Paris – The Luxembourg

THE Palace of the Luxembourg, whose majestic facade forms the imposing vista of the broad Rue de Tournon, is the ancient residence of Marie de Medicis, the powerful widow of Henri IV, the first monarch of the House of Bourbon.

When Marie decided to build a palace without the walls of Philippe Auguste, upon a slope of the plateau of Sainte-Genevieve, she followed the example which half a century before her compatriot and relative, Catherine de Medicis, had set when she replaced her old residence, the Tournelles, by the new palace of the Tuileries, situated outside the fortified walls of Charles V.

The buildings of the Tuileries though not yet finished promised a sumptuous dwelling when Marie de Medicis became regent, but the haughty widow of Henri IV, though she found herself in-conveniently lodged in the Louvre, felt no interest in terminating the work on the Tuileries, and would not, in fine, occupy a palace commenced by another. The royal habitation which she visualized must be her very own.

Daughter of a grand-duke of Tuscany and of an archduchess of Austria, niece of a pope, a superb egoism was her natural heritage, as it was also the dominant note of the Italian Renaissance, of which Marie de Medicis was preeminently a product. Furthermore despotic tendencies in her character were fostered and developed by her early widowhood, which left her, at thirty-seven years of age, regent and sole ruler of France.

At the time of his father’s death Louis XIII was a lad of nine years, and his mother, while enjoying to the full the power of the regency, looked forward none the less with reluctance to the time when she would be forced to relinquish the reins of government to the boy, whom she despised as an ineffectual rival, and upon whom she bestowed little of a mother’s tenderness.

The position of dowager queen, to which the approaching majority of her son would soon relegate her, Marie de Medicis found distasteful and humiliating. She sought to ameliorate its horrors by the construction of a vast private palace, a monument to her name and race, an expression of her own vital personality, to which she might retire, nominally, when the time came, in considerable splendour and without sacrificing appearances or yielding more than the letter of her supremacy.

Renouncing, therefore, the two large residences of the rive droite, Marie de Medicis selected the calm and spacious faubourg Saint-Germain as the site of her palace. She purchased, in 1612, the estate of Francois de Luxembourg, duc de Piney, increasing the property during the following year by a number of acquisitions and exchanges. At last, in 1615, having cleared the united properties of all the existing buildings, the palace was begun.

Salomon de Brosse was the architect. History is doubtful as to his identity, his origin, and his birth. He is styled both nephew and student of Du Cerceau, as both son and brother of Jean de Brosse, architect to Marguerite de Valois. At the time of which we speak he had done none of his great work—the portail of Saint-Gervais, the aqueduct of Arceuil, the temple of Charenton, the Salle des Pas Perdus of the Palais, the chateaux of Monceaux and of Coulommiers are all posterior to the Medicis palace by several years. He *as a Huguenot, yet he. inspired Marie de Medicis, who was a fervent Catholic, with absolute confidence in his ability.

The palace was commenced in 1615 and finished in 1620. The plan is based upon a study of the Pitti Palace, in Florence, Marie de Medicis’ birth-place, to which the palace bears indeed a certain resemblance. De Brosse was too talented a man to follow blindly his distinguished model; he adapted its general physiognomy, subordinating it to the current French traditions, introducing the long galleries and high corner pavilions, unknown to Italy, but demanded by the French climate. It was the queen’s idea that her palace should be reminiscent of the Florentine masterpiece, and de Brosse succeeded so well that his plan found universal favour.

In its original form the general mass of the structure formed a parallelogram of almost exact symmetry. The architectural decoration of the principal facade, on the Rue de Vaugirard, and in the grand court, was practically what one sees `today. But the sides of the palace were lengthened in 1836-40 by the addition of a third section which pushed the facade towards the garden out a considerable distance. This alteration was the most important of the many changes made in the original plan and provided the necessary space for the housing of the senate chamber.

The principal entrance to the palace was through a court of honour built within the present corn t, raised about three feet above the main court and reached by a row of semi-circular steps. Three doors opened from this court of honour above which were placed busts of Henri IV, Marie de Medicis, and Louis XIII. The original stairway of honour was within these doors, where now stands the colonnade. Within, the ground floor was composed of great halls and vaulted chambers, reserved for the different functions of the guard.

