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The Arc de Triomphe’s Evolving History: Then and Now

The Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (the Triumphal Arch of the Star) is one of Paris’ most famous landmarks. It commemorates those who fought and died for France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It also contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which honours those who died for France in World War I and World War II.

Below is a view of the Arc de Triomphe from across the street. There is an underground tunnel that pedestrians use to gain access to it. (You can’t fit the entire monument in one frame if you are standing on the inside of the traffic roundabout, so unfortunately we’re stuck with the picture below that contains vehicles).

The Arc is located at the centre of a large junction, the Place Charles de Gaulle, that contains twelve avenues. These wide, straight avenues radiate out from the Arc, like spokes on a bicycle wheel. The Arc and its surrounding plaza intersect with the 8th, 16th, and 17th arrondissements.

Below is an aerial view looking south-east that shows the Arc de Triomphe in the middle of a star-shaped intersection, with each of the 12 avenues acting as a point in that star. The intersection was originally shaped in this manner in 1777¹, at which point it was named the “Place d’Étoile.” The plaza and the avenues were broadened and modernized during Haussmann’s renovation of Paris (1853-1870). It was renamed the “Place Charles de Gaulle” in 1970 to honour the French General and President, who passed away that same year.

From Pixabay.

A view of the Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel Tower.

One of these 12 avenues is the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which contains a series of high-end stores, cafés, and theatres. In the photo above, it is the (widest) street that extends from the Arc de Triomphe towards the top of the picture. Below, back on the ground, is a view of the Arc de Triomphe where it meets the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. The avenue is 1.9 km (1.2 miles) long and runs from the Place Charles de Gaulle to the Place de la Concorde. The avenue is the route for the Bastille Day military parade, and also serves as the finish for the Tour de France.

In the image below, note how the monument is positioned at an angle. The Avenue de Champs-Élysées extends from the bottom right/south-east side of the monument. The Avenue de la Grande-Armée extends from the top left/north-west side.

From Google Maps.

The Arc de Triomphe is a central point  located along the Axe Historique, a long thoroughfare that begins at the Louvre and runs for 8.5 km before ending at another arch, the Grand Arche de la Défense. The Axe Historique, and the series of monuments and buildings that are included along its route, is interesting enough that it could fill its own post. For now, I’m going to keep it simple. In the map below, the Louvre is indicated by the yellow pin on the bottom right. The Arc de Triomphe is the centre red pin. The Grand Arche de la Défense is indicated by the navy blue pin at the top left.

From Google Maps.

Below is a picture I took of the Grand Arche de la Défense while standing at the Arc de Triomphe, 4 kms away. It is located in Paris’ financial district, and was designed to be a 20th century reimagining of the Arc de Triomphe. Rather than an arch, it is actually a cube-shape. It was built in 1989 as a monument to humanitarian ideals rather than military victories.

The Arc de Triomphe was commissioned by Napoleon I in 1806 following his victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. At this battle, which took place on December 2, 1805, Napoleon and the French army defeated the Russian and Austrian armies (led by Emperor Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, respectively)¹. Napoleon wanted to build several monuments² that would honour the military leaders and victories of the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1804), the French Consulate (1799-1804), and the First French Empire (Napoleon’s reign from 1804-1814, 1815). The Arc was designed by Jean Chalgrin, and it was inspired by the Arch of Titus³ in Rome, Italy. The first stone was laid on Napoleon’s birthday on August 15, 1806. The arch would take 30 years to complete due in small part to the immensity of the task (work on the foundations alone took two), but in greater part to Napoleon’s changing fortunes. In 1810, the arch was still incomplete, but Napoleon had a gesture to make. He had a full-sized wooden replica built on the site so that he could make a triumphant march under it and into Paris with his new bride (and second wife), Marie Louise of Austria. Work stopped completely on the Arc in 1814 with Napoleon’s forced abdication and the consequent Bourbon Restoration (1814-1815; 1815-1830). Construction was later completed from 1833-1836 under the reign of Louis-Philippe I.

Entry into Paris of the Emperor and the Empress, day of the ceremony of their marriage. Charles-Pierre Joseph Normand (engraver); Charles Percier (designer); Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (designer); around 1942. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

An up-close view of the Arc de Triomphe. (This is the most I could fit in one frame while on the inside of the traffic roundabout).

Let’s examine the features of the Arc de Triomphe in detail. There are many sculptural and bas-reliefs found on the Arc, all of them done by renowned French sculptors. The sculptures are treated as individual trophies applied to the Arc to commemorate specific military achievements****. There’s a lot of them, so bear with me as I take you on a journey through French military history of the late 18th-early 19th century. We’ll review: the two main exterior faces of the Arc (the south-east and the north-west) and the four large sculptural reliefs that can be found on them; six smaller bas-relief sculpted scenes that depict five major French victories and one military funeral (found on the two main exterior façades as well as the two minor façades that face south-west and north-east); other exterior work; as well as the interior of the monument (which features one main arch and two smaller ones).

The south-east exterior façade of the Arc de Triomphe is the most recognizable because it faces the Avenue de Champs-Élysees. Many prominent pictures have been taken from this side of the monument. It contains two of four large sculptural reliefs: Le Triomphe de 1810 is located on the left (south) pillar, Le Départ de 1792/La Marseillaise is located on the right (east) pillar. I’m going to examine these sculptural reliefs in greater detail, but first I’ll focus on the details that make up the top portion of the Arc.

We’ll examine the sculpted work located at the apex of the main arch from left to right, and then conclude with the long frieze that extends across the width of the entire façade overhead.

At the far left, on the south pillar is a bas-relief of a battle scene: La bataille d’Aboukir (the Battle of Aboukir), by sculptor Bernard Seurre. This battle took place on July 25, 1799 and was part of Napoleon’s Egypt-Syria campaign during the French Revolutionary Wars. The French defeated the Ottoman army (led by Seid Mustafa Pasha), and (temporarily) secured France’s control over Egypt. Napoleon’s victories as a Commander in the French Revolutionary Wars earned him a lot of respect, and laid a lot of groundwork for his later rise to power.

The Battle of Aboukir. From Wikipedia.

In the centre of the south-east façade, on the tympanum of the arch, are depictions of two winged female figures blowing horns. There are two identical figures on the north-west façade as well. Taken together, these four sculptures are called Les Renommées (the Renowned), and were done by sculptor James Pradier. The women are a personification of victory.

From Pixabay.

Also on the south-east façade, located to the right of the arch on the east pillar, is a second bas-relief: Les funérailles du général Marceau (the funeral of General Marceau), by P.H. Lamaire. François Séverin Marceau (1769-1796) was a highly-respected General of the French Revolutionary wars. Some of his career highlights include his participation in the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 and saving a French politician (Pierre Bourbot) from insurgents during the Battle of Saumur (June 19, 1793). Marceau was mortally wounded during the Battle of Limburg (September 16-19, 1796), at the young age of twenty-seven. Everyone was eager to pay tribute to the fallen war hero, even the Austrian army (who he was fighting at the time). His funeral was held on September 20, 1796. Marceau’s ashes are located in the Panthéon.

The Funeral of General Marceau. From Wikipedia.

The frieze at the very top of the south-eastern façade, which extends the entire width of the monument, is Le Départ des Armées (the Departure of the Armies), by Sylvestre Brun, Georges Jacquot, and Charles-René Laitié . This frieze actually circles the entire top of the Arc de Triomphe. On this side, the armies are being sent off to their campaigns in Egypt and Italy. It seems fitting that this relief is found on the side of the Arc de Triomphe that faces the Avenue de Champs-Élysées, as this is where the Bastille Day military parade begins.

All photos from Wikipedia.

With the top features of the south-east façade covered, I’ll now talk about the two large sculptural reliefs that can be found mid-level on this side of the monument (there are four in total). I’ll discuss them based on the chronological order of the scenes they are depicting.

From Pixabay.

The first and most famous of the sculptural reliefs is Le Départ de 1792 (Departure of the Volunteers ) by François Rude, commonly known as La Marseillaise. This sculpture commemorates the Insurrection of August 10, 1792. On that day, political tensions between Louis XVI, the government, and the French people came to a head. The Tuileries Palace (where Louis XVI was residing with his family) was stormed by the National Guard***** of the Paris Commune and National Guard volunteers from Marseille and Brittany. The monarchy was formally ended six weeks later, and the French First Republic (1792-1804) was established.

This relief was used during the first few months of World War I to inspire French citizens to enlist in the army and/or buy war bonds. Look closely at the sword being brandished by the warrior angel in the picture below. Does it look different from the rest of the sculpted figures? Like it’s composed of different, newer material? Allegedly, the original sword snapped clean off the relief during World War I on February 21, 1916, the day that the Battle of Verdun began. The Battle of Verdun was fought between the French and the Germans on the Western Front in north-eastern France, and was the longest campaign of the war; it lasted until December 18, 1916. Tarps were put up to hide the sight of the broken sword, in case superstitious onlookers took it as a bad omen. Although the Battle of Verdun resulted in a French victory, it came at a cost: nine villages were destroyed; 250,000 people died; and at least half a million people were wounded.

From Pixabay.

The second relief is Le Triomphe de 1810 by Jean-Pierre Cortot, which celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Schönbrunn between France and Austria at the Schönbrunn palace (near Vienna) on October 14, 1809. In the relief, Napoleon is being crowned by the Goddess of Victory. This treaty was signed after the Austrian army lost to Napoleon and his combined French and Bavarian forces during the Battle of Wagram, which was fought from July 5-6, 1809. This battle was part of the War of the Fifth Coalition, which saw the Allied forces of Austria, Britain, Spain, and Portugal united against Napoleon. Although a peace was signed with Austria, the other three countries would remain at war with Napoleon, leading to the later War of the Sixth Coalition. But, for now, Napoleon was victorious. The Emperor of Austria, Francis I, married his daughter Marie Louise to Napoleon. Napoleon had the wooden Arc de Triomphe set up in 1810 to celebrate his return to Paris from this victory and wedding.

A close-up of a sculpted figure with what looks to be a castle tower on her head.

Now we’ll talk about the second main exterior façade of the Arc de Triomphe, the one that faces north-west and the Avenue de la Grand-Armée. There are two more large sculptural reliefs located on the pillars here. La Paix de 1815 is on the left (north) pillar, and La Résistance de 1814 is on the right (west) pillar. I’ll talk about these sculptures in greater detail shortly but, first, I’ll discuss the other items located towards the top of the Arc. Again, I’ll cover them from left to right.

From Pixabay.

At the far left, on the north pillar is a third bas-relief: La prise d’Alexandrie (The Fall of Alexandria), by J.E. Chapponière. This battle, fought on July 3, 1798, was also part of Napoleon’s Egypt-Syria campaign during the French Revolutionary Wars. In fact, it precedes the previously discussed Battle of Aboukir (the first bas-relief we discussed) by nearly a year. During this battle, Napoleon fought and eliminated most of the Egyptian army. This victory effectively sealed his conquest of Egypt.

The Fall of Alexandria. From Wikipedia.

In the centre of the north-west façade, on the tympanum of the arch, are two more winged female figures. They are a continuation of Les Renommées (the Renowned), by James Pradier.

From Pixabay.

At the far right, on the west pillar is a fourth bas-relief: Le passage du pont Arcole (The Battle of Arcole), by J.J. Feuchère. This battle was fought between French and Austrian forces 25 kms southeast of Verona, Italy from November 15-17, 1796. It was part of the War of the First Coalition that took place during the French Revolutionary Wars. Trying to inspire his men to attack, Napoleon grabbed a flag and stood in the open about 55 paces from a bridge that divided the French from their enemy. It was a bold move, standing right in the line of fire, and he could have been killed (several members of his staff were shot, and one of them did die). Depictions of the scene, such as this relief, often show Napoleon standing on the bridge itself. The victorious French then went on to seize Venice.

The Battle of Arcole. From Wikipedia.

The frieze at the very top of the north-west façade is a continuation of the one we discussed on the south-east. This time, the armies are returning from Egypt and Italy in La retour des armées, by Louis Caillouette, François Rude, and Bernard Gabriel Seurre.

All photos from Wikipedia.

With the top features of the north-west façade covered, I’ll now talk about the last two large sculptural reliefs that can be found mid-level on this side of the monument. Again, I’ll discuss them based on the chronological order of the scenes they are depicting.

From Pixabay.

The relief on the right (west) pillar is La Résistance de 1814, by Antoine Étex. As previously mentioned, Britain, Spain, and Portugal remained officially at war with Napoleon after the signing of the Treaty of Schönbrunn in 1809. By 1814, Austria was back in action again and a few more countries had signed up to bring Napoleon down: Prussia, Sweden, a number of German states, and Russia. This was the War of the Sixth Coalition. The Allied powers defeated Napoleon and his army in a series of battles that pushed him out of Germany; they pursued and triumphed over him in more campaigns across France; they marched into and occupied Paris on March 30, 1814; finally, they forced Napoleon to abdicate on April 11. The relief commemorates the resistance of the French people to the occupying powers.

From Pixabay.

The relief on the left (north) pillar is La Paix (Peace) de 1815, which was also designed by Antoine Étex. It commemorates the Treaty of Paris, which was initially signed on May 30, 1814 between France and the Allied powers, and was later concluded in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna. The governing of France was handed over to Louis XVIII (the younger brother of Louis XVI), with the understanding that he would do so as a constitutional monarch. This period was known as the Bourbon Restoration, and lasted from 1814-1830 (with a short break of 100 days or so in 1814-1815, when Napoleon briefly returned to power).

From Pixabay.

I’ll have to admit that I don’t really understand the inclusion of these two reliefs on the Arc. They both act to commemorate the defeat suffered by Napoleon and the French army during the War of the Sixth Coalition. The reliefs on the other side (Le Départ de 1792/La Marseillaise and Le Triomphe de 1810) are both celebrations of national triumph. Taken together, are the four reliefs meant to show that there are two sides to every coin? Victory and defeat? Pride and humility? One thing is for certain, France did not remain peaceful after 1815. Seven armed uprisings broke out in Paris alone between 1830-1848. But those are stories for another time.

From Pixabay.

There are two remaining façades of the Arc de Triomphe to cover. Thankfully, they have less decoration so we can cover them a little more quickly. Below is the east façade of the Arc de Triomphe (on the right of the Arc), which contains a fifth bas-relief. To help situate the monument, the Avenue de Champs-Élysées would be found to the left of the Arc, and the Avenue de la Grande-Armée on the right.

From Pixabay.

The fifth bas-relief featured on the east façade is La bataille de Jemappes (The Battle of Jemappes), by Carlo Marochetti. This battle took place on November 6, 1792 near the town of Jemappes (then in the Austrian Netherlands, today a part of Belgium). It was during the War of the First Coalition, which was part of the French Revolutionary War. This is the earliest of the battle scene depictions on the Arc de Triomphe, and occurs only three months after the events that inspired Le Départ de 1792/La Marseillaise. The battle was fought by General Charles François Dumouriez and his army of French Revolutionary volunteers against the Austrian army of the Holy Roman Empire. Their victory increased the confidence of the burgeoning French Republic, and motivated future campaigns (of which there would be many).

The Battle of Jemappes. From Wikipedia.

Below is the west façade of the Arc de Triomphe, which also contains just one bas-relief. The Avenue de Champs-Élysées would be found on the right side of the monument, and the Avenue de la Grande-Armée on the left.

From Pixabay.

The scene in the sixth and final bas-relief  is La bataille d’Austerlitz (the Battle of Austerlitz), by J.F.T. Gechter. It took place on December 2, 1805. If you recall, this was the battle that inspired Napoleon to erect the Arc de Triomphe. His French army was victorious over the Russians and Austrians. This was part of the War of the Third Coalition. In the aftermath of this battle, Austria lost lands in Italy and Bavaria to France, and in Germany to Napoleon’s German allies. Napoleon established the Confederation of the Rhine from 16 German states, which was intended to act as a buffer between France and the rest of central Europe (necessary, because a lot of nations were still eager to take on Napoleon). This union of German states also led to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire—this was a tectonic shift for Europe, since that Empire had been around for a thousand years (its first Emperor was Charlemagne from 800-814 C.E.).

The Battle of Austerlitz. From Wikipedia.

Before we move inside the Arc, take a look at the photo below. It was taken standing on the Avenue de Champs-Élysées. Note that there is one tall, main arch that makes up the interior. From this perspective, you can easily envision yourself walking straight through it. Now look closer and notice that there is a smaller arch on the left side of the main arch, located between the two pillars. If you were walking through the main arch, you could take a left and walk through this one. There is a second matching arch located between the two pillars on the right side. That makes three arches in total!

Imagine that you’re standing where I am when I took the photo above, at the head of the Avenue de Champs-Élysées. Now imagine that you’re going to walk straight toward the Arc and pass all the way through it to the other side (don’t worry about the traffic, I promise this imaginary excursion is safe). Take note of the first pillar you walk by on your left side (the south pillar), and the small arch (also on your left side). Once you get to the other side of the Arc, turn around and look back at that south pillar. That is where I was standing when I took the photo (two paragraphs) below.

