seat by the railing of the garden opposite the Pavillon Sully. The part that now faces you forms a portion of the building of François Ier and Louis XIII., redecorated in part by Napoleon I. The portions to your right and left (consult Baedeker’s map) are entirely of the age of Napoleon III., built so as to conceal the want of parallelism of the outer portions. Observe their characteristic pavillons, each bearing its own name inscribed upon it. This recent square, though quite modern in the character of its sculpture and decoration, is Renaissance in its general architecture, and, when looked back upon from the gardens of the Tuileries, affords a most excel-lent idea of that stately style, as developed in France under François Ier. The whole of this splendid plan, however, has been rendered futile by the destruction of the Tuileries, without which the enclosure becomes wholly meaningless.

Now, continue westward, pass the monument of Gambetta, and take a seat on the steps at the base, near the fine nude figure of Truth.

In front of you opens the third square of the Louvre, known as the Place du Carrousel, and formerly enclosed on its west side by the Palace of the Tuileries, which was unfortunately burnt down in 1871, during the conflict between the municipal and national authorities. Its place is now occupied by a garden terrace, the view from which in all directions is magnificent. Fronting you, as you sit, is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, erected under Napoleon I., by Percier and Fontaine, in imitation of the Arch of Septimius Severus at Rome, and once crowned by the famous bronze Roman horses from St. Mark’s at Venice. The arch, designed as an approach to the Tuileries during the period of the classical mania, is too small for its present surroundings, since the removal of .the palace. The north wing, visible to your right, is purely modern, of the age of the First and Second Empire and the Third Republic. The meretricious character of the reliefs in its extreme west portion, erected under the Emperor Napoleon III., and restored after the Commune, is redolent of the spirit of that gaudy period. The south wing, to your left, forms part of the connecting gallery erected by Henri IV., but its architecture is largely obscured by considerable alterations under Napoleon III. Its west pavillon — known as the Pavillon de Flore —is well worth notice.

Having thus gained a first idea of the courtyard fronts of the building, continue your walk, still westward, along the south wing as far as the Pavillon de Flore, a remaining portion of the corner edifice which ran into one line with the Palace of the Tuileries (again consult Baedeker’s map). Turn round the corner of the pavillon to examine the south or river front of the connecting gallery, — one of the finest parts of the whole building, but far less known to ordinary visitors than the cold and uninteresting northern line along the Rue de Rivoli. The first portion, as far as the gateways, be-longs originally to the age of Henri IV.; but it was entirely reconstructed under Napoleon III., whose obtrusive N appears in many places on the gateways and elsewhere. Nevertheless, it still preserves, on the whole, some reminiscence of its graceful Renaissance architecture. Beyond the main gateway (with modern bronze Charioteer of the Sun), flanked by the Pavillons de la Trémoille and de Lesdiguières, we come upon the long southern gallery erected by Catherine de Médicis, which still preserves almost intact its splendid early French Renaissance decoration. This is one of the noblest portions of the entire building. The N here gives place to H’s and the Renaissance scroll-work and reliefs almost equal those in that portion of the Old Louvre which was erected under François I. Sit on a seat on the Quay and examine the sculpture. Notice particularly the splendid Porte Jean Goujon, conspicuous from afar by its gilded balcony. Its crowned H’s and coats of arms are specially interesting examples of the decorative work of the period. Note also the skill with which this almost flat range is relieved by sculpture and decoration so as to make us oblivious of the want of that variety usually given by jutting portions. The end of this long gallery is formed by two hand-some windows with balconies. We there come to the connecting Galérie d’Apollon, of which these windows are the termination, and finally reach once more a portion of Perrault’s façade, with its double LL’s, erected under Louis XIV. and closely resembling the interior façade of the Cour du Louvre.

The north side you can examine any day as you pass along the Rue de Rivoli. You will now have no difficulty in distinguishing its various factors, — first, on the east, a part of Perrault’s façade of the Old Louvre ; then, where it begins to bend outward, a portion of Napoleon the Third’s connecting link; finally, beyond the main carriage way, westward, a part reconstructed under the Third Republic.

Sit awhile on the adjacent Pont des Arts to gain a general conception of the relations of the Louvre, the Ile de la Cité, the Hôtel de Ville and other surrounding buildings.

This first rough idea of the Louvre should be filled in later by detailed study. The Renaissance portions, in particular, you should look at again and again, every time you enter, piecing out your conceptions at a later stage by visiting the Renaissance Sculpture Gallery in the Cour du Louvre, and comparing the works inside it and outside it. Thus only can you gain a connected idea of Renaissance Paris, to be further supplemented by frequent visits to St. Étienne-du-Mont, St. Eustache, and Fontainebleau.