The first floor contained the reception and ceremonial apartments and the living rooms of the queen. These faced the western exposure and communicated with the long, west gallery, a splendid room with windows on the garden and on the court, designed to hold the decorations by Rubens, now in the Louvre.

The magnificence of the gardens corresponded to that of the palace. The parterre was originally larger but not so deep as now; it was bordered on each side by flat bands of flowers and enclosed within a double wall. The terraces followed the mode of the day and were planted with yew and box trees cut into bizarre shapes.

The fountains were fed by abundant waters from the springs of Rongis carried through the village of Arceuil, where had been found the remains of the Roman aqueduct which transported the waters for the baths of the Palais des Thermes. The first stone in its reconstruction was laid by the queen regent and Louis XIII in 1613. It was finished in 1624 and proved a blessing to the city, for the demands of the palace and gardens were amply satisfied with but a third of the supply of water and the remainder was turned over to public use.

Sauval described the parterre as the largest and most magnificent of Europe, and John Evelyn, writing in 1644, says: ” The parterre is indeed of box, but so rarely design’d and accurately kept cut, that the embroidery makes a wonderful effect to the lodgings which front it. ‘Tis divided into four squares, and as many circular knots, having in ye centre a noble basin of marble neere thirty feet in diameter, in which a triton of brasse holds a dolphine that casts a girandola of water neere thirty foote high, playing perpetually, the water being convey’d from Arceuil by an aqueduct of stone, built after ye old Roman magnificence.”

Marie de Medicis occupied her palace during a tempestuous period following the young king’s accession to the throne. Devoured by love of power, she was incapable of directing anything alone and obeyed blindly the will of her favourites, Concini and Eleanore Galigai, his wife, who had accompanied her to France. Directed by these two the queen exerted her fitful influence, worked her stubborn will, now through the weakness of the king, now through her mouthpiece, Richelieu, whose power at first was of her making and whom she regarded as her creation and tool.

Desiring to have her coadjutor at hand the queen gave him a portion of her land upon which to erect a house, adjacent to her own. This was the Hotel du Petit Luxembourg and here Richelieu resided until the Palais Royal was built. One can measure his growth by these buildings alone. When he had attained the dignity of the latter he repaid the generosity of the queen mother by abandoning his estate to his niece, the duchesse d’Aiguillon, whom Marie de Medicis bitterly de-tested and desired to have banished from the court. The Petit Luxembourg is now the official residence of the president of the senate.

Meanwhile in the midst of everything the queen became embroiled in political quarrels and court jealousies. Her violent and dominating nature tended to push all things to excess, both friend-ships and hatreds. She excited against herself, and her favourite Concini, the enmity of the court, and after many painful scenes Richelieu, who was now hand in glove with the king, had her banished from Paris.

The chateau of Blois was the scene of her captivity from 1617 to 1620, and her escape forms one of the subjects of the series of panels which Rubens painted for the palace. Balls, fetes, and a round of gaieties followed her return and celebrated her restoration to favour and power. Marie, in the intoxication of the moment, thought her fortunes assured forever, and abandoned her-self once again to the beautification of her palace, calling to Paris the greatest painter of the day, then in the height of his power and renown.

The fame of Rubens, at this time, filled the ears of the civilized world. He was in demand at all the courts of Europe as ambassador as well as painter. His familiarity with diplomatic circles rendered the Flemish painter eminently the artist to cope with the difficult task which Marie de Medicis’ vanity imposed upon him. It was indeed a delicate matter to satisfy the colossal conceit of the queen without incurring the displeasure of the king and of Gaston d’Orleans, to say nothing of that of the more formidable Richelieu.

Rubens chose the allegorical style of subject, then in vogue, as the most neutral mode of expression, as well as that best adapted to the purpose of decoration. He remained in Paris, on his first visit to the court, about a month, planning the work with the queen and familiarising himself with the political situation and the tempers of his clients. The preliminary sketches were finished within about two months after his departure, and in May, 1622, were submitted to the queen together with a general plan of the west gallery.