In the below photo I am standing just outside of the Arc, looking in towards the small arch that was on your left side (let’s call this the south-west arch). You can see two pillars; the first (south) pillar that you walked by is towards the left of the photo. The other pillar, the one on the right, is the west pillar. The exterior of the south pillar faces the Avenue de Champs-Élysées and contains the relief Le Triomphe de 1810. The exterior of the pillar on the right, the west pillar, faces the Avenue de la Grand-Armée and contains the relief La Résistance de 1814.

The left and right columns that are facing in towards the main arch contain a list of names. The names on the left side begin with “Loano”, “Millesimo”, “Dego”, “Mondovi”, etc. The names on the right side begin with “Le Bastan”, “Le Boulou”, “Burgos”, “Espinosa”, etc. These are lists of major French victories in the Napoleonic Wars. The battles that took place during the Hundred Days, between when Napoleon escaped Elba and when he was defeated at Waterloo, are not included.

Below is a close-up of the last battle listed on the south pillar. Gaeta (Gaete in French) is a city in Italy located on the west coast, roughly halfway between Rome and Naples. The Siege of Gaeta took place from February 26-July 18, 1806 and resulted in a French victory. It was part of the War of the Third Coalition, and happened shortly after Napoleon’s forces invaded the Kingdom of Naples on February 8, 1806. Louis of Hesse-Philippsthal, the General of the Neopolitan garrison, held out in the fortress city of Gaeta for five months until he and his forces had to surrender.

We’re looking at the south pillar again, but this time I’ve zoomed in on the interior of the smaller arch. You can now see two more columns facing into the small arch. “Adige” is the first name on the top left column, and “Naples” is the first name on the top right. Between these columns is a sculptural relief and a list of names.

Below is a close-up of that list of names. These are names of military leaders who served during the French Revolution and the French Empire. 660 people are listed, 558 of which are French generals. When a name is underlined, that means that person died on the battlefield. For example, “Bon Lanusse”, the top name in one of the centre rows, is underlined. Shortly below it, “Dubois” is underlined as well. A line of text running underneath the rows of names indicates which companies the men were a part of: “Armees de Dalmatie”, “D’Egypte”, etc.

From Wikipedia.

If we were to turn around and face the west pillar, this would be the list of names we would see there. Note again, underneath these rows of names, are the companies the men were a part of: “Armees de Pyrenees”, etc. Again, there are two columns on the right and left that face the inside of the small arch with lists of names. I noticed something on these columns. If you look at the right column, the names have a border with a double line on either side of them. The names also seem to be more human-sounding than location-related (“Lacroix P,” and “D’Henin” for example). I think that this border indicates that these are the names of more military leaders and Generals, rather than battle names. On the column on the far left, you’ll notice that the bottom list is similar (more human names). But the top list doesn’t have any borders. I think that top list is names of battles, again. You might notice this pattern on some of the other columns. I wanted to point it out here, where it’s easier to tell the difference.

The exterior of the west pillar faces the Avenue de la Grand-Armée and contains the relief La Résistance de 1814.

From Wikipedia.

In the picture below, I have stepped back outside of the small southwest arch we have been studying and am now facing it. You can see that the ceilings of both the small arch and the main arch (directly above me) contain sculpted roses.

In the picture below, I’ve taken another step further away from the south-west arch.

I did not take matching photos of the other small arch, the north-east one. When you were doing your imaginary walk through the Arc, this arch would have been on your right side. If you were standing where I was in the photo above, you would have seen it if you had turned around. I never know the shape of a future blog post when I’m actually visiting a site, so sometimes I miss things that I later wish I had photographed. I’ll try my best to explain it in detail with what I do have.

Remember where we started our imaginary walk through the Arc de Triomphe? We were standing on the Avenue de Champs-Élysées, facing it. Then we walked all the way through. Imagine that we’ve done this again. Now we’re back at the other side of the Arc, standing in the middle of the entrance (instead of to the side, as I was when I described the south pillar, above). Our back is to the Avenue de la Grand-Armée. To our right is the small south-west arch that we’ve already studied. To the left is the other arch we have not yet studied, the north-east one. Note the column on the left facing the inside of the main arch that has a list of French victories, starting with “Lille.”

From Pixabay.

This is the same view as above, just one step further in.

In the photo below, we’ve turned so that we’re facing left and have stepped in front of the left column for a closer study of the French victory list that begins with the name “Lille.” This column is located on the north pillar. The exterior of this pillar faces the Avenue de la Grand-Armée and contains the sculptural relief La Paix de 1815. 

If we stepped inside the north-east arch, this is the list of names that we would find on the north pillar. Again, notice the army companies are found underneath the rows of names: “Armees du Nord”, “Des Ardennes”, etc. Again, I think there are two different kinds of lists on the columns that face the interior of the small arch. If a list has an exterior border, it contains human names. You can see on the right column that “Desvaux” and “Burcy” are underlined, indicating that they died on the battlefield. If a list doesn’t have an exterior border, like the one on the top of the left column, it is a list of French military victories.

From Wikipedia.

If we were to turn around, we would be facing the east pillar. This is the list of names we would find there. The army companies cannot be seen in this frame, but they are the: “Armees du Danube, D’Helvetie, Des Grisons, Des Alpes, Du Var D’Italie, De Rome, De Naples.” The exterior of this east pillar faces the Avenue de Champs-Élysées once more, and contains the sculptural relief of Le Départ de 1792/La Marseillaise. 

I’ve already used this picture, but decided to post it again because it’s the best shot I have of the north-east arch.

All right, thank you for bearing with me for the most detailed written explanation of the Arc de Triomphe you’ll find outside of a guidebook (why do I do this to us?). Mercifully, for both you (the reader) and me (the writer), Neil and I were not feeling up to the task of visiting the exhibition inside the Arc de Triomphe or waiting in an hours-long line to climb the 284 steps to the top. We had just been dropped off after our day trip to see Monet’s gardens and were feeling a little burned out. Walking around the bottom of the monument was enough for us! We had also already been to the top of Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower, so we felt like we had already seen plenty of the Parisian skyline.

Another view of the Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel Tower (from the second observation deck).

A view of the Arc de Triomphe from the top viewing deck of the Eiffel Tower. In the picture below, you can kind of make out some people standing at the top.

As you can see, the Arc de Triomphe already contains a lot of history in just its design, sculptures, and lists of military leaders and victories. A lot of this history precedes the completion of the monument itself. As you’ll see, the Arc’s symbolism as a testament to French military history quickly earned it a place of its own in history. France was not done with war in 1836, the year of the Arc’s completion. Not even close.

The man who had first commissioned the Arc de Triomphe did not live to see it completed. Napoleon died while he was in captivity, on the remote South Atlantic island of Saint-Helena on May 5, 1821. Louis-Philippe I oversaw the final construction of the Arc from 1830-1836. In 1840, he gained permission from the British to bring Napoleon’s remains back to France. A state funeral was held for Napoleon in Paris on December 15, 1840, during which his hearse was carried under the Arc. This can be seen, symbolically, as a moment of closure between the General and his monument.

Napoleon’s funeral carriage passing under the Arc de Triomphe. Jean Valmy-Baysse. From Wikipedia.

In 1880, the Arc became the starting point for the Bastille Day military parade. It has been held almost every year on July 14 since then. From 1882 to 1886, a plaster sculpture depicting a chariot drawn by horses adorned the top of the arch: Le triomphe de la Révolution (The Triumph of the Revolution), by Alexandre Falguière. The plaster quickly crumbled, and a bronze version that could have better stood up to the elements was never commissioned. The Musée d’Orsay contains an artist’s model of the sculpture.

From theMusée d’Orsay’s official website.

When French author Victor Hugo died on May 22, 1885, his body was laid in state under the Arc for one night. In the picture below, you can see the plaster sculpture of Falguière’s Le triomphe de la Révolution, which was still present at the time.

Funeral Ceremony for Victor Hugo. Antique 1885 print. From Wikipedia.

The Arc has also served as a rallying point by the French army in times of victory, and by its opponents in those of its defeat. 30,000 Prussian, Bavarian, and Saxon troops marched under the Arc on March 1, 1871 following German victory in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).

Prussians parade through Paris, March 1871. From Wikipedia.

On July 14, 1919, the French and their Allies were able to take their turn in a special victory parade held after the conclusion of World War I (1914-1918), celebrating their defeat of the Germans. You can watch video footage of this moment on Youtube, here. (The Arc de Triomphe shows up about 30 seconds into the video).

The Victory Pararde in Paris, July 14, 1919. From the Imperial War Museums.

On August 7, three weeks after the victory parade, Charles Godefroy flew through the Arc de Triomphe in a biplane******. This extraordinary feat is on Youtube, which you can see here.

A still from the video of Godefroy flying his biplane through the Arc de Triomphe.

Photographed by Jacques Mortane. August 7, 1919. From Wikipedia.

On November 20, 1916, as the terrible Battle of Verdun was winding down, F Simon (President of the French Memory) had the idea of laying the body of one French soldier to rest in the Panthéon to symbolically honour all of the men fighting for France in the Great War. There, the soldier would be joining the historic ranks of other prominent French military leaders, including François-Severin Marceau, who had died defending the fatherland. This idea gained traction after the conclusion of World War I. On November 12, 1919, French officials decided to officially move forward with it. However, a public letter writing campaign convinced the French Parliament to change the location of the burial from the Panthéon to the Arc de Triomphe. The body of one unknown soldier, meant to symbolize the sacrifice made by so many other soldiers whose remains were never found or identified, was commemorated at the Arc de Triomphe on November 10, 1920. The coffin containing the soldier was first placed in the Arc’s chapel on the first floor. It was then moved to its present location underneath the main arch, ground level, facing the Avenue de Champs-Élysees. The inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier reads: “Here lies a French soldier who died for his fatherland 1914-1918.” A ceremony is held every November 11 to honour the sacrifice made by him and his peers.

Standing at the foot of the tomb.

The tomb is located in front of the south-west arch.

The dedication below translates as: “11 November 1918, return from Alsace and Lorraine to France.”

The tomb also contains an eternal flame, which was lit on November 11, 1923 at 6:00 pm. It was the first eternal flame that had been lit in Europe since the sacred flame once tended by the Vestal Virgins in Rome was extinguished in 394 C.E². It is revived every night during a ceremony held at 6:30 pm. Incredibly, this tradition continued even during the Nazi Occupation of France during World War II.

Standing at the head of the tomb, with the eternal flame at the forefront.

Of course, France was (still!) not yet done with war in 1920. I’m going to jump ahead in my story a little, because a description of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier would not be complete without acknowledging that today it commemorates lives lost in World War I and World War II. The inscription below translates as: “To the Fighters of the Armies; To the Fighters of the Resistance; [who] Died for France 1939-1945.”

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier also contains a touching dedication to student resisters of the German occupation. The inscription below reads: “In tribute to high school students, and students from France, who defied the army of the Nazi occupiers, on November 11, 1940, risking their lives.”

Nazi Germany occupied Paris on June 10, 1940. As  Armistice Day (November 11) approached that same year, the Nazis forbade ceremonies, church services, or war commemoration of any kind. They didn’t want to risk an uprising. In spite of this order, 3,000-5,000 university and high school students marched down the Avenue de Champs-Élysées. The Nazis had been using this avenue as a route for their many military parades. On this day, the students reclaimed it in one of the first demonstrations made against the Occupation, and they laid flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The reprisal, as expected, was swift and violent: many demonstrators were injured, and around a hundred students were arrested or imprisoned.

Demonstration of November 11, 1940. Students from the Institut agronomique prepare to lay flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From the Museum of National Resistance, Champigny-sur-Marne.

You might have noticed in the photos above that there was a plaque containing the image of a flaming sword. This plaque was added after World War II. It contains the insignia of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), which was the London headquarters for the Commander (General Dwight D. Eisenhower) of the the Allied forces from 1943-1945. The plaque is dated August 25, 1944, marking the Liberation of Paris.

With the description of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier done (with a brief jump ahead to explain some of the features that were added due to World War II), I’m going to back the narrative up just a bit. Although the “Great War” was meant to be the “war to end all wars”, we all know now that more was to come. Nazi Germany attacked and defeated the French army on May 10, 1940. The Germans occupied Paris on June 14 and, just like 1871, enemy combatants incorporated the Arc de Triomphe in their victory march. This was daringly followed in November by the march of the student resisters, as previously discussed.

German troops parade down the Champs-Élysées. From the German Federal Archive, 1940. From Wikipedia.

The city was liberated by French and American troops on August 25, 1944. On August 26, French General Charles de Gaulle led an Allied victory parade around the Arch de Triomphe and down the Champs-Élysées. Both the Germans and the French avoided going directly under the arch, out of respect for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Instead, they marched around it. All military parades that have taken place since 1919 have observed this custom.

A colourised photo of the Allied victory parade that took place on August 26, 1944.

Crowds of French patriots line the Champs-Élysées to view Free French tanks and half tracks of General Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division pass, after Paris was liberated on August 26, 1944. Jack Downey, US Office of War Information. From Wikipedia.

The Arc de Triomphe continues to be an important national symbol for the French. Every year, it serves as the centre of celebrations for France’s national holiday on July 14, la Fête national (known in English as Bastille Day). A large tricolour flag is hung inside the Arc for the occasion. The Arc is the starting point for the military parade, and a twenty-minute fly past is done by the Patrouille Acrobatique de France over the Arc with 9 fighter jets. On New Year’s Eve, the Arc de Triomphe hosts a light show and fireworks celebration.

From Pixabay.

Unfortunately, the Arc de Triomphe has also been a target for terrorist attacks and vandalism. In 1995, a bomb set off by the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria wounded 17 people. Most recently, the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized on December 1, 2019 by protesters taking part in the Yellow Vests movement. On March 16, 2019 riots along the Avenue de Champs-Élysees led to 80 business being damaged, pillaged, and set on fire. Dissent and protest have a long history in France and are a key part of a functioning democracy, but hopefully the violence and destruction of property will soon come to an end.

I hope you enjoyed this visit of the Arc de Triomphe! This is my longest travel blog post yet. I will be impressed if you were able to read it in one sitting.


¹ The original name of the area that contains the Arc de Triomphe and the Place Charles de Gaulle was the “Butte Chaillot” (Chaillot mound). Prior to the roadwork in 1777, it was where a number of hunting trails converged.

² Napoleon commissioned the construction of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel at the same time, which is located near the Louvre. It is only half the size of the Arc de Triomphe d’Étoile, measuring 63 feet (19 m) high, 75 feet (23 m) wide, and 24 feet (7.3 m) deep. It was built, and completed, between 1806-1808.

Below is a selfie taken while standing inside the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

Below is a glimpse through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which is also located on the Axe Historique. Through it you can see the Arc de Triomphe, which is about 3.5 km away. The obelisk standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe is situated at the The Place de la Concorde, which is where Louis XVI was guillotined during the French Revolution. The obelisk once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple, and it was gifted to France by Egypt in 1829. It was raised in the square on October 25, 1836 (it took a few years to get the obelisk to France).

From Wikipedia.

The obelisk is shown below.

³ Below is a picture of the Arch of Titus, the Roman inspiration for the Parisian Arc de Triomphe. It was erected in 82 C.E. by the Emperor Domitian, to commemorate the victories of his older brother Emperor Titus after his passing in 81 C.E. I’ll also talk more about this arch in another post.

**** As a Canadian, something that comes to my mind is that the Arc de Triomphe is almost like a precursor to the Stanley Cup. I’m pretty sure this is the first time in history this comparison has ever been made.

***** The National Guard is a French military and police reserve force. It was founded on July 13, 1789 as a “garde bourgeoise” (bourgeois militia), and was separate from the French army. It was revolutionary in nature and sympathetic to the cause of the lower classes. On July 14, 1789 this militia stormed the Bastille and the Hôtel Invalides in search of weapons. The officers of the National Guard were elected, and a law issued on October 14, 1791 decreed that all “active citizens” and their children over the age of 18 were required to enlist. Their uniforms matched the French tricolour: dark blue coats with red collars, white lapels and cuffs.

****** Sadly, another man, ace fighter pilot Jean Navarre, died on July 10, 1919 during a practice flight for his attempt at flying through the Arc de Triomphe. Charles Godefroy volunteered to replace him.

Need a cheat sheet to keep the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars straight? Me too.

