Travel: Culture & Architecture

Paris: Looking Up, Part One

A little chapel in the Cluny Museum, built at the height of the Gothic era, early 1500s.

Ceilings of the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. I spent most of my time in Paris piecing together its architectural history. Unfortunately a lot of the surviving mansions are now government institutions and are not open to the public, but if an architectural gem was open, the rooms were rarely in their original state. Historical interiors had either been stripped bare by the revolutions or heavily embellished during the Second Empire. By the way, I am no fan of that era’s design.

After three weeks of effort, I did manage to find, visit, and photograph some wonderful buildings. Usually if a room retained any of its original décor, it would be the ceiling. And the ceilings were amazing! All but one photo of this blog post were taken in the Louvre. I was only interested in its structural and décor history. Plus there was the newly renovated 18th-century Decorative Arts Galleries that had recently reopened. It took me a whole day to see the new galleries and another whole day to discover the building’s architectural history.

The Louvre, 1546–1677

(above) The Louvre, Escalier Henri II (1553–1555). Originally this was the grand staircase for the Renaissance Louvre palace, which consisted of the Lescot wing and the Pavillon du Roi. It was very modern in its day. Unlike the spiral staircases of the Middle Ages, this one is straight, a fashion imported from Italy. The ornate decoration includes King Henri’s monogram, the letter H, and references to one of his favorite pastimes in the form of heads of deer and other animals symbolizing Diana, the goddess of hunting. Medieval staircases were purely functional, but the new staircase in the Louvre was a ceremonial space in its own right, connecting the reception room on the ground floor, the Salle des Caryatides, to the king’s apartments on the floor above.
(above) Showing the Grand Stair leading up to the second floor (third floor in the USA).
(above) On the first floor landing of the Henri II’s Great Stair, the overdoor was given a large relief of playful cherubs surrounding Henri II’s royal monogram. Henri II had a special monogram designed interlocking two Ds between an H and it was placed everywhere throughout France (clothing, carriages, architecture, robes, curtains, tapestries). The Ds represented his much-loved mistress Diane de Poitiers. One could argue it’s really two C’s inside Henri’s H, but I don’t think this fooled his wife Catherine de Medici. She did her best to replace these instances with her personal monogram after Henri II had died. Thankfully this one survived.
(above) The Louvre, the Lescot wing, 1546–1566, built during Henri II’s reign. This gallery, Salle des Bronzes, is located directly above the famous Salle des Cariatides. ‘The Ceiling,’ 2007–2009, was created by Cy Twombly. He was the third contemporary artist invited to install a permanent work at the Louvre. It was painted with the assistance of several artists and apprentices in a warehouse outside Paris before being affixed like wallpaper to the ceiling.
(above) The Louvre, Salle Henri II. This room was created in 1660 by merging the king’s antechamber and dressing room. The decorative woodwork on the central part of the ceiling dates from the original antechamber. It was sculpted by the Italian wood-carver Francisque Scibec de Carpi in 1557 from models by the sculptor Étienne Carmoy. It bears Henri II’s monogram and motto. The ends, sculpted in 1660 during the reign of Louis XIV, bear the monogram LL. In 1953, Georges Braque (1882–1963) painted the ‘Birds’ compositions to replace three canvases that Merry-Joseph Blondel (1781–1853) had painted in 1821–22.
(above) At the Louvre, this carved wooden ceiling was originally located in the Pavillon du Roi on the first floor (second floor in the USA) in Henri II’s State Bedroom. This was designed by Lescot and executed in 1556 under the direction of the Italian wood-carver Francisque Scibec de Carpi.
(above) I don’t know what this room served as, but it was part of the King’s Apartments that had been reassembled in the Colonnade Wing. The overdoor appears to have a royal monogram that I don’t recognize, but could be another version of Henri de Bourbon’s initials (Henri IV). The overdoor at the opposite end of the room, the entrance to Louis XIV’s Alcove Bedchamber, has a carved date of 1654.
(above) At the Louvre, Chambre à alcôve (Alcove Bedchamber). This ceiling was originally located in the King’s Apartment within the Pavillon du Roi. The King’s Apartment was given an entirely new decoration by Louis Le Vau in 1654–1656 for Louis XIV. The centerpiece was the King’s Bedchamber, where he received privileged guests. The fittings of this splendid room have been lost, and what remains is this ceiling. The paneling was made by Louis Barrois. The ceilings and alcove are the work of royal sculptors working to designs by Gilles Guérin.