All of his compositions were approved with the exception of one which depicted the queen being sent into exile at Blois, conducted by Rage, Calumny, and Hate, and portraits of the queen’s parents, the Grand-Duke Francis of Tuscany and Johanna of Austria, were substituted for this canvas. These sketches, to the artist much more valuable and interesting than the finished decorations, are preserved in the Alte Pinakothek, at Munich.

One year later Rubens again visited Paris, bringing with him nine finished canvases. The queen, who was at Fontainebleau, came up to Paris expressly to see them and was delighted. On his return to Antwerp Rubens continued the work with great rapidity, partly because he must have seen the unstable position of Marie de Medicis, and have been anxious to deliver the work, for which the recompense was a consideration, and partly also to accomplish its installation in time for the wedding of Henriette de France with Charles I, of England.

He brought the whole series to Paris in January, 1625, and installed himself in the east gallery of the palace, which, having the same exposure and arrangement as the room for which they were intended, served as the best of studios for the purpose. Here he put the final touches to the can-vases, and here he painted the coronation of the queen, by the cardinal de Joyeuse, at Saint-Denis, for which the queen and notables of the court, figuring in the composition, posed, and here he made the queen’s own portrait, as Bellona.

Finally, on May 1, 1625, all was in place and the king, the queen mother, and the court gave it an enthusiastic approval. The west gallery, as has been said, was lighted by windows on both sides and the pictures occupied the piers between the windows and at the ends of the room. At one end was the portrait of the queen in the character of Bellona, the goddess of war, placed over a monumental chimney-piece. This portrait was flanked by portraits of the grand-duke and grand-duchess of Tuscany, in spaces above the two doors. The ceiling was richly ornamented by caissons and paintings of the twelve signs of the zodiac, by Jacques Jordaens, Rubens’ pupil and friend.

It has become fashionable to decry this prodigious work of the Flemish painter, as not only inferior in quality to his great achievements, but as the mere hasty output of his school. So great a genius as Rubens rides easily over this unmerited criticism and the canvases themselves show too much mastery of composition, too much fluency of painting, too much joy of colour to have been done by apprentices, however clever. The panels were not hastily done, they were done with a rapidity born of enthusiasm and carried through, as one can see, with one inspiration; the work really gains in consequence.

It is true that his students helped; they were accustomed to throw the composition roughly upon the large canvases from the small sketches, to prepare the work for the master, and it might even be easy to say to which canvases Jordaens put his brush. Rubens’ atelier was a strong one including with Jordaens, who was to become a master him-self, such capable painters as Diepenbeck, Van Thulden, Van Egmont, C. Schut, and Simon de Vos. But we know that Rubens made the sketches, and that he worked upon the canvases in Paris and that he painted the coronation scene and the portraits in the palace itself.

As for the painting the pictures are not the equal of such outstanding masterpieces as the Descent from the Cross, of Antwerp, nor of the marvellous Rape of the Sabine Women nor the Inferno of Munich, nor of the great treasures of the Prado, but they show nevertheless an inexhaustible strength and fertility of invention, an infinite variety, a knowledge and a virtuosity evident to every thoughtful observer.

The Marriage of Henri IV and Marie de Medicis at Lyon, is one of the most striking of the collection and the head of Henri IV is perhaps the most perfect existing portrait of the king. The Coronation of Marie de Medicis at Saint-Denis is regarded as the most successful of the historical series and it is classed amongst Rubens’ most important works.

The series is composed of twenty-one allegorical flatteries, under which one reads easily the character of the haughty, obstinate, and false Marie, this princess of weak character, of violent passions, proud in prosperity, humble and suppliant in adversity, who by her detestable character became insufferable to her husband and her son, and who alienated her very favourites. Under the pure painting is the revelation of Rubens’ complete sizing up of the situation which his bravura scarcely takes the trouble to conceal. He seems to have known that with Marie de Medicis there was no fear of going too far, that she would accept avidly flattery however fulsomely presented—the great point was that there should be ” sufficiently enough.”

Rubens hands it to her strong, as the phrase is, in such a picture as that which depicts Henri IV receiving her portrait with an imbecile smile of rapture-” Quelle femme!” he seems to be saying to himself of this smug, self-satisfied face. But she was far from being as beautiful as Henri thought from her portrait. ” Grande, grosse, aver des yeux’ ronds et fixes, elle n’avait rien de caressant dans les manieres,” says Sismondi, ” aucune gaiete dans l’esprit.”