The French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802)

  • French Republic versus Britain, Austria, Prussia, Egypt, and others.
  • Consists of two main conflicts, the First and Second Coalitions.
  • During the French Revolution, countries debated whether they should intervene to support Louis XVI, prevent the spread of revolutionary sentiment throughout the rest of Europe, or take advantage of France’s political turmoil.
  • First Coalition: 1792-1797. France declared war on on Prussia and Austria in spring 1792. The countries invaded France and the Battle of Valmy took place on September 20, 1792. The French were victorious. It was a surprise upset and a big psychological victory for the new French government (the National Convention), which had just been reorganized after the Insurrection of August 10, 1792 (the large sculptural relief Le Départ de 1792/La Marseillaise depicts those events). This victory served as vindication for the revolutionary government, and they were emboldened to declare the abolishment of the monarchy and the establishment of the First French Republic. I’m surprised that there isn’t a bas-relief that depicts the Battle of Valmy. Historians view it as one of the most significant battles in history, because of the confidence it gave the revolutionary French government.
    • There is a bas-relief of the Battle of Jemappes, which took place shortly after on November 6, 1792. This victory gave further confidence to the French revolutionary government and its army.
    • In 1794, the French scored huge victories against the Austrians and the Spanish.
    • In 1795, the French captured the Austrian Netherlands and signed a peace treaty with Spain and Prussia.
    • In April 1796, a then-little known general named Napoleon Bonaparte began his first campaign in Italy.
    • There is a bas-relief that depicts the funeral of General François Séverin Marceau, who fought in many battles that took place during the First Coalition. His funeral was held on September 20, 1796.
    • Another bas-relief features the Battle of Arcole (November 15-17, 1796). This is the one where Napoleon stood in the range of enemy fire near a bridge, waving a flag to encourage his men forward.
    • By April 1797, the French armies led by Napoleon pushed the Austrian/Hapsburg forces out of Italy.
    • On October 18, 1797, the Treaty of Campo Formio was signed by France and Austria. This ended the War of the First Coalition.
  • Second Coalition: 1798-1802. Began when Napoleon invaded Egypt. The Allied powers decided to take advantage of Napoleon’s absence from the European continent to try and re-take land they had lost during the First Coalition.
    • Two bas-reliefs, the Fall of Alexandria (July 3, 1798) and the Battle of Aboukir (July 25, 1799) depict scenes from Napoleon’s Egypt-Syria campaign. His victories against the Egyptian and Ottoman armies increased his popularity back home.
    • The Allies were successful at first, pushing the French out of Italy. They also invaded Switzerland.
    • Russia had to drop out of the war after French victory at the Battle of Zurich, which took place from September 25-26, 1799.
    • Napoleon returned from Egypt in the fall of 1799. He orchestrated a coup in November 1799 and overthrew the French government (then known as the Directory); he then appointed himself First Consul of the Republic. He launched a fresh attack against the Austrians in Italy during the spring of 1800. He pushed them out by June.
    • French defeat of the Austrians in Bavaria led to the Treaty of Lunéville in 1801.
    • Britain was left on its own without Russia and Austria. It had no choice but to sign the Treaty of Amiens with Napoleon on March 25, 1802. This ended the War of the Second Coalition, and was the end of the French Revolutionary Wars. (Soon to resume, though as the Napoleonic Wars).

The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815)

  • fought between the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon, versus various other European powers, usually led by Britain.
  • Consists of five main conflicts, the Third-Seventh Coalitions, each termed after the group of European nations that were united against Napoleon.
  • on May 18, 1804, Napoleon became the First Emperor of the French.
  • 3rd Coalition: 1805. France versus Russia and Austria. Napoleon defeated them at the Battle of Austerlitz on December 2, 1805. This is considered his greatest victory, and inspired him to build the Arc de Triomphe. One of the bas-reliefs depicts this battle.
    • During this conflict, the British faced off against the combined French and Spanish navy on October 21, 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. This victory led to the British retaining control of the seas and prevented the invasion of Britain itself.
  • Fourth Coalition: October 1806-1807. Prussia was concerned about increasing French power, and allied with Russia, Saxony, and Sweden. Napoleon quickly defeated the Prussia at the Battle of Jena (Oct 14, 1806) and the Russians at the Battle of Friedland (June 14, 1807).
  • Fifth Coalition: 1809. Badly prepared, led by Austria (with support from Britain, Spain, and Portugal). The Austrians were defeated at the Battle of Wagram (July 5-6, 1809) by Napoleon’s combined French and Bavarian forces. The Treaty of Schönbrunn was signed between France and Austria on October 14, 1809. Austria’s Emperor, Francis I, married his daughter off to Napoleon. Napoleon had the wooden Arc de Triomphe erected to celebrate his return to Paris with his new Austrian bride. The large sculptural relief of Le Triomphe de 1810 commemorates these events.
  • Invasion of Portugal/Betrayal of Spain: Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1807; Portugal was the only remaining British ally in Europe. Temptation got the better of Napoleon while he had his French troops in Spain; he turned against his former ally, deposed the reigning Spanish Bourbon family, and had his brother declared Joseph I, King of Spain, in 1808. Spain was not a fan of this, so they joined forces with the Portuguese and British. After six years of fighting, the French were expelled from Iberia (the landmass that consists of Spain and Portugal) in 1814.
  •  Invasion of Russia: Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. It did not end well. The French were forced to retreat after sustaining heavy losses.
  • Sixth Coalition: 1813. Prussia, Russia, and Austria were encouraged by Napoleon’s loss in Russia. They defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzeig on October 16-19, 1813. They invaded France, and captured Paris in March 1814. Napoleon was forced to abdicate in early April, and was exiled to Elba as the Bourbons returned to the throne (Louis XVIII). The two large sculptural reliefs of La Résistance de 1814 and La Paix (Peace) de 1815 commemorate these events.
  • Napoleon escaped Elba in February 1815 and regained control of France.
  • Seventh Coalition: The Allies responded to Napoleon’s return. They defeated him conclusively at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. He was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died on May 5, 1821. Louis XVIII was restored to the throne of France.
Categories
France Museums Paris

The Romantic Nature of the Musée de la Vie Romantique

Neil and I stopped at the Musée de la Vie Romantique (the Museum of Romantic Life) at the tail-end of our walking tour of Montmartre. The museum is located at the base of the Montmartre Hill in the 9th arrondissement of Paris.

The main building, which houses the permanent exhibition, is a hôtel particulier that was built in 1830, now known as the Hôtel Scheffer-Renan.

From Wikipedia.

The Musée de la Vie Romantique contains exhibits on Parisian artists who were part of the Romantic movement. Romanticism was an artistic, cultural, and intellectual movement that swept through Europe between 1770-1850. It arose partly as a reaction to modernity in general and the Industrial Revolution in particular, and was influenced by the tumultuous political events of the time such as the French Revolution. Romanticism stressed the importance of nature, history (particularly that of the medieval period), individualism, and emotion.

The Romantics believed that intense emotion was the true root of aesthetic experience. They valued imagination, originality, and believed in the genius of the creative mind as it is moved by inspiration. A common artistic theme was the awe that one can feel when faced with the sublimity of nature. English Romantic poet William Wordsworth¹ is especially identified with the latter sentiment; renowned for his writings about the Lake District, he stated that poetry begins as the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” that is later “recollected in tranquility” and shaped into art. Although the movement was most powerfully reflected through art, music, and literature, it also had a major influence on politics, education, science, fashion, and architecture. For example, people began to take a greater interest in history during this period, and recognized that valuable historic landmarks had to be protected and restored. The movement also celebrated folk art.

Painter Eugène Delacroix was considered a leader of the French Romantic school.

Liberty Leading the People. Eugène Delacroix, 1830.

Nature and the sublime featured in a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, a German Romantic landscape painter.

The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. Caspar David Friedrich, circa 1817. From Wikipedia.

In 1811, Dutch painter Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) arrived in Paris and began his studies at the École des Beaux-Arts. He was the son of two painters, portrait painter Johan Bernard Scheffer, and portrait miniature painter Cornelia Lamme (who was herself the daughter of landscape painter Arie Lamme, after whom Ary was named)².

Scheffer began exhibiting his work at the Salon de Paris in 1812. In 1822, he was hired by Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, as a drawing teacher for Philippe’s children. Scheffer profited from the connections he made while in Philippe’s employ, earning lots of commissions for portraits and other work. In 1830, the July Revolution saw the overthrow of then-King Charles X (younger brother of Louis XVI and Louis XVIII). Scheffer’s employer became Louis-Philippe I, King of the French (reigned 1830-1848).

Self-portrait. Ary Scheffer, 1830.
Louis-Philippe, King of France from 1830-1848. Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1841.

Scheffer continued to prosper during the reign of Louis-Philippe I. In 1830, Scheffer moved to a part of Paris that was located on the slopes of the Saint-Georges district (below Montmartre). This area was located where the old Les Porcherons quarter had been, which had previously consisted of cafés, cabarets, and orchards (even farther back, there had once been a castle here³). Now, the orchards were being converted into a fashionable residential neighbourhood that attracted a large number of writers, painters, actors, and musicians (the cafés and cabarets remained). This area was called “La Nouvelle-Athènes”* after the ancient Greek design of the new townhouses and buildings in the district. It became the centre of the French romantic artistic circle.

Place Saint Georges, which features a statue of 19th century French illustrator and cartoonist Paul Gavarni.  This square is a 3-minute walk away from where Scheffer lived.

Scheffer rented a property at No. 7 Rue Chaptal (now number 16), in a residence that is now known as the Hôtel Scheffer-Renan**. Scheffer had two glass-roofed buildings added to the courtyard; one was used as a salon, the other as a workshop. Scheffer and his younger brother Hendrik, also a painter, taught students in the workshop. Scheffer was joined in his new home by a daughter named Cornelia (named after his mother), who had also been born in 1830. The identity of the child’s mother is unknown, perhaps kept a secret by Scheffer because she may have been from one of the noble families that had commissioned Scheffer’s artwork. Cornelia (1830-1899) later became a sculptor and painter. Cornelia and her father hosted Friday-evening salons, and they were attended by prominent figures including George Sand, Frédéric Chopin, Eugène Delacroix, and Charles Dickens, among many others. When Sheffer’s friends had some paintings turned down by the Salon de Paris, he had them displayed as part of an “Exhibit of the Refused.”

A picture of one of the glass-roofed buildings that Scheffer had built, now used as a tea room.

From the museum’s official website.

Upon Scheffer’s death in 1858, Cornelia purchased the property that her father had been renting. She preserved the house, the salon, and the workshop, and used them to exhibit her father’s work. In 1870-1871, during the Paris Commune, the workshop and the salon were temporarily turned into a hospital

When Cornelia died in 1899, she bequeathed her father’s paintings to his hometown of Dordrecht, in the Netherlands. The property then passed on to Noemi Renan-Psichari, a granddaughter of Ari Scheffer’s brother Hendrik, who had taught at the workshop with him. Noemi’s father***, Joseph Ernest Renan, was a French academic, critic, and philosopher. She converted the salon into a library dedicated to her father’s work, and then rented the workshop to other artists. Her daughter, Madeleine (Corrie) Psichari-Siohan, continued to do this after Noemi’s death in 1943.

Portrait of Ernest Renan. Antoine Samuel Adam-Saloman, 1876/84. From Wikipedia.

In 1956, the property was sold to the French state for a small amount on the condition that it be used as a cultural institution. For a number of years, it served as a university teaching and research centre for the study of sound and colours under the directorship of Madeleine’s cousin, Olivier Revault d’Alonnes.

Upon Madeleine’s death in 1982, the French state handed management of the property over to the City of Paris. The City, in turn, established the “Renan-Scheffer Museum” as an annex of the Musée Carnavalet (which is dedicated to the history of the city). The museum then underwent a massive renovation and reopened in 1987 as the “Musée de la Vie Romantique.”

From the museum’s official website.

The permanent exhibition is housed on two floors in the former residence of the Hôtel Scheffer-Renan. The first floor contains numerous household possessions, family portraits, memorabilia, jewelry, and watercolours painted by French romantic writer George Sand (1804-1876)****. The museum’s website heralds Sand as “the first modern woman in French literature.” By the time Sand was 27, she was the most popular writer in Europe, male or female (even more than Victor Hugo and Honore de Balzac!), and her work would continue to be immensely popular throughout her life and after her death.

In addition to the subversive nature of her novels, Sand also flouted many of the rigid social conventions that applied to 19th century upper-class women such as dressing in male attire and smoking in public.

Sand was highly political, and championed the causes of the working-class, the poor, and women’s rights. If you read my blog post about the Musée de Cluny, you may recall that Sand wrote about  The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in her serialized 1844 novel Jeanne, bringing them to public attention. Sand often attended the salons held by Ari Scheffer and Cornelia at the Hôtel Scheffer-Renan, so there is a personal history that connects the property with her exhibit.

This painting is currently on display at the museum.

Portrait of George Sand. Auguste Charpentier, 1838. From Wikipedia.

A photograph of her that I really like.

George Sand by Nadar, 1864. From Wikipedia.

The second floor of the permanent exhibition contains paintings, sculptures, and other artistic objects that were made during the Romantic period. Ary Scheffer’s paintings are included, as well as those made by his contemporaries. There are also written and archival materials related to Ernest Joseph Renan, Noemi Renan-Psichari’s father.

Baroness Charlotte Rothsch. Ary Scheffer, 1828.

Unfortunately, Neil and I were feeling a little burned out by the time we made it to the Musée de la Vie Romantique. As a result, I didn’t take any pictures of the permanent exhibition. But I couldn’t resist taking photos of a temporary exhibition that they had on, entitled: “The Power of Flowers: Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) + A Contemporary Career in the Arts and Crafts.” The exhibit featured the work of renowned botanical illustrator Pierre-Joseph Redouté and his contemporaries.

One of Redouté’s illustrations.

A painting by Redouté’s teacher and mentor, Gerard van Spaendonck, that was part of the exhibit .

Still-life of an alabaster pedestal, enriched with bas-reliefs, on which is set a basket of flowers with a bronze vase on one side. Gerard van Spaendonck, 1787.

One of Redouté’s many illustrations.

Centifolia rose, anemone, and clematis. Pierre Joseph Redouté. From Wikipedia.

Redouté was nicknamed “the Raphael of Flowers” and has been called the greatest botanical illustrator of all time. The museum’s website explains that he “contributed to the golden age of natural sciences by collaborating with the greatest naturalists of his time. He responded to their concern for the classification and identification of plants from four continents, reproducing them in watercolour on precious vellums with unparalleled scientific rigour and artistic talent.” He published over 2,100 plates that depicted over 1,8000 species of flowers, many of them having never before been illustrated in this manner.

Portrait of Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Louis-Léopold Boilly, circa 1800. From Wikipedia.

Redouté was born in Saint-Hubert, in the southern Belgium province of Luxembourg (not to be confused with the country of Luxembourg, which it borders on the southeast). His father and grandfather were both painters, and his older brother, Antoine, was a scenery designer and interior decorator. At 13, Redouté left home to make his living as a painter. He traveled throughout Flanders, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. He made his way to Paris in 1782, and met up with Antoine to work with him as a stage-set painter and designer.

18th century wallpaper.

While working in Paris, Redouté attended lectures by Dutch artist Gerard van Spaendonck, who was the official Royal Professor of Painting at the French court. Spaendonck worked out of the Jardin du Roi, the royal garden of medicinal plants. (Now known as the Jardin des Plantes; I have a short post on it here).

In his free time, Redouté would go to the garden to sketch the flowers. While doing so, he met Charles Louis L’Heritier de Brutelle, a renowned French aristocrat, botanist, and plant collector. L’Heritier became Redouté’s teacher and mentor: he taught Redouté about plant anatomy, showed him how to dissect flowers, explained the Linnaeus system of plant classification, and instructed him on what botanists required in illustrations.

L’Heritier commissioned Redouté to produce more than 50 drawings that were included in a book of botanical illustration, L’Heritier’s Stirpes Novae (New Plants, 1784-1785).

A page from Stirpes Novae with an illustration by Redouté. The flower depicted is commonly known as a “silky camellia.”

Stuartia Malacodendron, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, from Stirpes Novae 1784. From Project Gutenberg.

In 1786,Redouté began working at the National Museum of Natural History where he catalogued the collections of flor aand fauna. He joined L’Heritier on a trip to London in 1786, where they went to study the plants at the Kew Gardens. L’Hertier completed a new work, Sertum Anglicum (An English Garland, 1788), that featured the rare plants growing at these gardens, and again Redouté was commissioned to do the illustrations.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

From Pixabay.

Back in Paris, L’Heritier introduced Redouté to the Versailles court. There, Redouté caught the attention (and patronage) of Marie Antoinette and became an official court artist. He tutored the Queen in her art studies, and was given the official title of “Draughtsman and Painter to the Queen’s Cabinet.” This connection also gave Redouté the opportunity to work with and learn from Spaendonck; the Dutch artist taught Redouté how to paint with watercolour on vellum. Spaendonck helped direct Redouté in the production of several works that were included in the Vellins du Roi, a famous royal collection of botanical watercolours******. (Spaendonck contributed over 50 of his own watercolours to the project).

Portrait of Gerard van Spaendonck. Nicolas-Antoine Taunay, circa 1813-1815. From Wikipedia.

Another painting by Spaendonck that was part of the exhibit.

Bouquet of Flowers. Gerard van Spaendonck, 1785.

Redouté managed to stay out of trouble during the French Revolution. In 1792, he started working for the French Academy of Sciences. In 1798, Empress Josephine Bonaparte (the first wife of Napoleon) became his patron. She commissioned him to illustrate the flowers she was growing in her gardens at the Château de Malmaison.

The château had a large garden with lots of rare and exotic plants and animals (including kangaroos, black swans, and zebras!), a heated orangery that contained 300 pineapple plants, and a greenhouse. Josephine’s gardens were where nearly 200 plants were grown in France for the first time. The garden was most famous for its rose garden, which contained around 250 varieties of the bloom.

Josephine is thought to have funded Les Liliacees (1802-1816), Jardin de la Malmaison (1803-1805), Descriptions des Plantes Rares Cultivees à Malmaison (1812-1817), and Les Roses (1817-1824).

In 1809, Redouté also taught painting to Princess Adélaïde of Orléans, sister to the later Louis-Philippe I (a slight connection to Ary Scheffer, who would later teach Louis-Philippe’s children).

