sábado, 26 de marzo de 2011

The Louvre in Paris: The Lescot Wing

The Lescot wing in the courtyard of the Louvre palace is the oldest part of the complex, as it still exists today. It is interesting for a variety of reasons, not least because it gives a French spin on an essentially Italian composition.

The architect was Pierre Lescot, who was appointed by the king Francis I to remodel the medieval castle of the Louvre into a renaissance palace.

Italian design had been influencing French art and architecture since the beginning of the 16th century. It is interesting to note, however, that in the case of the Louvre, Italian designs, by Sebastiano Serlio, were rejected and the project was given to a Frenchman. The Lescot wing is probably France’s first classical façade in more than just a decorative sense and was, therefore, hugely important to the development of French classicism.

One of the reasons Serlio’s project was abandoned seems to have been a disregard for practical considerations. Lescot, therefore, proceeded cautiously. His project followed the same footprint as the old castle and only demolished the medieval wings one at a time. When he died, the western wing was complete and the southern wing partially complete, while at the northern and eastern wings the old castle walls still remained.

The scheme intended by Lescot seems to have been a courtyard palace, only partially enclosed on the eastern side by a screen. Though clearly inspired by Italian palazzi, the roofline clings to the medieval affinity for towers. These towers, or pavilions, were projected at the four corners of the palace and was possibly inspired by the silhouette of the old castle. However, the south-western tower, the king’s pavilion, was the only to be complete in Lescot’s time and has since been removed. The courtyard is richly decorated with classical orders and low relief sculpture. The exterior of the palace, on the other hand, maintained a fortress-like sobriety and had no orders.

Only the courtyard façade remains of the Lescot wing. It is heavily decorated, but according to a clearly defined hierarchy.  The profusion of sculpture would be unthinkable in Florence or Rome, but would possibly be met with approval in Northern Italy. 

Several of the French features seem to have been determined by climate. The open arcade on the ground floor, which would normally be expected in an Italian courtyard is enclosed, but with recessed windows, supposedly to give the impression of an arcade. The roof is the first known example of a double sloping roof, a feature which since has come to be known as a Mansard roof. It seems to have come up about as a compromise, to minimize the effect of a traditional tall sloping roof of earlier French examples.    
Nonetheless, the design of the roof is not hidden, behind a balustrade or otherwise, and is successfully turned into an integral element in the façade. 

The composition of projecting pavilions at the centre and the sides is also a feature not to be found in Italy, and introduces a vertical element unused by Italian architects, except perhaps in some of Michelangelo's work. The five-fold division would later be taken up in much of French palace design and emulated widely. 

What seems to have happened is that Lescot originally planned a central pavilion to indicate the location of the staircase within. This was already established as a common French fashion. However, due to practical considerations or the wishes of the king, the staircase had to be moved to the north of the wing. Instead of moving the pavilion to produce an asymmetrical facade, Lescot added a new pavilion, retained the central pavilion, and introduced a third pavilion for the sake of symmetry. Voila, the French five-fold palace design was born.       

This allows for a new dimension of complexity, vertically as well as horizontally. For example, the pavilions are emphasised with engaged columns rather than just pilasters. They are decorated with niches and swags etc.

The emphasis is very much on alternating rhytms. The interplay of projecting and recessed panes existed in certain mannerist examples in Italy, but never to this degree. The use of oeil de boeuf windows above the windows and low relief sculpture, particularly in the attic floor, introduces additional complexity and variation. The projecting pavilions are capped with arched pediments that pierce into the roofline, while the windows have alternating triangular and arched pediments. It is almost as if as many alternating shapes and forms as possible has been crammed in. However, the effect never feels too crowded. 

All the sculpture was executed by Jean Goujon.  Work was completed between 1546 to 1551. 

For more info about Lescot's Louvre, click here, or the later work by Jacques Lemercier: here

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