How he exposes her in such a picture as that in which with an air of false humility and self-effacement she leaves the helm of France to the inexpert Louis XIII; or in that where, upon the apotheosis of Henri IV, she sinks at last upon the throne urged by the insistence of every factor of the kingdom; or again where, having given birth to the puny Louis, she occupies the centre of an admiring group of goddesses; or in the fabulous exaggeration of the Felicite de la Regence—that regency which as we know brought disaster to France and to Marie the hatred of her subjects.

The queen planned that Rubens should decorate the east gallery of the palace with the events of the life of Henri IV, but this wing was unfinished in her lifetime, and in any case, the political intrigues and discords, which led to the final banishment of the queen mother, forced her to renounce the project. It was characteristic of her that she took the precaution to secure her own series first.

The story of her undoing is pitiful in its completeness. Her last years were a succession of exiles. They first wished to send her back to Florence, but she, shrinking with all the strength of her racial pride against humiliation before her own people, urged the king to send her only to Compiegne. Later she was banished to Brussels, then to Ghent, and finally she fled to the court of her son-in-law, Charles I, under whose protection she spent two years. At last the poor lady, bereft of all power and reduced to a state bordering upon indigence, was obliged to retire to Cologne, where, stripped of all insignia of royalty, she died, in 1642, an old woman of sixty-nine years.

Amongst her colossal faults one virtue shines out strong, a virtue hereditary in her family, that of protecting the arts and letters. She gave pensions to Malherbe, and to Marin; named Philippe de Champaigne court painter, commanded of Rubens this series of decorations; constructed the Luxembourg Palace, built the aqueduct of Arceuil, and founded the Hopital de la Charite.

The old palace of Marie de Medicis has not played a role so considerable in history as has the Louvre or the Tuileries, but its part has nevertheless been brilliant and colourful. On her exile from France the queen gave the estate to her favourite son, Gaston d’Orleans, under whom it became the scene of the revels of a wild and dissipated society of which he was the leader. When the duke died the palace was inherited by his two daughters, the grande Mademoiselle, and the pious duchesse de Guise. It was here that Mademoiselle received the visits of M. de Lauzun, to whom, to the amazement and incredulity of the court, she was briefly betrothed. Lauzun was endowed with the titles, the names, the ornaments necessary to be named in such a contract of marriage, the prospective bride herself gave him four duchies of France and the name of Montpensier. The estate was estimated at twenty-two millions.

The contract was prepared but at the last moment Louis XIV withdrew his consent. Mademoiselle was one of the gaiest figures of the XVIIth century. She inherited the intelligence, the lack of scruple, and the spirit of intrigue of her father, and though she never married was proposed successively for the hands of Louis XIV, Philip IV of Spain, the Prince of Wales (later Charles II of England), and the emperor Ferdinand III. Voltaire writes of her: “Lorsqu’on porta le deuil de Cromwell a la cour de France, Mademoiselle fut la seal qui ne rendit point cet hommage a la memoire du meurtrier d’un roi son parent.”

The last royal owner of the Luxembourg was the comte de Provence, known familiarly as Monsieur, afterwards Louis XVIII. When he fled from Paris at the time of Napoleon’s return from Elba, his goods were confiscated and the Luxembourg became national property.

During the Reign of Terror, when the ordinary prisons were insufficient to hold the victims of the Revolution, the Luxembourg Palace was converted into a house of detention where were imprisoned, pelemele, without distinction of rank or fortune, numerous suspects. The list of unfortunates included Alexandre de Beauharnais and his wife, Josephine de la Pagerie, Camille Desmoulins, Danton, Philippeaux, Robespierre, and David, the painter.

Upon the establishment of the constitution of 1795 the palace became the seat of government and was consecrated to the use of the five directors. The Consulat followed the Directoire, with Napoleon as first consul in recognition of his magnificent victories in Egypt and Syria, and the Luxembourg became the Palais du Consulat. In 1801 Napoleon created the senate which three years later was to declare him emperor. The palace became the seat of the new government and was known as the Palais du Senat.