Hundred Leaved Rose. Pierre-Josephe Redouté, from Les Roses (1817-1824). From Project Gutenberg.

Redouté struggled financially for a few years after Josephine’s death in 1814. In 1822, he became a master of draughtmanship at the National Museum of Natural History. He also taught art classes at the museum. He passed away in June 1840, at the age of 80.

Tulipes. Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840).

Here are a few other paintings in the exhibit that were done by Redouté’s contemporaries.

If anyone asks me how many flowers I would like, this is an appropriate amount.

La Jardiniere, Simon Saint-Jean, 1837.

I think these next two paintings are by French artist Antoine Chazal, who was another student of Gerard van Spaendonck.

This painting is by Antoine Chazal, and is of the grave of his and Redouté’s teacher, Gerard van Spaendock. He passed away in 1822. I really liked all of the different flowers in this painting, and so the following four photos are close-up details of the larger painting.

The tomb of Gerard van Spaendonck. Antoine Chazal, 1830.

The vase at the side of the headstone.

The roses found at the bottom of the headstone.

A garland of flowers draped across the headstone.

A cluster of hollyhocks growing to the right of the headstone. A fitting monument for the renowned artist, who shared his talent with the next generation of botanical painters.


¹ Other Romantic figures in English literature include Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Blake (Songs of Innocence and Experience), Mary Shelley (who invented the horror genre with Frankenstein; the Romantic movement placed new emphasis on the emotions of horror and terror) and Sir Walter Scott (who invented the historical novel with books such as Waverly and Ivanhoe; history also being a new focus of Romanticism).

² Scheffer’s mother, Cornelia, was the one to move Scheffer and his two younger brothers to Paris in 1811 after Johan died. Ari’s brothers were journalist and writer Karel Arnold (1796-1853), and painter Hendrik (1798-1862).

³ An old illustration of the area that would become Saint Georges and Le Nouvelle-Athènes from 1550. Note Montmartre (spelled “Monmartre”) and its hill at the top left of the picture. The former castle is located in the bottom right, labelled “Les Tor Cherons.” Note that the area is fairly undeveloped. “LaGranche Bataliere” on the right translates as the “Farm of the Barn.”

From the Plan of Paris in Colour 1550. Olivier Truschet, engraver (?), Germain Hoyau, designer (?). From Wikipedia.

View of the Porcherons Castle “seen from the side of New France” (a district located East of the Porcherons). The castle was built in 1310, then destroyed during the French Revolution. It was completely razed during Haussman’s renovation of Paris (1853-1870). This picture can be seen in the Montmartre museum (which I will shortly do a post about).

Building from the 14th century, illustration from the 17th century (?) by Marie-Louis Legrand. From Wikipedia.

* “La Nouvelle-Athens” was also the name of a café in the same area that was later frequented by Impressionist painters. Edgar Degas painted L’Absinthe in it. During the 1940s, the café was known as the Sphynx. It was a striptease club frequented by the Nazis. Sadly, the building burned down in 2004. There are so many layers of history in Paris, it’s impossible to stop at one story once you start digging!

L’Absinthe. Edgar Degas, 1876.

** The museum’s website says that the house was built by “the entrepreneur Wormser”, but I haven’t been able to dig up any more information about him.

*** Noemi’s mother, Cornélie Henriëtte was Hendrik’s daughter.

**** George Sand was her nom de plume. Her real name was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin.

***** Women who wanted to wear male attire in public were required by the police to apply for a special permit to do so. George Sand refused to comply with this.

****** Our old friend, Gaston of Orléans, saviour of the Château de Chambord (and eternal nuisance to his elder brother, Louis XIII), was also an enthusiastic botanist. He planted a garden at the Château de Blois and grew rare plants. In 1645, he invited botanical artist Nicolas Robert (1614-1684) to Blois. Scottish botanist Robert Morison, the director of the gardens at Blois, encouraged Robert to draw the many different species of plants growing there. This was the beginning of Les Velins du Roi. When Gaston died in 1660, the collection of illustrations was passed on to Louis XIV. Louis handed it off to the Jardin du Roi (now the Jardin des Plantes). Robert continued to contribute illustrations to the collection until his death in 1684. The collection was enlarged in the 18th and 19th century, incorporating artwork by other notable French artists (including Gerard van Spaendonck and Pierre-Joseph Redouté). Les Velins du Roi was moved to the National Museum of Natural History in 1793, where it remains.

An illustration of tulips by Nicolas Robert in Les Velins du Roi.

Categories
France Landmarks Paris

Origins of the Catacombs of Paris

Paris is a very old city. It has been around since 250 B.C.E., when a Celtic Iron Age people known as the Parisii lived along the banks of the Seine river. A lot of people come and go over the course of 2,000 years. By the end of the 18th century, the cemeteries located within the Parisian city centre had reached a crisis point. For years, they had been crammed far beyond their capacity with bodies. They were so full that burial could no longer be done in a sanitary or respectful manner.

Conditions were particularly abysmal in the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents (Holy Innocents’ Cemetery), which was the oldest and largest burial ground in Paris. It was also very central, located right next to Les Halles marketplace. After eight centuries of consecutive use, Les Innocents contained around two million bodies. Although it started out as a site of individual burial, the cemetery soon had to bury its dead in mass graves that contained 1,500 bodies each; only when one of these large, 20 metre-deep pits was full could another be opened. Even using this method, the cemetery had run out of space by the 14th century.

In order to free up burial space, arched buildings known as charnel houses were constructed along the 3-metre tall wall that surrounded the cemetery. The bones of long-dead bodies were exhumed from the pits and piled up in these structures. But the bodies kept coming.

By 1750, inspectors reported that it was difficult to conduct business in the area due to the smell. A prolonged period of rain in 1780 led to a burial pit collapsing under its own weight and spilling its grisly contents into the basements of neighbouring houses.

On September 4, 1780, a law was passed that prohibited the burial of any more bodies in Les Innocents and all other central Paris cemeteries. Three new large-scale burial grounds were established on the outskirts of the city (the infamous Père- Lachaise cemetery was one of these), and all existing parishes located within city limits were condemned.

Engraving depicting the Saint Innocents Cemetery in Paris, around the year 1550. From Wikipedia.
Charnel house at the Saint Innocents Cemetery. Unknown date. From Wikipedia.

At the same time that city officials were given the task of cleaning up the old cemeteries, the left bank of the city was dealing with a series of abandoned, subterranean mines. Over the centuries, this area (which, earlier, had been located outside of city limits) was mined for its rich Lutetian limestone deposits (named after the Roman-era city that existed in this area). A lot of grand Parisian structures built from the 17th century onwards such as the Louvre, Les Invalides, and the Haussman apartment buildings used this limestone in their construction. Many of these old mine quarries had been dug haphazardly, often illicitly, and were often abandoned or forgotten after the limestone had been depleted.

By this point in the 18th century, Paris had grown so large that many of its expanding neighbourhoods were built over previously mined territories. This was problematic, as the occasional collapse of forgotten mine shafts made construction of new buildings and streets dangerous. Louis XVI created a commission, the Inspection of Mines service, that was tasked with mapping, reinforcing, and maintaining the old mining quarries. This was no small task, as the tunnel network (called “the Quarries of Paris”) was ultimately found to span 320 kilometers!¹

Map of Paris’ underground mine quarries. Emile Gérards, published 1908. From Wikipedia.

One of the underground tunnels leading to the catacombs.

Both the mining project and the cemetery closures were issues that Police-Lieutenant-General Alexandre Lenoire was involved with. He suggested relocating the bodies to a series of tunnels that had been renovated in 1782. His idea was approved, and the Tombe-Issoire passageways underwent further preparations to transform them into an ossuary (a final resting place) for the remains of these long-dead Parisians.

On April 7, 1786, the site was consecrated as the “Paris Municipal Ossuary.” It took two years to transport the bodies from the Holy Innocents’ cemetery. The bodies were moved at night, in black-covered wagons, to avoid negative attention from the public or the Church. The bones were thrown down two quarry wells, and then piled into galleries. In later years, more bodies from other cemeteries were relocated there as well including those from Saint-Étienne-des-Grès, Saint-Eustache, Madeleine Cemetery, Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, Errancis Cemetery, Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux, and the Bernardins Convent.

Six to seven million bodies are thought to have found their final rest in these tunnels, with some of the oldest dating back to the Merovingian era more than 1,200 years ago. The bodies in the ossuary also include plague victims and those who were guillotined during the French Revolution. In total, the bones are displayed across 1.5 kilometers of tunnels.


In 1809, the new director of the Paris Mine Inspection Service, Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, had renovations done that completely transformed the look of the ossuary. He had the skulls and femurs stacked in decorative patterns, put up inscriptions of quotations about death made by famous writers and philosophers, and installed headstones and other funerary decorations from the old cemeteries.

For safety, he also walled the ossuary off from the rest of the quarry tunnels that run underneath the city. The ossuary had attracted a few curious spectators since its original inception, including the future Charles X (who visited when he was still just the Count of Artois in 1787 with a group of court ladies). But with the changes that de Thury had made, the ossuary was now set up as a more accessible public monument available to a broader range of visitors on an increasingly regular basis². It was opened as “The Paris Municipal Ossuary” in 1810.

The skulls and femur bones were easiest to work with when stacking. They are used in the front to make a uniform collection of bones. Behind that front wall, the rest of the bones are assembled in a less organized manner.

The rest of the bones located towards the back, mostly out of sight.

The bones in the ossuary are grouped based on the cemetery from which they came. The sign below identifies these bones as being from the Cemetery of the Innocents, “deposited in April 1786.” (Forgive the poor camera focus; photography is allowed, but not with a flash—and it’s fairly dark in there!).

The sign below identifies this group of bones as being from “the Church and Cloister of the Capucins St. Honore. Deposited on March 29, 1804.”

Skulls are used to form a heart amidst a pile of femur bones.

Below is a sign featuring one of de Thury’s inscriptions, featuring a quotation from the French poet Gabriel-Marie Legouvé. I couldn’t find the quote online, so my very rough translation using Google is: “such is given, death is the inevitable empire, / be he virtuous or wicked, all men will expire / the crowd of humans is a small flock / that dreadful pastor Time leads all to the tomb.”

In the same year that the ossuary was officially opened, a lot of local public attention was being paid to the catacombs of Rome. The Roman catacombs are a series of ancient underground burial places located beneath Rome that had been created in the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C.E. They contain people of all Roman religions, but are most famous for containing the bodies of Christian martyrs.

The catacombs had been forgotten until they were rediscovered in 1578. In 1810, French writer Alexis François Artaud de Montor published his account of visiting the Roman catacombs, Voyage dans les catacombes de Rome. This book generated interest in both the Roman catacombs and the Paris underground. Although the Roman catacombs and the Paris ossuary were created at different times for different reasons, they had enough in common to be linked together in the public imagination. Soon, the public was referring to both the Paris ossuary and the larger network of mining tunnels that they were a part of as “the catacombs of Paris.” This is how they are both still known today.

Neil and I took a guided skip-the-line tour of the underground. It is possible to just line up and go on your own with an audioguide but, as with anything else in Paris, a person might have to wait a long time before it’s their turn. I was uncertain about how I’d feel about the visit.

The manner in which the bones are displayed can come across as shocking and disrespectful to a modern person, such as myself. But our tour guide pointed out to us that, in the past, people were much more familiar with mortality and death than we are today. For example, scroll up to the picture of the charnel houses in the Saint Innocents cemetery. I included that picture and the detail behind it because I wanted to show how matter-of-factly those bones were stacked up to the rafters, in a manner very similar to how they are presented in the ossuary. In addition to the loss of loved ones regularly brought on by illness and poor living conditions, Parisians in the 18th and 19th centuries were well-acquainted with the death wrought by violence and political unrest. Seven armed uprising broke out in Paris between 1830-1848 alone!

Although the ossuary was never meant to serve as a cemetery for the newly deceased, some controversial bodies were quickly brought and stashed there in the years before it became an accessible city space. These included several Parisians who were shot and killed by royal guards during a celebration in August 1788, as well as people killed in the Réveillon riots of 1789 and prison massacres in September 1792.

The plaque below commemorates those who were killed in the Insurrection of August 10, 1792, when the Tuileries Palace was stormed by Republican revolutionaries. Louis XVI and his family were living there at the time. The insurrection was a turning point that caused the fall of the French monarchy. On the King’s side of the conflict, losses included 600 members of the Swiss Guard, 200-300 “Gentlemen-at-arms”, and some royalist National Guards. The Republican side tallied a loss of 200-400 people.

A glimpse up one of the old wells, with daylight breaking through.

One of the highlights of the tour includes a room with three special sculptures that were made before the bones were relocated in the tunnels nearby. They were carved by a mine worker named François Decuré (known as “Beauséjoir”) from 1777-1782. Decuré was a veteran who served in the army of Louis XV. During the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), he was imprisoned by the English in a fortress on the Spanish island of Menorca³, near a town called Port Mahon (Ibiza is Menorca’s more famous island neighbour).

After the war, Decuré came to Paris to work in the quarries. He found this small room, unknown to his fellow workers, and would sneak in before his shift, on his lunch break, and after his shift to carve out these images. One is of Port Mahon, another is of a building façade in the Quartier de Cazerne, and the third is of a place called Port Philipe. The carvings are based on his memories of the locations and were done fifteen years after his imprisonment, so they are not entirely true to life. But they are still remarkable.

Port Mahon.


Quartier de Cazerne.

Port Philipe. Fort San Felipe/Saint Philippe was the name of the fortress that controlled entry to Port Mahon (and in which Decuré may have been imprisoned).

The sign below provides a brief description of Decuré and his sculptures.

In 1782, Decuré was crushed by a cave-in while working on a stairway that would have provided easier access to his sculptures from street level. He later died of his injuries. It’s a sad story, but I think he would be pleased to know how many people have since had the privilege of seeing his work. It’s really touching to imagine this ordinary man working tirelessly for five years on these sculptures, pouring his heart and soul into it, lit only by a torch and using whatever small hand tools he had available.


¹Most of the tunnel network is closed to the public. It’s illegal, and dangerous, to enter them. Of course, this doesn’t stop everybody. They were used by French Resistance fighters and German soldiers during World War II. In 2004, police found a fully equipped movie theatre in one of the caverns. There was a giant screen, projection equipment, film reels, seats for the audience, a fully stocked bar, and a restaurant with tables and chairs. Neil and I also met up with some local Parisians who mentioned that exploring the tunnels was a popular local past time.

² Visits were suspended between 1814-1815 at the height of the Napoleonic War between the UK and France. At first, visits were only allowed a few times a year with the permission of an authorized mines inspector, but later more frequently and with permission by any mine overseer. The permission-only rule was reinstated in 1830 after the condition of the ossuary had deteriorated. Church opposition to the public display of human remains had the ossuary closed entirely from 1833-1850. In 1850, the ossuary re-opened to the public for four visits a year. Public demand increased this to monthly visits in 1867, and then to bi-monthly visits in 1874 (on the first and third Saturdays of each month). During years there was a World’s Fair (1879, 1889, 1900), there were weekly visits available. Daily visits then became routine. Nearly 550,000 people visit each year.

³For more information about Decuré and the island of Menorca, visit this excellent webpage. (It’s in French, so you’ll need to have Google Translate ready to translate the page for you. Unless you know French, of course!).

Categories
France Paris

Beyond Botany in Paris’ Jardin des Plantes

The Jardin des Plantes is a botanical garden located in the 5th arrondissement of Paris on the left bank of the Seine river. The grounds cover 28 hectares and include eleven different types of gardens, several greenhouses, a maze, a zoo, a botanical school, and four museums (Gallery of Evolution, Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology, Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy, Gallery of Botany).

The gardens with the Gallery of Evolution in the background.

In 1626, Louis XIII’s physician, Guy de la Brosse, obtained royal permission to create a botanical garden that would contain medicinal plants. He was inspired by the Montpellier botanical garden, located in Languedoc-Roussillon, France, that had been established in 1593 (the first of its kind in France). However, Brosse received some push-back from the Faculty of Medicine in Paris over the development of the garden because he wanted to use it to teach chemistry and botany, which they did not appreciate. A compromise was worked out, and in 1635 the Jardin du Roi was created; it was officially inaugurated and opened to the public in 1640.

Some of the different gardens you can find at the site include the Garden of Useful Plants, the Alpine Garden, the Botanical School Garden, the Ecological Garden, the Rose and Rock Garden, and the Iris and Perennials Garden.

I was more attracted by the bright floral displays but, if I were to go back, I think the Garden of Useful Plants would be interesting to check out with more focused attention. The official website of the Jardin des Plantes says that the Garden of Useful Plants contains medicinal plants, textile plants (such as linen), “tinctorial” plants which were used to extract pigments that were then used to make coloured dye for clothing, field crops, vegetable crops, and plants used in the cosmetic and perfume industry.

We didn’t stop at the zoo during our visit, but it did seem to be a popular place for families with young children. Interestingly, the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes was founded in 1795 with animals that had formerly been part of the royal menagerie at Versailles.

The gardens make for a beautiful and lively stroll. There is also a branch of the Sorbonne University, the Pierre and Marie Curie Campus, located nearby.