(above) Ceiling detail of the Chambre à alcôve (Alcove Bedchamber). The figures of the captives are by Girardon and Regnaudin, and the Victories by Legendre and Magnier. The painter Eustache Lesueur decorated the oval compartment in the middle with an allegory showing Time abducting a woman holding a lily. Unfortunately this painting has since disappeared.
(above) The entrance to Anne of Austria’s Summer Apartments at the Louvre on the ground floor of the Petite Galerie located next to the Pavillon du Roi. In 1655, Louis XIV ordered the architect Louis Le Vau to design these rooms for his mother, Anne of Austria. The original six rooms included a salon; an antechamber, the Salle des Saisons; a vestibule, the Salon de la Paix; a large study, the Grand Cabinet; a state bedchamber, the Queen’s Bedchamber; and finally a small study, the Petit Cabinet. Of the original décor, only the ornate barrel vault ceilings have survived proclaiming the grand message of Roman Baroque.
(above) Another view of the Salon, the first room of Anne of Austria’s apartment. This view is looking back towards the entrance. From what I can gather from all my research is that the ceiling was only partially completed during Anne’s time. The remainder was completed in the nineteenth century. For the life of me I can’t figure out which bits belong to the earlier décor and which belong to the latter.
(above) The second room (antechamber), the Salle des Saisons, of Anne of Austria’s Summer Apartment. This ceiling was fully realized during Anne’s time and hasn’t been altered since, but the walls have been. This room has Time as its theme, and presents a cosmic vision which prefigures that of the Galerie d’Apollon. Sun and moon, and day and night, are alluded to in frescoed scenes of myths associated with Apollo and Diana. The Seasons are depicted in the corners of the room, while the Elements are represented by stucco figures of gods, Vulcan (fire), Juno (air), Neptune (water), Cybele (earth). In the vault, the theme of transience is evoked by depictions of Time with the zodiac and Hour with a clepsydra or water-clock.
(above) Standing under the ceiling of the Salon de la Paix (vestibule), which I failed to photograph, you can see ahead into the fourth room, Anne of Austria’s Grand Cabinet (large study). The Grand Cabinet features notable episodes from Roman history, typically displaying heroic virtues. Please remember that only the ceilings and the rooms’ shapes retain the original design. The granite (maybe marble) walls were clad at a later date when these rooms became part of the museum.
(above) The final room of Anne of Austria’s Summer Apartments was originally two rooms, the Queen’s Bedchamber and the Petit Cabinet (small study). They were combined into a single space in 1800. The subjects chosen for the Queen’s Bedchamber were great women of history. Giovanni Francesco Romanelli was the designer and painter, while Michel Anguier created the sculptural decoration. These two were also the artists for the previous four rooms.
(above) The Galerie d’Apollon was the first Royal Gallery created for Louis XIV and served as a model for the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. After a fire destroyed a great deal of the Petite Galerie in 1661, Louis XIV entrusted Louis Le Vau with the architectural reconstruction and Charles Le Brun with the interior decorations for this splendid new gallery. (The location of this gallery happens to be on the first floor above Anne of Austria’s Summer Apartments.) Le Brun was only able to complete a few paintings at the southern end before the project was stopped, and only fragments of his work remain today. The rest of the ceiling paintings date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Fortunately all the stucco decorations carried out by the sculptor François Girardon were completed. Work on the Galerie d’Apollon along with the rest of the Louvre slowed down once Louis XIV moved his court permanently to Versailles, and its days as a royal residence had come to an end.
(above) Detail of the Galerie d’Apollon’s ceiling at its southern end, eastern side.
(above) Detail of the Galerie d’Apollon’s ceiling at its southern end, western side.

2 thoughts on “Paris: Looking Up, Part One”

  1. Margaret Downs-Gamble says:

    PA, These are fabulous shots. When I first looked at the shot of the length of the Galerie d’Apollon, I thought “Hall of Mirrors!” Loved to have my gut instinct supported.

    Although I tend to prefer the older periods (16th century), the overview of ceilings is such a marvelous approach. I think too often I forget to look up. Thank you!

  2. Saira says:


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