We know the garden to have been the site of the Roman camp which protected the palace of the Caesars until the time of Honorius. The history of the gardens then becomes that of the romantic old Chateau Vauvert, a maison de plaisance, said to have been built by Robert the Pious, and to have stood where now begins the allee of the Observatoire. Tradition said that the house was haunted, that it was the abode of the devil himself, and brave men hesitated to pass along the road at night because of the dreadful noises which issued from the manor’ and the frequent evils which befell nocturnal ramblers in the vicinity.

The monks of Chartreuse begged the estate from Saint-Louis and established themselves there in 1257. The court, the two cloisters, the church, and the cells, composed each of a distinct pavilion, following the usages of the order, covered a space large enough to contain a city. The church contained a number of illustrious sepulchres and from the cloister were taken the series of pictures, rep-resenting the Life of Saint-Bruno, by Lesueur, now in the Louvre.

For her garden, Marie de Medicis exchanged a large tract of land lying on the other side of the monastery, towards the Observatoire, for a considerable portion of their property. She encroached also upon the domain of another religious order, the Filles du Calvaire. A charming souvenir of this scattered order is preserved in the pretty Renaissance chapel, which can be seen from the Rue de Vaugirard, west of the Petit Luxembourg. It was built by the queen and presented to the nuns in recompense for the ground taken for the garden.

The Revolution swept away royalties and made wholesale havoc of the estates of the many religious bodies, which occupied one-third of the area of Paris. The Filles du Calvaire were put to flight. The monastery of the Peres Chartreux was completely destroyed. The pepiniere of the Luxembourg, the allee of the Observatoire, the botanical gardens, houses and streets now cover the site.

Aside from its rich past, the garden gains peculiar significance from its situation in the heart of the intellectual quarter of Paris. Most of the institutions of learning surround it—it is the garden of the University—and artists have established their general quarter in the adjoining streets.

The museum of modern painters, the palace of the senate, and the national theatre of the Odeon mark its northern boundary. At its southern extremity rises the silhouette of the Observatoire, while its eastern length faces at every opening a series of historic institutions. The main eastern gateway opens upon the broad Rue Soufflot, closed by the imposing vista of the Pantheon. To the left lie the law school, the Sorbonne, the University of Paris, the Cluny Museum, the School of Medicine, etc.; and to the right, the Ecole des Mines.

Not in Paris, nor in any city of France, nor, perhaps, in the whole world exists a garden of nobler aspect, more graceful design, of proportions more perfect and harmonious. While the Tuileries were made over, by Lenotre, the Luxembourg retains its old Renaissance form. A fountain, by de Brosse, contemporary with the palace, lies towards the Rue de Medicis; another, by Carpeaux, a chef-d’oeuvre of the XIXth century, makes glorious the allée of the Observatoire.

The charm of this old garden is of a subtlety, a simplicity, which does not arrest superficial attention, but sinks in more and more profoundly as acquaintance with its varied aspect grows. One must know it bleak and bare in winter. One must have watched its gradual transformation in the early spring. One must have idled away there dreamy, summer twilights and walked through the rustling; russet carpet in the autumn, when, especially towards the Pantheon, the great trees have turned to glowing masses of rust and the terraces are vivid with the bright bloom of the late flowering plants.

The noble dignity of the palace, the elegance of the formal garden appeal to every aesthetic sense, are to feed upon and live into. As one gives up to the charm of the exquisite whole every finer instinct is stirred and satisfied. What poem, what picture, what music is more elevating than the spectacle of the garden on a sunny morning, its fundamental setting decked with flowers, nested in by birds, and peopled with the gay French life smiling out its destiny before one? It exhales the very essence of happiness.

It slips with even closer sympathy into one’s minor moods when, wrapped in the first cool, close mist of those rare, unrelated days of late September, a penetrating tristesse pervades and tempers the joy of living. Then it is like a great cathedral, full of mystery and quiet.

But most sensitive and tender it becomes in early October, when the birds and the foreigners have taken wing and the marroniers, having shaken free of their crackling russet, unfold confidingly again into flower and the more sheltered trees show rifts of high-green leaves, their last touching protest against the inroads of winter. Then it is delicious to linger late in the open, to take all one can of this sweet parting.