For now, I hope you enjoy the rest of the pictures I took while we were exploring the gardens.

Categories
France Museums Paris

Medieval Tapestries and Treasures at Musée de Cluny

The Musée de Cluny, also known as the Musée national du Moyen Âge (Museum of the Middle Ages), is a museum in Paris that features one of the world’s richest collections of medieval (5th-15th century C.E.) artefacts. It is located in the Latin Quarter, in the 5th arrondissement, in a 15th century mansion known as the Hôtel de Cluny. One of the highlights of the museum’s collection is The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. The museum also contains an ancient Roman bathhouse and a medieval garden.

The 15th century mansion and its courtyard, as well as the entrance to the museum.

In the 13th century, Cluny Abbey (a Benedictine monastery that originated in southern Burgundy) decided to open a religious college in Paris. The Abbey purchased a plot of land located just south of the current site of the Sorbonne. That land contained an ancient Roman bathhouse but, instead of having the old building demolished, the Abbey had it incorporated into the complex they had constructed. That complex contained a building for the college as well as a residence for its abbots (built in 1334). In 1485, the residence was taken over by Jacques d’Amboise, Bishop of Clermont and Abbot of Jumièges. He had the residence rebuilt from 1485-1510, which became the Hôtel de Cluny.

Exterior of the ancient Roman bathhouse, now a part of the museum.

Over the following years, the Hôtel de Cluny housed various nobles, ecclesiastic diplomats, an astronomer, and even a physician. One notable resident included Mary Tudor¹, the third wife of French King Louis XII. In 1789, the Hôtel was seized by the state. In 1833, it was purchased by Alexandre du Sommerard, a French archaeologist and art collector. He was one of the first people to take an interest in the Middle Ages, and he put his extensive collection of 1,500 Medieval and Renaissance objects on display at the Hôtel de Cluny. Upon Alexandre’s death in 1842, the French state purchased the Hôtel and its artefacts. The building was opened as the Musée de Cluny in 1843, and Alexandre’s son Edmond served as its first curator. For forty years he worked to substantially enrich the museum’s collections; by his retirement in 1885, the museum had acquired nearly 11,000 objects.

The Lady and the Unicorn is a series of six tapestries that was woven from wool and silk around the turn of the 15th century. The tapestries are often considered one of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages. They’re thought to depict the five senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight) as well as a mysterious sixth sense related to the words “à mon seule désir” (to my only desire). Each of the tapestries feature a noble lady, her maidservant, a lion (located at the noble lady’s right side, the audience’s left), a unicorn (located at the noble lady’s left side, the audience’s right), and sometimes a monkey. Other animals include rabbits and foxes.

The tapestry panel for Touch features a lady holding a pennant in one hand as she caresses a unicorn’s horn in the other. (Please forgive instances of poor focusing, it was a dark room and my camera had a scratch on the lens that I was unaware of).

A close-up of the lady.

A close-up of the unicorn.

The pennants in the tapestries feature the arms of the tapestries’ sponsor, possibly Jean Le Viste, a powerful nobleman who served in the court of Charles VII. Another possible sponsor could be Antoine II Le Viste, who served in the court of Charles VII, Louis XII, and Francis I. The drawings that served as a model for the tapestries likely come from the work of a Parisian artist known as the Master of the Très Petities Heures, a Christian devotional book that had been made for Queen Anne of Brittany. The tapestries may have been woven in Paris, although it’s possible they come from (better-reputed) tapestry centres located in the north of France (such as Flanders) and in the southern part of the Netherlands (Brussels).

In Taste, a lady is reaching into a dish of sweets offered up by her maidservant. A hummingbird perches on her hand. A lion (on the left) and a unicorn (on the right) both hold pennants. A monkey is at her feet, eating one of the sweetmeats.

A close-up of the lady.

Another angle.

The tapestries feature the mille-fleurs design (“thousand flowers”), a background style that features many different small flowers and plants (usually on a grassy/green ground). It was a European tapestry style used mainly from 1480-1520. (William Morris re-popularized the style in England in the 19th century). There is no regular pattern to the individual plants; they fill the background without overlapping or connecting. Plants of the medieval forest are featured: hazel, chestnut trees, elder, quince, holly, narcissus, daffodils, and bluebells.

In Smell, the lady is standing while making a wreath of flowers. Her maidservant holds a bowl of flowers at the ready. Again, a lion and a unicorn frame her while holding pennants. A monkey perches on a flower basket in the background, smelling a flower.

Taste is on the left, Smell is on the right.

The tapestries were rediscovered in 1814 in Boussac Castle, which is located about 340 km south of Paris. They were mentioned in 1841 by French writer Prosper Mérimée, who was then the Inspector General of Historic Monuments. French novelist George Sand wrote about them in her serialized novel Jeanne in 1844, bringing them to broader public attention. The tapestries had suffered from damp conditions while in storage, and had contracted mould. Fortunately, they were acquired by the Musée Cluny in 1882 and were carefully restored to nearly their original condition.

In Hearing, the lady plays a small pipe organ. Her lady operates the bellows. The lion and the unicorn appear again (although I’ve unfortunately cropped them a bit in my photograph).

A tighter crop on the lady and her maidservant.

In Sight, the lady is seated and holding up a mirror. A unicorn is seated beside her, his two front legs in her lap. The unicorn gazes at his reflection in the lady’s mirror. A lion appears once again on the left, holding a pennant. (Sorry for the particular lack of focus in this picture, I’m sharing it only because it’s the only full picture I took of this tapestry).

The close-up I took of the lady worked out better.

The sixth tapestry features the words À MON SEULE DÉSIR stitched across the top of a blue tent. The motto has translates as “to my only/sole desire” and has had a variety of interpretations. In the scene, a maidservant holds open a chest of jewels. The lady is shown either placing a necklace inside the chest or taking it out; it is the same necklace she is seen wearing in the other tapestry panels. A dog sits on a decorative pillow on a bench beside her. The lion and the unicorn appear once more, holding pennants in their usual positions. In the other five tapestries, animals are depicted as sharing the sense that is featured (a monkey tastes a sweet, a unicorn sees his reflection). In this tapestry, only the women are engaged with the jewelry. In this tapestry, humans alone seem to value a material object. Is the tapestry presenting a commentary on the human valuation of material goods?

Another angle. Supposedly, only virgin maidens could tempt a unicorn into captivity; otherwise, they were too fast to be caught. Thus, unicorns became a symbol of female chastity and purity (which may explain why unicorns were often depicted as being white).

A close-up on the lady and her necklace.

Another angle.

The room in which the tapestries are displayed also features an exhibit with a so-called “unicorn horn.” In reality, it is a narwhal tusk. Vikings from Greenland were known to harvest narwhal tusks and bring them to market in Europe. Medieval Europeans believed they were the horns of unicorns, and as such they were highly prized by monarchs and the church alike. Unicorn horns were said to have magical properties; they could purify water, or detoxify food that had been poisoned. This particular narwhal tusk was present in the treasury of the Abbey of Saint-Denis as of the beginning of the 16th century, and may have been there even earlier. In the 17th century, the monks of Saint-Denis claimed that this “unicorn horn” had been offered to Charlemagne by the Caliph Harun al-Rashid and that the tip of the horn emitted bubbles when dipped in water.

Let’s move onto some other items in the collection!

Below is a votive cross that was part of the Treasure of Guarrazar, an archaeological discovery that was made in an orchard near Toledo, Spain, in 1858. The find consisted of 26 votive crowns and gold crosses that had been gifted to the Roman Catholic Church by the Kings of the Visigoths, who were living in Spain in the 7th century. This cross, made in the 7th century, contains gold, sapphires, pearl, amethysts, and jasper.

Another votive cross from the same treasure. Dated to the 7th century, it contains gold, sapphires, emeralds, pearls, rock crystals, beads, and amethyst.

Crown “of the canopy of a dove.” From Limoges, a city in central France. From the Treasure of Cherves, discovered in 1896, near the site of a ruined priory of the Grandmont order of monks in Gandory. Dated to the 2nd quarter of the 13th century (1225), made of copper, enamel, print and gilding.

Below are two Gallic torques (Celtic metal necklaces) dated from the 3rd-1st century B.C.E. They would have been too small and rigid for human use, so they could have adorned a statue of a Gallic god: possibly Cernunnos, the Gallic god of nature, virility and fertility. He was often depicted with a torque around his neck and another one in his hand.

This cross-reliquary contained a fragment of what was thought to be the True Cross (the one upon which Christ was crucified). It is dated to the 3rd quarter of the 13th century (1275), and comes from Limousin (a region in France). The form is Byzantium in origin, and features a rich decoration of filigree scrolls and gems.

Below is an imitation reliquary. It was probably made in Prague in the mid-14th century. It was used to fasten the pieces of a ceremonial garment. The luxurious materials suggest that it had imperial use. It features a crowned eagle against the backdrop of flames, the emblem of Bohemia.

The Golden Rose. From Avignon, dated to 1330. Made of gold, silver, and gold-coloured glass.

Below is another cross-reliquary of the True Cross and its case (I have a feeling that a few of these were kicking around medieval Europe). It is dated from the end of the 12th to the beginning of the 13th century, and originates from south-west France. It was found in a Cologne cemetery in 1860.

Below can be found a set of four gemellions, which are basins that were used to wash hands before a meal or during Christian mass. Dated to the 13th century.

A close-up of the gemellion in the top-left of the above picture. This basin comes from Limoges, a city in central France. It features a courtly scene with musicians.

A chalice and plate from Spain, dated to the 15th century.

Below is an aquamanile (a jug or ewer), which contained water for the washing of hands before a meal or during the Christian mass. It comes from Licorne (a region of south-west France), and is dated from the end of the 13th century to the beginning of the 14th century. Made of bronze.

An ink pot case from Italy, 14th century.

Below are some medieval writing utensils. The two items on the left are “pencils” from Paris with “quadrilobe and trilobe heads”, dated to the end of the 14th century. The item second from the right is a “stylet” from Western Europe, middle of the 14th century. The item on the far right is a “pencil” from Paris, dated to the end of the 14th century.

Below is a secular box, made of ivory and golden copper, that features scenes related to courtly love. The scenes on the side of the box illustrate episodes of romance novels, such as Lancelot at the Bridge of the Sword, and Tristan and Yseult at the fountain. On the cover, two knights face off in a tournament joust. Comes from Paris, dated 1300-1310. From the collection of André Baverey.  (I’ve posted just the lid of the box first, because it’s in better focus than the picture I took of the whole thing).

Below is the tombstone of Nicolas Flamel. It comes from the Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie in Paris, 1418. Gifted to the museum by the City of Paris in 1845.

The tombstone of Raoul Sarrazin, a knight. Dated to the 1st half of the 13th century. Found in 1854, during the demolition of the commandery of Saint-Jean-de-Latran.

Tombstone of Chatemelle de Flavacourt (died around 1352) and Isabelle Hargelieu (date unknown). From the Ile-de France, middle of the 14th century. Provided by the Church of Flavacourt.

Close-up of the lion in the lower left section of the above tombstone.

Below is a game box dated to the 3rd quarter of the 15th century (1475). It was used for the playing of six different games: tourniquet, tric-trac, merelles, chess, another game that was similar to roulette, and a game called “fox and hens.” The game box was made of ivory, ebony, and stained walnut. Note the playing card located at the bottom right, just below the box. It has a ship printed on it.

I’ve borrowed a better picture of the playing card from the museum’s official website, shown below. The website notes that the ship motif is “quite unusual and does not correspond to the composition of the tarot games, except in Tuscany. The ship floats on the water, the golden sails having a cross drawn by red tiles. The horizon is covered with a gold motif marked with diamonds adorned with quatrefoils. The whole is framed by a red net enhanced with white, while at the bottom is read on two lines a quote from the Latin poet Horace ‘Odi profanum/ volgus and arceo‘ (I hate the vulgar and keep me away from it). This card would be an early witness of the vogue of literary or humanistic games invented in Italian court circles in the Late Middle Ages.”

From the museum’s official website.

The chess pieces.

Below is a mechanical clock from Germany, dated to the 16th century. The mechanical clock was first invented in the 13th century, and used a falling weight and a set of gears to keep track of the time. Few of these early Gothic clocks survive.

A painted table from northern Germany, dated to 1420.

Another angle.

It was hard to get a picture of, but I really liked it!

Are you ready to see some medieval shields, swords, and armour?

Below is a shield from Hungary, dated to the 16th century.

Below is a bulwark shield featuring painted images of David and Goliath. It comes from Bohemia (a region  somewhat near today’s Czech Republic), and is dated to the middle of the 15th century. A bulwark shield such as this one would have been the only type successful at defending against crossbows, and was thus used to protect infantrymen, pikemen, and crossbowmen. This type of large shield would have been used in wars such as Hussite Wars in Bohemia (1419-1434). Gunpowder later made these sorts of shields obsolete in the 16th century.

Another view of the David and Goliath shield. David versus Goliath would have been used as a propaganda image.

A barbute helmet from Italy, dated to 1480-1500. Below the helmet is a shield featuring painted images of feathers and a letter. Comes from Bohemia (?), dated to the end of the 15th century.

Riveted chainmail hauberk, late 15th century. .

A sword, dated to the last quarter of the 13th century (1275).

A sparrow-beaked helmet. Comes from France (?), dated 1380-1400.

Below is a shield with a painted image of Saint George battling a dragon. It comes from Germany, dated to the middle of the 15th century. This is a light but solid shield, usually worn in cavalry but also used by some infantrymen. This shield features the symbols of the municipality of Zwickau (in present-day Germany), and would have been part of an order of equipment passed to the workshops of Chomutov by the city in 1441 for its own garrison. The shield’s central design feature effectively deflected blows while also increasing structural strength. Saint George, a holy protector and knight, combines military vocation with divine protection. A pious motto flanks the scene: “Hilf Got Du Ewiges Wort dem Leibe yesterday, der Seele sleeps Hilf Ritter Georg “, which translates as  “Help God, help, you the eternal Word, the body here, the soul over there, help Knight Gorges.”

Below is a shield featuring a Maltese cross and rosettes. Comes from Germany, end of the 15th century.

Below is a shield decorated with spots. Comes from Hungary, dated to the 16th century.

Sallet-style helmet. From Germany, dated 1520-1530.

The sword on the left is from Italy (possibly Venice?), dated to the end of the 15th century. The sword on the right belonged to a Duke of Milan, 2nd half of the 15th century. Its handle is a stylized fish tail.

Below is an unfinished 1490 combat treatise by Johannes Liechtenauer. It features 358 colour illustrations that represent the fundamentals of armed and unarmed combat. This book established him as one of the first great German fencing masters, and he’s said to have traveled through many lands to study and train others in it. Young princes of high medieval nobility would have found it an essential apprenticeship.

Body armour, shown below. Comes from Italy or France, dated to the start of the 16th century. It is made of steel, textile, and copper.

Below is a buckler, a small shield that would have been gripped in the fist. It comes from Italy or France, dated to the end of the 15th century.

One dagger and two swords, shown below. The top weapon is a dagger from France or Italy, dated to the 14th century. The middle sword comes from France and is dated to the 1st half of the 15th century. The bottom sword is from Germany, dated to the end of the 15th century. The German sword was a two-handed weapon that would have been used for a wide variety of fencing techniques.

The Musée Cluny also features an exceptional collection of medieval stained glass panels, including some that came from Saint-Chapelle!

Below is part of a window from the church of Varennes-Jarcy (maybe originally from the Abbey de Gercy?), a town located 45 km southeast of Paris. Dated to the 2nd quarter of the 13th century (1225).

A heraldic panel from Saint-Chapelle, dated to 1245.

A set of windows depicting St. John, St. James, St. Paul, and St. Peter. Comes from the Chapelle du Chateau, Rouen (?). Dated to 1300.

The panel below shows St. Martin with an angel. It comes from the church of Varennes-Jarcy (originally from the Abbey de Gercy?, and is dated to the 2nd quarter of the 13th century (1250).

The window below shows St. Martin and the Miracle of the Pine Tree. It comes from the church of Varennes-Jarcy (originally from the Abbey de Gercy?), and is dated to the 2nd quarter of the 13th century (1250).

In the window below, Theophilus strikes a deal with a devil. It comes from the church of Varennes-Jarcey (originally from the Abbey de Gercy?), dated to the 2nd quarter of the 13th century (1250).

In the panel below, Job loses his flock. The window comes from Saint-Chapelle. The glass is mostly dated to the 15th century, with some from the 13th century.

A knight kills a king. From Saint-Chapelle, circa 1244.

Samson and the Lion. From Saint-Chapelle, circa 1246.

Salome with John the Baptist’s Head. From Saint-Chapelle, second half of 13th century (1250).

Arms of the Mullenheim family. Comes from Alsace, crafted in the workshop of Peter Hemmel. Dated to 1487.

As mentioned before, the plot of land that the Cluny Abbey purchased for their religious college contained an old building with a Roman bathhouse. Instead of destroying the structure, which might have been expensive, the Abbey incorporated it into the complex that contained the school and the residence for the monks. Today, the remains of this bathhouse (known as the baths of northern Lutetia) is part of the Musée Cluny. All that remains is the frigidarium (the cold room), but it is still an impressive site to check out. The vaulted ceilings are more than 14 metres high!

The bathhouse would have been constructed at the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E.  With an area of 6,000 metres², it would have been the largest public baths in the Gallo-Roman city of Lutetia.

The museum exhibits some Roman-era artefacts in the frigidarium.

A tiled mosaic.

Statue of Adam, from Notre-Dame. Dated to the middle of the 13th century, carved by Pierre de Montreuil.

One of the highlights of the museum’s collection is the Pillar of the Nautes (Boatmen). It is a monumental Roman-era column that was erected by the guild of boatmen in the 1st century C.E. as an offering to the Roman emperor Tiberius. It is the oldest monument in Paris. It had been repurposed in the 4th century as part of the city wall on the Île-de-la Cité, so unfortunately it now exists as separate blocks (three of which are shown below). The blocks were actually rediscovered in 1711 under the choir of Notre-Dame Cathedral!

A model of what the entire pillar would have looked like before it was split up.

From Wikipedia.

Below is a famous statue that was found in the 19th century. For a long time, it was thought to be a statue of Julian the Apostate, a Roman emperor in the 4th century C.E. who actually resided for a time in Lutetia. Recently, it’s been thought to have been made during the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century, C.E.

The statues in the photos below once adorned the western façade of Notre-Dame Cathedral. They were part of the Gallery of 28 Biblical Kings, built along with the rest of the façade between 1220-1260. They resided there relatively undisturbed for 550 years. In 1789, the French Revolution broke out as a result of people who (rightfully) opposed the corrupt and exploitative systems of power that were being practiced by the French monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church. Notre-Dame was a monument that had been erected to glorify both of these institutions. Many of the Cathedral’s treasures were stolen or destroyed during this time. Most of the large statues that decorated the exterior of the church were demolished, including the Gallery of 28 Biblical Kings. In October 1793 (the same month that Marie Antoinette was beheaded!) the revolutionaries, believing these were statues of French nobility, beheaded these stone figures in dramatic fashion. They were filled with blood lust and wanted more monarchs to meet the blade—living or stone.

The decapitated heads of the statues.

Their bodies.

The statues were missing until 1977, when 21 of them (plus 300 other fragments) were discovered during work that was being done to enlarge the basement of a Parisian bank. The heads and the other statuary parts had been carefully buried within a wall of plaster three feet below the bank’s courtyard. Most people thought the heads had been thrown in the Seine river. Instead, they had been piled in the street in front of the cathedral. During a clean-up campaign in 1796, the pile of stone and rubbish had been sold to a building contractor. The contractor used the stone and rubbish to build a new mansion for a wealthy lawyer, Jean-Baptiste Lakanal. Lakanal, a devout Catholic, decided to follow the law of the church, which requires the burying or burning of religious items that have been removed from a church. The heads were interred, all facing the same direction.

The restored Gallery of Kings on the western façade of Notre-Dame.

From Pixabay.

The Musée Cluny also features a medieval chapel, built at the same time as the Hôtel de Cluny at the end of the 15th century.

During the French Revolution, the chapel was repurposed as a dissection room for a physician, then as a printing workshop. When the Hôtel de Cluny became a museum in 1843, the chapel was restored.

It has numerous beautiful examples of medieval craftmanship.

Below is another tapestry, entitled “Mathematics.” It’s from a series about the Liberal Arts. It originates from Tournai, Belgium, around 1520.

Dish with vines and bryones (a flowering plant in the cucumber family) decoration. From Manisès, Spain, middle of the 15th century.

Dish with tower-decoration. From Manisès, Spain, second third of the 15th century. The four crowns flanking the central tower could refer to the Kingdoms of Aragon, Castille, Leon, and Sicily, which were united by the marriage of Isabelle and Ferdinand II in 1479.

Plate with orange decoration. From Manisès, Spain, middle of the 15th century.

Spice jars, discovered while excavating the thermal baths of the Musée de Cluny. Possibly from Valencia, Spain. End of 15th-beginning of 16th century.

Shutters. From the southern part of the Netherlands, 16th century. Oak and iron.

Wall frieze with an inscription reading, “Si qua fata sinant” (if destiny allows). The motto of d’Aymon de Montfalcon, Bishop of Lausanne. From Lausanne, end of 16th century.

The Musée de Cluny made for a very intriguing visit. If you are interested in this time period, it’s definitely a stop worth making.


¹Mary Tudor was the youngest surviving sister of Henry VIII, with whom she had a close relationship (he later named his daughter, who would become Mary I, after her). Mary (who was 18) wed Louis XII (who was 52) in October 1514. She was accompanied to France with four ladies-in-waiting, one of whom was Anne Boleyn. However, Louis XII died less than three months later in January 1515 (probably from gout). He was succeeded by his cousin and son-in-law, Francis I. Mary resided at the Hôtel de Cluny while Francis I waited to see if she was pregnant. When it was determined that she was not, Henry VIII sent Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, to Paris to retrieve his sister and bring her back to England. Mary had been in love with Charles prior to her marriage to Louis XII. She had agreed to marry Louis XII on the condition that, if she survived him, she could then marry whom she liked (most likely Charles). However, Henry VIII wanted to make a more advantageous (to him) match for his sister. He made Charles promise that he wouldn’t propose to Mary. Mary convinced Charles to change his mind, and they were secretly wed on March 3, 1515 at the Hôtel de Cluny. This was a gutsy thing to do, as Charles could have been imprisoned or executed for disobeying his king (i.e. treason), and Henry VIII didn’t shy away from executing people who displeased him. Thankfully for the couple, it was early in Henry’s reign before he went full-tyrant and he was inclined to show mercy. Instead, Mary and Charles paid a light fine that is equivalent today to approximately 12.6 million Canadian dollars.

Categories
France Paris

The Palais & Jardin du Luxembourg

The Palais du Luxembourg and the surrounding Jardin de Luxembourg are located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris on the border between Saint-Germaine-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter. The park grounds cover 25 hectares of land and includes both French and English gardens. It also contains a museum (the Musée du Luxembourg), a large pond, an orchard with different varieties of apples, an apiary, greenhouses containing roses and orchids, trees laid out in a geometric pattern, the Medici fountain, an orangery, an apiary, and lots of statues. There are tennis courts, a concert bandstand, tables for people to play chess and bridge, toy boats can be floated on the large pond, and there is a puppet theatre that puts on shows for children.

It is a truly delightful public space that is greatly enjoyed by Parisians and tourists alike. Neil and I visited the garden early on a weekday morning so it was a little empty while we were exploring it, but I could definitely see how it would be a popular gathering place in the late afternoon/early evening and on weekends.

The Palais du Luxembourg.

Part of the Jardin du Luxembourg, shown below. The statue, The Greek Actor, was made by Charles-Arthur Bourgeois in 1868. He is reading a manuscript in his left hand, wears a mask on his forehead, and has a sheepskin wrapped around his waist. Along the sides of the long lawn, you can see that there are plenty of tables available for people to enjoy.

The palace and its garden were created by Marie de Medici (1575-1642), the wife of Henri IV (1553-1610). She was born in Florence, a member of the powerful Italian Medici family¹. Marie did not like living at the Louvre Palace, which was semi-medieval and seemed to her horridly out of date. When Henri IV was assassinated in 1610, Marie became regent for their nine-year old son Louis XIII. In 1611, she decided to embark upon the development of a new royal residence for herself. She wanted to build a palace and grounds that were similar to the Florentine Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.

Engraving representing the 17th century Garden and Palace. From the website of the French Junior Senate.

Marie de Medici purchased a 16th-century hôtel particulier, known as the Hôtel de Luxembourg, and the property surrounding it. She then had the Palais du Luxembourg built right next to it to serve as her royal residence; she called it her “Palais du Medicis.” The palace was built between 1615-1645 by architect Saloman de Brosse. Marie de Medici moved into the palace in 1625 even as interior construction work continued.

The Palais du Luxembourg and the large pond.

Marie de Medici offered the Hôtel de Luxembourg to Cardinal Armand de Richelieu, her son’s chief minister. The Hôtel de Luxembourg became known as the Petit Luxembourg to distinguish it from the larger building beside it. The two buildings have remained at the centre of French politics ever since. Today, the French Senate meets at the Palais du Luxembourg and the Senate President lives at the Petit Luxembourg.

The Petite Luxembourg.

From Wikipedia.

Door leading to the Petite Luxembourg.

The French Senate chamber inside the Palais du Luxembourg, shown below.

From Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia.

Marie resented the influence that Cardinal Richelieu had on her son and, in 1630, tried to overthrow him. To her surprise, Louis XIII lent his support to the Cardinal and instead had his mother exiled. Marie spent the remaining twelve years of her life in and out of favour with Louis XIII (at one point supporting her second son, Gaston, in an aristocratic revolt against his elder brother that was ultimately unsuccessful). Marie traveled to Brussels, Amsterdam, London, and was in Cologne when she died in 1642. She bequeathed her palace to Gaston, Duke of Orléans (who, in addition to feuding with his brother, was also responsible for saving the Château de Chambord from total ruin through his restoration projects). Marie’s “Palais du Medicis” would now be known as the “Palais d’Orléans” until the French Revolution.

Marie de Medicis, Queen of France since 1600. Frans Pourbus the Younger, circa 1609-1610. From Wikipedia.

The palace passed through the hands of Gaston, his second wife Marguerite de Lorraine (whom he had initially married in secret, in defiance of his brother’s orders–Louis XIII later gave them permission to marry), and then his eldest daughter by his first marriage, Anne-Marie Louise d’Orléans, duchesse de Montpensier, La Grande Mademoiselle. Anne then sold it to her half-sister Élisabeth Marguerite d’Orléans, Duchess de Guise, in 1660. Élisabeth in turn gave the palace to Louis XIV in 1694.

Portrait of Gaston of France, Duke of Orléans. Anthony van Dyck, circa 1632-1634. From Wikipedia.

Upon Louis XIV’s death in 1715, the palace became the property of his granddaughter, Marie-Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans, Duchess de Berry. Louise’s father, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, acted as Regent on behalf of the five-year old Louis XV. Marie’s mother, Françoise-Marie de Bourbon, was the youngest illegitimate (later legitimized) daughter of Louis XIV and his official mistress Françoise-Athenaïse, marquise de Montespan. Already widowed by the age of 20, Marie-Louise was a colourful character in her own right. She was known for her gluttony, promiscuity, and the extravagant parties she threw at the Palais du Luxembourg. Marie-Louise closed the gardens of the Jardin du Luxembourg to the public, which didn’t do much to endear her with them. Voltaire was arrested and sent to the Bastille for eleven months from May 1717-April 1718 for suggesting that a child that Marie-Louise was carrying was the result of an incestuous relationship with her father. While imprisoned (in a windowless cell with ten-foot-thick walls), Voltaire wrote his play Oedipus. Both Marie-Louise and her father were present at the play’s premiere in mid-November 1718. The play was a hit, and made Voltaire a star. After Marie-Louise died in 1719, the Palais du Luxembourg was passed on to her younger sister, Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans. Louise Élisabeth  died in 1742.

Marie-Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans, Duchess of Berry as Flora. Nicolas de Largillière, circa 1712. From Wikipedia.

In 1750, the Director of the King’s Buildings opened the Royal Gallery of Painting in the east wing of the Palais du Luxembourg. This was the first art museum opened to the public in France, and acted as a forerunner to the Louvre’s current function as a museum and art gallery. The gallery at the Palais du Luxembourg remained open until 1779 when it was gifted by Louis XVI to his brother, Louis Comte de Provence (who had the gallery closed). Shortly after the French Revolution broke out in June 1791, the Comte managed to successfully flee France for the Austrian Netherlands. Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were captured during their simultaneous escape attempt. The Palais du Luxembourg was seized by revolutionaries and declared a national property. The building was converted into the Maison Nationale de Sûreté (National Prison) during the Reign of Terror, and held up to 1,000 prisoners. In 1795, the Palais began its role as a legislative building when it became the seat of the five-member French Directory. In 1799, the Directory was overthrown by Napoleon. The Palais then became home to the Senate. Napoleon had architect Jean Chalgrin officially transform the Palais from a royal residence to a legislative building; renovations took place between 1795-1799.

France in the 19th century was kind of like a variable weather joke: if you don’t like the current state of things, wait 2 hours. The function of the Palais du Luxembourg responded accordingly.

In 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate and he was exiled to Elba. Louis XVI’s brother, the Comte de Provence, returned from his exile and came into power as Louis XVIII from 1815-1824. His House of Lords set up shop in the Palais du Luxembourg during this period of time (known as the Bourbon Restoration). Upon Louis’ death in 1824, he was succeeded by his younger brother, Charles X. Charles X ruled until 1830, when he was forced to abdicate as a result of the July Revolution. Louis-Philippe I then reigned from 1830-1848. He had a second House of Lords established that consisted of a greater number of representatives (more than 270). The Palais du Luxembourg was enlarged in order to fit them. Louis-Philippe I was in turn encouraged to skip town in February 1848, continuing this French tradition of forced abdication (although monarchs had learned from Louis XVI that exile was better than the alternative). Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was elected President of the Second French Republic in December 1848. In 1851, he followed the example of his uncle before him and suspended the elected assembly, named himself Emperor (he was now titled Napoleon III), and established the Second French Empire. This empire collapsed in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. What happened next (civil war, the Paris Commune, establishment of the Third French Republic) is way too complicated for me to summarize in a sentence or two. But the official website of the French Senate says that at the Palais du Luxembourg “members of the Commune were judged and the sentence was carried out in the gardens.”

It was a dark chapter in the history of a beautiful place, but there would be more to come.

During the German occupation of Paris in World War II, the Palais du Luxembourg became the headquarters for the West Luftwaffe in France. Herman Göering and his subordinate, Field Marshal Hugo Sperrle, claimed several of the luxurious apartment suites for their personal use. The palace was liberated along with the rest of Paris in August 1944; the building suffered only minor damage. From July 29-October 15, 1946, the Palais du Luxembourg hosted the Paris Peace Conference. The Paris Peace Treaties, which were the outcome of this conference, would be later signed on February 10, 1947.

The Paris Peace Conference. From Wikipedia.

As I mentioned in my post on Le Marais, there are countless layers of history to encounter when visiting Paris. I thought this post would just be a quick review of a beautiful garden that we explored that contained a few interesting statues. Instead, I got caught up in all of the French political turmoil of the 19th century. But I think that an understanding of those events, even just at the surface level, deepens the experience of seeing the Palais du Luxembourg and its surrounding garden. Now, with the history somewhat recapped, I’ll show you a few more photos.

The Medici Fountain, shown below. It was originally called “The Grotto of Luxembourg” and was commissioned by Marie de Medici in 1630. It was designed by Florentine engineer Thomas Francini.

From Pixabay.

The orangery (in the background) and the trees that are normally inside it. During the summer, when it’s hot enough to keep these trees outside, the orangery serves as a temporary exhibit space.

The apiary ( = bees!)

The central garden, featuring a statue dedicated to French/Alsatian chemist, industrialist, and politician Auguste Scheurer-Kestner (1833-1899). Note the green chairs, which are an iconic feature of the Luxembourg and Tuileries gardens.

The park features 20 statues of “Queens and Illustrious Women” who have made their mark on French history. The statues were commissioned during the time of Louis-Philippe I and, with the exception of one statue acquired in 1874 (that of Marguerite d’Anjou), were made between 1843-1846. They line the sides of the large flowerbeds. I was happy to find Mary, Queen of Scots, shown below. Other statues include Marie de Medici, Saint Clotilde (a 6th century Queen), French writer George Sand, Anne of Austria, Saint Bathilde (7th century Queen of Clovis II), Mathilda of Normandy, and Saint Geneviève (the Patron Saint of Paris).

Another famous (French-born) lady is present in the garden, although she is not included as part of the previous series: Lady Liberty. For the Exposition Universelle in 1900, sculptor Auguste Bartholdi (who designed the Statue of Liberty in 1875) offered the Musée de Luxembourg the bronze model that he used to make the statue. The bronze model was placed in the Jardin du Luxembourg in 1906. That model was retired from the garden in 2012 for conservation reasons, and a bronze replica (shown below) was put in its place.

A slightly sassy looking lion.

Lots of beautiful flowers.

We had a wonderful time strolling the garden. It made me with that we had one like this closer to where we live in Vancouver!


¹Marie de Medici is a relation of Catherine de Medici, although I can’t figure out how close–Marie’s parents were Francesco I, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Joanna of Austria.

Categories
France Museums Paris

Musée Picasso in Paris Probes Deep Into the Artist’s Mind

The Musée Picasso is located in the Hôtel Salé, the largest hôtel particulier in Le Marais. It was described by French art historian Bruno Foucart as “the grandest, most extraordinary, if not the most extravagant, of the grand Parisian houses of the 17th century.” The hôtel was built in the Italian Baroque style between 1656-1659 by architect Jean Boullier de Bourges (also known as Jean de Boullier). It was made for Pierre Aubert, seigneur de Fontenay, who became wealthy through various schemes and an advantageous marriage. However, it was his role in collecting a salt tax that gave the hôtel its name (salé means “salted”).

A political scandal in 1663 brought down Aubert and his mentor, French Finance Minister Nicolas Fouquet. Creditors hungrily circled the property, which was caught up in legal proceedings for 60 years. During this time, it was rented to various tenants including the Embassy of the Republic of Venice. The hôtel was finally sold in 1728.

During the French Revolution, it was expropriated by the state and used to store books seized from local convents. It was sold again in 1797 and remained the property of the family who purchased it until 1962. In that period, it was leased to various academic institutions. In 1815 it became the Ganser-Beuzelin boarding school, at which French writer Honoré de Balzac studied. From 1829-1884, the building housed the municipal l’Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures (a prestigious engineering school). From 1944-1969, it was home to the City of Paris l’Ecole des Métièrs d’Art (which is dedicated to the study of the decorative arts).

The Hôtel Salé  was acquired by the City of Paris in 1964 and designated a Historical Monument in 1968.

In 1968, France created a law that allowed for inheritance taxes to be paid in the form of works of art instead of money, as long as those art works were deemed an important contribution to French cultural heritage. Such a donation was known as a dation, and was allowed only in exceptional circumstances. In 1973, Spanish-artist Pablo Picasso died. The artist (born in Málaga in 1881) lived most of his adult life, from 1905 onwards, in France. By this point, Picasso had amassed an enormous collection of his own art. More than 5,000 art works were donated by his family upon his death. More would be donated upon the death of his second wife, Jacqueline Roque.

Pablo Picasso in 1962. From Wikipedia.

In 1974, the Hôtel Salé was selected as the site of the new Musée Picasso, which would exhibit the donated works. The hôtel was renovated and refurbished from 1979-1980 by architect Roland Simounet, who won a public design competition for the project. In 1985, the Musée Picasso was inaugurated. Its collection includes sketchbooks, paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, personal papers and photographs, manuscripts, correspondence, prints, and engravings. The collection is so extensive that it can’t all be displayed at once.

When Neil and I visited, the museum was hosting a special exhibit on Picasso’s first wife, Olga.

Picasso is recognized as one of the most influential, well-known, and revolutionary artists of the 20th century. He is often considered as one of the leaders of modern art. He had extraordinary talent, even from a young age. A quote of his I spotted in the museum refers to his drive to challenge himself after achieving early artistic mastery: “When I was 12 I could draw like Raphael. It has taken me a lifetime to learn how to draw like a child.” Picasso experimented with different and radical techniques, styles, and ideas. He co-founded the Cubist movement, co-invented collage, invented constructed sculpture (also known as assemblage), and a wide variety of other styles. He wasn’t content with art as it had always been done; he was a disruptor, a de-constructor, and an innovator.

Guitar. Picasso: Paris, spring 1926.  A 3-dimensional constructed sculpture (also known as assemblage). Uses found objects, a technique that Picasso helped invent.

Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955) was born in Nijin, a Ukrainian town that was then part of the Russian Empire. In 1912, she entered the prestigious Russian ballet which was then under the direction of Serge Diaghilev. In the spring of 1917, she met Picasso in Rome while he was designing the costumes and set for the ballet Parade, which she danced in. After meeting Picasso, she left the ballet company to live with Picasso first in Barcelona, and then in Paris (he split his time between the two cities). They were married on July 12, 1918. Olga was Picasso’s first wife and muse.

Portrait of Olga in an armchair. Picasso: Spring 1918.

The telegram below was sent by Serge de Diaghilev (director of the Russian Ballet) from London to Picasso on August 14, 1919. It reads: “Ballet Parade past 15th November strongly advise coming with Olga to work on new works. Your arrival is warmly awaited.”

Olga Picasso’s trunk.

The exhibit noted that Olga was the “perfect model during Picasso’s classical period” and that she was portrayed by “thin, elegant lines” and was “synonymous with [Picasso’s] return to figuration.” Olga was often represented as “melancholic, sitting, reading, or writing, no doubt an allusion to the correspondence she maintained with her family that lived during a tragic moment in history.” At the time, the Russian Empire had collapsed and her family was caught up in the hardships of her home country. Her family’s social status was lost, and her father later disappeared. Her correspondence with her family became sporadic as conditions in Russia worsened.

Pensive Olga. Picasso: 1923.

In 1921, Olga gave birth to a boy named Paulo. The exhibit notes: “Olga became the inspiration for numerous maternity scenes, compositions bathed in innocent softness. The familial scenes and portraits of a young boy show a serene happiness that blossom in timeless forms. These forms correspond to Picasso’s new attention to antiquity and the renaissance discovered in Italy, which was reactivated by the family’s summer stay in Fontainebleu in 1921.”

Mother and Child. Picasso: 1921.

The Salon of Fontainebleau: Olga at the Piano. Picasso: Fontainebleau, July 6, 1921.

This serene happiness, sadly, didn’t last. In 1927, Picasso began an affair with a 17-year old French girl named Marie-Thérèse Walter. Olga wouldn’t learn of the affair until 1935, when Marie-Thérèse became pregnant. But during this time her marriage with Picasso suffered, and his representations of her in his art reflected that. Look at Picasso’s painting of Olga shown above, and then notice the change in the painting below. The exhibit notes: “Olga is nothing but pain and sorrow. Her form is flaccid with violent expression and translates the nature of the couple’s profound crisis.”

The big nude in the red armchair. Picasso: 1929.

It was quite shocking to come up the stairs and to be greeted by the painting! It was a dramatic departure from the works featuring Olga that we had seen on the first floor! There was also such an interesting contrast between the classical architecture of the Hôtel Salé and this piece.

The painting below shows a “bust of a woman” with a “self-portrait” of himself. One can never known the truth of a relationship and what the proper assignation of blame is, but I’d say this isn’t the fairest representation. Artistic privilege, perhaps?

Bust of a Woman with Self-Portrait. Picasso: February 1929.

When Olga learned of Picasso’s affair and impending child with Marie-Thérèse in 1935, she took Paulo and fled to southern France. For a year, Picasso Picasso temporarily stopped painting. Olga filed for divorce, but Picasso refused to grant her half of his worth—as required by French law. Olga and Picasso remained legally married until her death from cancer in 1955.

Here are some of Picasso’s works from other parts of the exhibit.

Sacré-Coeur. Picasso: Paris, Winter 1909-1910.

The painting below was executed at some point either before or after Picasso temporarily stopped painting in 1935, when his marriage with Olga imploded. The minotaur, a man with a bull’s head, was a common theme for Picasso and he used it to symbolize himself. The female figures in the painting (including a wounded female bull-fighter) have the same facial features as his mistress, Marie-Thérèse.

Minotauromachy (Le Minotaurmachie). Picasso: 1935.

The painting below features the “artist” on the right, bent over his palette, and the model on the left with a tiny head, long neck, many arms, and a giant foot.

The Artist and His Model. Picasso: 1926.

The Musée Picasso was a great place to visit. It served as my introduction to the artist and his work, as Picasso was a man whose name I had heard a lot but I actually knew very little about him.

The museum is small and everything can be seen in an hour or two. Sometimes, that’s exactly what we want! It was also air-conditioned, which we thoroughly appreciated.

Categories
Food & Drink France Paris

A Perfect Day in Paris with Flowers, Desserts and a Wine Bar

One thing Paris is deservedly famous for is its numerous boulangeries serving delicious patisseries. When Neil and I travel, our priority is usually trying to fit in as many sites and activities as possible. We prefer grabbing something to eat that’s quick, fast, and relatively inexpensive while en route to somewhere else. Paris is an ideal place to do this, because there are a lot of bakeries serving high-quality sandwiches, croissants, pastries, and other delicacies. Another thing we loved to do is to grab a loaf (or two) of still-hot-from-the-oven French bread and take it back to our apartment after a long day of site-seeing. Add some cheese, a tub of hummus, and a bottle of rosé for a perfect low-key dinner. (It’s maybe not the most nutritious, but after hours of walking in the 30+ C heat, who wants to cook and then wash up?).

A boulangerie in Montmartre.

Of course, it’s great to make reservations or plan your day/evening around a delicious hour-plus meal at a quality restaurant once in awhile. But that’s not what this post is about. I am going to share with you some of the delicious and colourful desserts we spotted (and occasionally sampled) around Paris. There is no lack of drool-worthy treats to be found. The hardest part is narrowing your choices down to what you can realistically enjoy without ending up in a sugar coma.

Like these pastel meringues. Can I try one in each colour?

How about meringue with almonds?

I have a hard time saying “no” to anything with fresh raspberries and strawberries. We found this counter of sweets at  Au Petit Versailles du Marais .

But wait, what are these icing-sugar laden squares on the other side?

SO many raspberries!

This looks deliciously decadent as well.

I took a picture of this treat because it brought to mind someone I know. It looks delicious!

Fresh raspberries and cheesecake? Game over. The cheesecakes shown below are from Berko, an American-style cheesecake café.

Lemon-meringue cheesecake? Okay, twist my rubber arm.

Oh, but there’s also mini-cupcakes!


We were at Berko the day before July 4, hence the American flags. Surprisingly, there were lots of American flags to be found in Paris the week of July 4! I didn’t realize that the French were so fond of the United States—I guess it’s due to their involvement in the American Revolution, as Louis XVI provided funds to help the Americans keep fighting the British (the friend of my enemy is my friend). A French sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, also designed the Statue of Liberty (with help from another Frenchman, Gustav Eiffel).

Other desserts I have craved.

Who doesn’t love a tower of macarons? I could eat a whole row.

Best souvenir ever.

A terrible picture of a delicious dessert – you can get macarons in a larger size!

One day, we went to Le Loir Dans La Theiere (the Dormouse in the Teapot) for brunch. It had colourful Alice-in-Wonderland themed murals on the walls.

Cute image on the napkin.

But, most importantly (and famously), the restaurant had lemon-meringue pie with sky-high meringue.

I can’t even remember what our main course was. I’m sure it was delicious, but priorities.

For a slightly less decadent breakfast on another day we went to a vegan place, the Café Pinson. There we enjoyed a breakfast of petit madeleines with jam and chocolate sauce. The café itself is also really pretty!

The madeleines were divine.

There were actually a lot of vegan options near where we were staying, including vegan pizza and burgers. (Hank Pizza, shown below). There was also a lot of falafel on hand in the Jewish Quarter, which Neil really appreciated. Fresh falafel is his favourite!

Back to dessert. Amorino is the best place to get gelato. You can get different flavours scooped and shaped to look like a flower, topped with a macaron.

The picture of my rose petal-flavoured gelato is sadly out of focus, but it was still delicious.

The dessert below, my friends, is known as a praluline. It is a pure-butter sweet brioche bread filled with pralines, candied almonds, and hazelnuts.

You would also be as excited as I am, if you were about to eat a praluline.

Yum!

After all that sugar, it’s time to move on to some flowers I saw at the Marché des Enfants Rouges. They present a feast for the eyes, if not the waistline. (Although the market had plenty of food options as well).

The market’s name translates as “Market of the Red Children” and calls back to its origins as an orphanage in which the children were dressed in red. A market was established in 1615, making it the oldest market in Paris.

This market had buckets of sweet peas! How lovely.

I’ll take them all.

We saw lots of flowers at a couple of gardens that we visited. I’ll include them in another post. For now, we’ll end with these colourful hot-air balloon ornaments. No room in my suitcase, but I’m sure they would have made a delightful addition to our garden!

Another thing that I really enjoyed was a self-serve wine bar! At the entrance, you are given a glass and a card. You put some money on that card. Then you’re free to go around the bar to different kiosks of wine. Choose your wine, tap your card, fill your glass! You can choose how much wine you want to have poured. It was a lot of fun!

Can we please get these set up everywhere?

Before we finish this post, here’s a funny thing we saw in a bakery… but be warned! It’s NSFW!

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Magical baguettes. LOL!

Categories
France Paris

Beautiful Doors, Metro Stations & Pixel-Art Found Walking Around Paris

One of the great things about Paris is that, while walking down the street, you never have to wait long before you find something interesting to take a picture of. The beautifully painted doors of Paris are a highlight. I mostly saw blue doors but, if you do some research, I’m sure you can find one in every colour of the rainbow (sadly, I did not come across any pink or purple ones!). There are books, posters, and calendars available that feature these lovely doors. Here are the ones we came across.

This one might be my favourite shade of blue.

Green.

Navy blue.

Teal. (I love the female faces, and the carved bearded man overtop the door).

This one has a “shabby-chic” feel to it.

Another light/sky-blue.

Grey-blue, with a hint of green.

Another rich azure blue.

The same door as above, giving you a quick peek in towards the courtyard.

This red door, found in Montmartre, was my favourite.

A very patriotic door leading to the Petite Luxembourg, which is the home of the Senate President.

The door below was found on the same building as the door above. This door was open because it looks like there’s a shop inside the courtyard.

Fancy door knocker.

Below is the entrance to the Palais Royal metro station at Place Colette (located close to the Louvre). It’s not a blue-painted door but it’s an entrance, so it kind of fits the theme, right?

This design features large, coloured glass beads and was created in 2000 to commemorate 100-years of the Palais Royal metro line. The work is called “Kiosk of the Night Walkers” and was created by Jean-Michael Othoniel.

From across the street.

From Pixabay

Some of the metro stations in Paris are very creative! The one that Neil and I used quite a bit, Arts et Métiers, is meant to look like the inside of a submarine (complete with portholes!). It was designed by François Schuiten, a Belgian comic-book artist, who took inspiration from Jules Verne. The station’s makeover in 1994 marked the 200th anniversary of the nearby National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts.

Neil standing in the Arts et Métiers station.

A discussion on Parisian metro stations wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Hector Guimard, a French architect who is the best known representative of the decorative Art Nouveau style (circa 1890-1910). He was hired to design the first entrances to the underground metro in Paris. 141 of them were made between 1900-1913, and consisted of cast iron and glass.

Entrance at Abbesses, originally at Hotel de Ville. From Wikipedia.

Signs located at the top of the stairs featured a distinct lettering style that read Metropolitain. The signs were supported by two columns shaped like plant stalks, often compared to lily-of-the-valley, and contain two red-orange lamps.

From Pixabay.

Sadly, Guimard’s designs were not appreciated by everyone. Although they were generally well-received, critics stated that the green paint was “too German”, the lettering was “un-French”, and the lamps were described as “frog-eyed.” Many of his station entrances were later demolished, often replaced by those with a more plain design. Shortly before World War II, it was suggested that the remaining ones be scrapped for their metal. Thankfully, this did not happen. 86 of these entrances remain today, and were listed as historical monuments in 1965 and 1978.

Another thing you’ll see as you tour Paris are different 8-bit pixel art mosaics made from ceramic tiles. Some are larger than others, featuring an assortment of characters. Many of the ones that can be seen are low-res aliens who look like they came from the game Space Invaders. Indeed, the street artist who kicked off the trend uses the pseudonym Invader. The artist began adding the mosaics to the streets of Paris in the 1990s, and soon added more in other cities in France and around the world. Neil and I saw them in quite a few places on our European travels.

My favourite mosaic was the one shown below, of Alice in Wonderland.

This was on a street just one or two over from the apartment we were staying in, so we got to see her nearly everyday!

Mario!

This one is pretty cute.

A dinosaur from Bubble Bobble?

I liked this Cheshire Cat piece as well.

Categories
France Paris

Le Marais: The Volatile History of Paris’ Trendiest District

During our visit to Paris, Neil and I stayed in an apartment located in the historic district of Le Marais. The area gets its name from the marshland (marais) that could once be found at this location, but was drained in the 12th century.

Le Marais is located on the right (north) bank of the Seine river, and is spread across the third and fourth arrondissements. The neighbourhood’s history begins in 1240 when the Knights Templar (a Catholic military order) built a fortified church just outside of the Paris city walls, in the northern area of Le Marais. More religious institutions were soon built nearby, and the area became known as the Temple Quarter.

In 1250, Charles I of Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily (and brother to Saint Louis IX of France), built his residence. King Charles V followed suit in 1361, building a mansion known as the Hôtel Saint-Pol which hosted the royal court. From this point on, Le Marais became the favoured area of residence for many French aristocrats. They built private urban mansions (known in French as hôtels particuliers) such as the Hôtel de Sully, the Hôtel de Sens, the Hôtel de Carnavalet, the Hôtel Salé, and many others.

Today, Le Marais is a trendy area with lots of art galleries, museums, high-end shopping, and restaurants. It also contains the Jewish Quarter.

A few typical streets in Le Marais.

The view outside our apartment window.

A cute postcard I found. Le Marais is the little pink rectangle (the fourth arrondissement) and the pink triangle on top (the third arrondissement) located just to the right (east) of Notre-Dame, along the Seine river.

Le Marais began to fall out of fashion in the late 18th century, and the French Revolution saw it being completely abandoned by the nobility. Bohemians, the poor, and immigrants moved in to take their place. Many of the large mansions were carved up into apartments, workshops, and stores.

Paris underwent a population explosion in the mid-nineteenth century: it went from 759,000 residents in 1831 to over a million in 1846. The city was overcrowded, dirty, and sanitation conditions were abysmal, with cholera and typhoid outbreaks killing tens of thousands of people. In 1848, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (nephew and heir of Napoleon I, later known as Napoleon III) returned to Paris to become President of the French Second Republic. He had spent the previous twelve years living in exile in London, and he was appalled by the conditions of his native city upon his return. He decided that Paris should be more like London with its grand parks and gardens, a modern sewage system, and wide tree-lined avenues.

Two pictures below show a couple of the narrow, old streets of Paris.

The Rue St. Nicholas du Chardonnet, one of the narrow medieval streets near the Panthéon on the left bank, in the 1850s. Charles Marville. Circa 1853-1870. From Wikipedia.

The Rue du Marché aux fleurs on the Ile de la Cité, before Haussman. The site is now the place Louis-Lépine. Charles Marville. Circa 1853-1870. From Wikipedia.

In 1853, Napoleon III hired Georges-Eugène Haussman to overhaul the city. Many of the medieval streets in the city centre were razed to the ground. 12,000 buildings were torn down, and 137 kilometres of new boulevards were created. It certainly didn’t hurt that these new wide streets made it easier to control the local populace; residents couldn’t block the streets as easily, and the army could be dispatched quickly and in large numbers. This was definitely an advantage for those in power, as seven armed uprisings broke out in central Paris between 1830-1848. People tore up paving stones from the street to build barricades. This project is big enough to warrant a post of its own (which I may or may not write) but, suffice it to say that, Haussman was largely responsible for how much of Paris looks today.

What a lot of Paris now looks like, below: Haussman-style apartment buildings and wide tree-lined streets.

From Pixabay.

A street in Le Marais that did get a Haussman facelift.

Le Marais mostly escaped Haussman’s attentions, which is why it has managed to retain some of the city’s former medieval character in its narrow streets and buildings. Le Marais, with its labyrinth of cobblestone alleys, is what most of Paris used to look like. Now, I’m going to show you some of the sites we came across in this district.

Below are two medieval dwellings that can be found at numbers 11 and 13 Rue François-Miron. They are known to have existed in the 16th century, and possibly date back even further to the 14th. They were built prior to a ban on this style of wood framing, which was later deemed a fire risk. Their exteriors were actually covered up with plaster for this reason in 1607. In 1967, the houses were restored and their original façades uncovered once more.

Look at how the bottom corner of the house is rounded! I imagine this was done to make it easier for carriages to pass by!

How cool are these buildings? I’m so glad they survived!

There was another old house, located at 3 Rue Volta, near our apartment. It was built between 1644-1655. The street is a little narrow, so it was difficult to get a full shot of the building.

It contains a Chinese shop on the ground floor and five narrow floors that contain apartments (one per floor).

I love these old timber-frame houses!

Below is Rue de Montmorency, which contains the oldest stone house in Paris at number 52, the Nicolas Flamel house. Nicolas Flamel was a scribe, manuscript-seller, and philanthropist who lived from 1340-1418. He built the house at number 52 Rue de Montmorency himself in 1407, which was one of a few properties that belonged to him and his wife Perenelle. They were a wealthy and generous couple noted for their philanthropy. They donated to churches and commissioned sculptures. It sounds like they had a nice, relatively normal life.

However, things took a turn for the weird in the 17th century when some papers on alchemy were ascribed to Flamel. Legend surpassed fact as Flamel became celebrated as the alchemist who discovered the philosopher’s stone, which could turn lead into gold. By doing so, Flamel and Perenelle supposedly amassed endless riches and gained immortality. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the real Nicolas Flamel was involved in alchemy at all. His will reveals that he and his wife were financially well-off, but they weren’t in possession of an exceptional fortune gained through alchemic means. Their wealth had more base origins: Flamel owned two shops, and Perenelle was a wealthy widow twice over by the time she married Flamel in 1368. As for immortality? Well, in 1410 Flamel designed his own tombstone, which can be seen at the Musée de Cluny. That’s not the behaviour of a man who believes he’s going to live forever. Records show that he passed away in 1418, at the age of 77-78.

From Wikipedia.

The building now contains a restaurant, the Auberge Nicolas Flamel. There is an inscription on the exterior that translates as: “We, men and women, labourers of this house, which was made in the year of grace, four hundred and seven times each, in law, say every day a Paternoster and Ave Maria, praying to God for his grace to forgive poor sinners trespasses. Amen.”

From Wikipedia.

Other streets we explored included Rue Tibourg, Rue Vielle du Temple, Rue du Tresor, and Rue de Roi de Sicile, among others. The area around the Rue des Rosiers is the Jewish Quarter, known as “the Pletzl” (Yiddish for “the little place”).

Rue du Trésor is fairly cute.

Our wanders brought us next to the Place des Vosges and the Square Louis XIII. Known originally as the Place Royal, this is the oldest planned square in Paris. It was a very fashionable (and expensive) place to live in during the 17th and 18th centuries (I’m sure it still is, today). Many members of the aristocratic class lived in the pavilions that were built here, and they would meet up in the square.

The Pavilion de la Reine, in the north, shown below.

The Place des Vosges is located on the former site of the Hôtel des Tournelles, a medieval royal residence. It was named after its many little towers (tournelles). It was where Henri II died of a fatal wound he received in a joust in 1559. His widow, Catherine de Médici, abandoned it shortly thereafter. It was demolished in 1563 and parcels of the land were sold off and served several functions over the intervening years (gunpowder magazine, horse market, silk weaving factory). At one point, it became a traditional site for duels. On April 27, 1579, three favourites of Henri III of France (son of Catherine and Henri II) met and fought with three favourites of the Duke of Guise. All six men ended up dead or seriously wounded.

View of the Hotel des Tournelles after a period drawing (1550). From Le Magasin Pittoresque, 1851. From Wikipedia.

In 1604, Henri IV donated a portion of land to his noblemen for them to build their residences. He stated that the buildings would require the same layout, materials, and main dimensions as set out by architects Androuet du Cerceau and Claude Chastillon. These are the pavilions that can now be seen. Having all the house fronts feature the same design was a new development, and this residential square served as a model for many others that were to follow throughout Europe. Construction took place between 1605-1612. It was inaugurated in 1612 as the “Place Royal” in celebration of the marriage of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. Queen Anne even lived in the Pavilion de la Reine for a short while.


There is a vaulted arcade located on ground level, running beneath the residences. Shops and office space can be found there. Victor Hugo lived in one of the pavilions, number 6, from 1832-1848, in what was then the Hôtel de Rohan. Today the same building is now a museum dedicated to his memory. It’s in the corner of the photo below, where you can see the French tricolour flag.

Inside the arcade. I’m sure it once served as a popular promenade for many ladies in big dresses.

Two pavilions, one on the north and one on the south, are raised a little higher than their surroundings. They both contain a set of three arches that allow access into and out of the area beneath them. The Pavilion du Roi, in the south, is shown below. (The Pavilion de Reine is the other one, located at the north side of the square).

As you can imagine, “Place Royal” was not a name that could last long in the post-revolutionary era of Paris. It was renamed the “Place des Vosges” in 1799, to honour an eastern administrative region of France that was the first to pay its share of a tax that was used to support a campaign of the revolutionary army.

A bronze statue of Louis XIII is shown below.

Let’s continue on! Below is the Hôtel de Sully. Built between 1624-1630, it was a private mansion (a hôtel particulier) that was built for a wealthy financier. Since 1967 it has been the home of the Centre des monuments nationaux, which is a public body that manages French historical buildings and monuments.

A statue located in the courtyard.

Here are a few more pictures of the building from Pixabay.

From Pixabay.

From Pixabay.

From Pixabay.

The Musée Picasso is located in the Hôtel Salé, the largest hôtel in Le Marais. It was built between 1656-1659 for Pierre Aubert, seigneur de Fontenay, who became wealthy while collecting the salt tax (salé means “salted”). It became the Picasso museum in 1985. Neil and I got a chance to go inside to see the exhibited works, and I’ll do a separate post on it.

A few more pictures of the hôtel.

The Hôtel de Sens was built in 1475 to serve as a residence for the archbishops of Sens, a commune located 125 km south-east of Paris. At the time, Paris was not yet a separate archdiocese, and was instead part of the bishopric of Sens/Lyon. A prior hôtel had been built at this location for the archbishops in 1345, and was later used by Charles V as part of his Marais royal residence, the Hôtel Saint-Pol (which was built in 1361). Charles V moved onto the new Louvre Palace when it was completed in 1380, and the previous hôtel was destroyed to make room for the new one. Tristan de Salazar, the archbishop at the time, had the new Hôtel de Sens built in the flamboyant Gothic style.

In 1622, Paris became its own archdiocese. The archbishops of Sens spent less time in Paris, and so the building was rented out to other prominent individuals. The Hôtel de Sens was confiscated from the Catholic church during the French Revolution, and then sold and privately owned throughout the 18th century. It served as an industrial building and served in various incarnations as a warehouse, a factory, a laundry, and housed different shops. The condition of the building deteriorated throughout this period. It was classified as a historic monument in 1862, and was bought by the City of Paris in 1911. By this point, it was very dilapidated.

The tower of the Hotel de Sens before its reconstruction in the 20th century. Paul Robert, 1892. From Wikipedia.

Restoration work began in 1929 and ended in 1961. Many elements had to be reconstructed due to their poor condition. The Hôtel then became the location for the Forney Library. The Hôtel de Sens is actually a good example of what was going on in the broader district of Le Marais in the middle of the 20th century. By the 1950s, Le Marais had become a working-class neighbourhood, and many of the buildings were at risk of turning to ruin. In 1964, France’s cultural minister appointed Le Marais as the first secteur sauvegardé (safeguarded sector). The move recognized the area for its historical value and cultural significance, and sought to protect it.

Over the following decades, both the Paris municipal and the French national government worked together to restore the district. Many of the hôtels particuliers were turned into museums. Other hôtels I haven’t yet covered include the Hôtel Carnavalet (the Paris Historical Museum), the Hôtel Donon (the Cognacq-Jay Museum, which features fine art and decorative items with an emphasis on 18th century France), and the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan (the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme).

The reconstructed tower, shown below.

I didn’t know this at the time (so sadly didn’t get my own close-up picture of it), but apparently there is a cannonball lodged in the main façade of the building. It has the date it was fired (July 28, 1830) inscribed in the wall underneath it. It was shot during a street fight that took place during the Trois Glorieuses (Three Glorious Days) of the July Revolution of 1830.

From Wikipedia.

You can spot it in the picture below. Start by looking at the tower on the left. Look right to the window beside the tower, then glance up. There’s a tiny little black spot—that’s the cannonball.

From Wikipedia.

Below is a (romanticized) image of a street fight taking place outside of the Hôtel de Ville, located about a kilometre away from the Hôtel de Sens. This would have been one of the armed incursions that may have motivated Napoleon III to overhaul the narrow medieval streets of Paris, so that rebellions like this one could be put down more easily.

The Battle for the Town Hall, 28 July 1830. Jean Victor Schnetz, 1833. From Wikipedia.

The Hôtel de Canillac (also known as the Hôtel Berruyer), located at 4 Rue du Parc Royal, was built in 1620. Today it consists of a restaurant and apartments. I like the pretty pink brick and the stones framing the windows and the corners of the building. It reminds me of the pavilions in the Place des Vosges. This hôtel certainly might have taken style inspiration from the square, as it was built 15 years after those pavilions.

The Place de la Bastille is a square in Paris, located close to the Place des Vosges, where the Bastille once stood. The Bastille was originally built as a fortress from 1370 to the 1380s to defend the eastern approach to Paris from the threat of English invasion during the Hundred Years War. It consisted of eight towers and protected the entrance to the city at the Porte Saint-Antoine. In 1417 it was declared a state prison, and by the 18th century it had become a symbol of tyrannical political control. It was torn down between July 14, 1789 and July 14, 1790. July 14 commemorates the founding of the French Republic, and is a national holiday. Very little remains of the prison (although in my post on the Eiffel Tower, in the footnotes, you can read about how it was temporarily reconstructed for the Exposition Universelle of 1889). During an excavation to build a Metro station in 1899, the foundation stones of a tower were uncovered; they were moved to a nearby park (the Square Henri-Galli) where they can be seen today on the side of the Boulevard Henri IV. The original outline of the prison is marked by special paving stones on the street.

Historical reconstruction showing the Bastille, the walls of Paris, the moat below the walls, and the Port Saint-Antoine in 1420. Theodor Josef Hubert Hoffbauer (1839-1922). From Wikipedia.

What you can find now in place of the Bastille, at the centre of a large roundabout, is the July Column. It commemorates the Trois Glorieuses (Three Glorious Days) of the July Revolution of 1830. An earlier column had been initially planned for the spot that would celebrate the Fall of the Bastille. A foundation stone was laid on July 14, 1792, but didn’t advance beyond that. The July Revolution saw the fall of King Charles X and the “July Monarchy” of Louise-Philippe (who reigned from 1830-1848). Louise-Philippe commissioned the column, and laid its first stone down on July 28, 1831—the one-year anniversary of the revolution that brought him to power. It was inaugurated on July 28, 1840.

The winged figure atop the column is reminiscent of the Roman god Mercury. He perches atop a golden globe on one foot, holding the torch of civilization in one hand and his torn chains in the other. The column is engraved in gold with the names of those who died during the July 1830 Revolution. In the foundation of the column rest the remains of 615 victims from July 1830, and 200 victims of the Revolution of 1848 were later interred there as well. In July 1848, Louis-Philippe’s throne was symbolically burned in the square as well. The elected government of the second Republic was now in power. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, later Napoleon III, would be elected President that December.

Before I wrap up this post on Le Marais, I am going to discuss one of its darkest chapters. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the Jewish Quarter/the Pletzl welcomed many Eastern European Jews (the Ashkenazi). France was the first European country to recognize Jews as citizens with human rights, and so it was an attractive place for an influx of  thousands of Jewish immigrants. Horrifically, this population was later targeted by Nazis during the French occupation and 75% of them died in concentration camps.

There are plaques located on some of the buildings commemorating those who were deported and did not return. I did not know to look for them at the time so, with regret, I don’t have any pictures of them to share. But if you are visiting the area, keep your eye out. (Paris isn’t all macaron shops and art galleries. It’s important to remember and honour that).

Neil and I stopped one night in a park, the Square du Temple–Elie Wiesel, near our apartment to eat some take-out for dinner. There was a beautiful garden, a pond, a playground, some interesting-looking birds, as well as a couple of ping-pong tables and chessboards.

From the website of the French Tourism Board.

One of the birds we saw in the park.

There was also a sobering reminder of the pain that this community has experienced. Situated in the park is a plaque that reads: “Arrested by the police of the Vichy government, accomplice of the Nazi occupier, more than 11,000 children were deported from France from 1942-1944, and murdered in Auschwitz because they were born Jews. Over 500 of these children lived in the 3rd district. Among them, 87 toddlers did not have time to attend a school. Passing by their name, your memory is their only burial.” It lists the name and the ages of the children who were taken from the neighbourhood, ranging in age from 2 months to 6 years old. “Passing by their name, your memory is their only burial.” Doesn’t that just break your heart?

“The Square of the Temple” in the garden’s name refers to the fact that this area was once part of the grounds that made up the Temple that was built in 1240 by the Knights Templar—the same temple that kick-started the growth of Le Marais as a residential district. Since 2016, the garden has also paid homage to Elie Wiesel, a Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor. It’s fitting, somehow, that this historic spot that calls back to the district’s establishment doesn’t shy away from recognizing its most hurtful moment. Even as local residents and tourists alike enjoy the park today, we are all reminded of the brutality that was exercised on members of that community. That ignorance, complacency, and hatred have a real human cost. It happened once, not long ago, to people and children (as young as 2 months old!) who also enjoyed this exact neighbourhood. And it’s our duty not to forget, to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Memorials like this are sobering, and they’re crucial.

Also located in Le Marais is the Jardin Anne Frank, a community garden that pays homage to Anne Frank. The plaque below reads: Anne Frank lived in hiding from 1942-1944 in Amsterdam where her family, German Jews, took refuge during the Nazi persecutions. The Franks were denounced, arrested, and deported. During these two years of illegal immigration, Anne Frank wrote a book published for the first time in 1947. The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most famous books in the world. On May 13, 1944, Anne wrote from her hiding place: “Our horse chestnut tree is totally in bloom, full of leaves and more beautiful than last year.” This horse chestnut is a graft of the real Anne Frank horse chestnut tree. It was planted during the inauguration of the Anne Frank garden on June 20, 2007 (by the Mayor of Paris, the Mayor of the 3rd arrondissement, and the Director of the Anne Frank House of Amsterdam).

The tree. (Sadly, my picture of it didn’t turn out well).

From Wikipedia.

The rest of the garden. It is a nice, tranquil place.

The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme (Museum of Jewish Art and History) and the Mémorial de la Shoah (the Holocaust Museum) can both be found in Le Marais. The Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation can be found on the Île de la Cité, underground behind Notre-Dame. The Centre for Contemporary Jewish Documentation, which maintains a large archive of Holocaust materials, is also located in Paris.

Paris has a rich, fascinating, and often-tragic history. It’s a place where the residents have fought the establishment in the street, literally ripping up the stones beneath their feet. They push forward with cries of  “Liberté!”, “Egalité!” and “Fraternité!” but then just as quickly falter and take a step back. They’ll kill a King and then elect a Dictator. The city’s trajectory has been bloody, imperfect, and very human. There are so many layers to experience, even when one is just looking for a place to eat. Le Marais is an essential district to explore, and I hope that if you’re fortunately enough to find yourself in Paris, that you’ll have time to check it out yourself.