Fontainebleau

Charles Giry-Deloison looks for the realpolitik behind the Renaissance splendours of Francis I's Fontainbleau.

In May 1527, Francis I announced to the not so thrilled municipal authorities of his 'good city' that he intended henceforth to reside in Paris. The king's decision was political. Its implications for the arts were to be considerable. For in Paris, the old Louvre, hardly changed since the time of Charles V, was too small and impracticable to accommodate the large and sophisticated court which accompanied Francis. So, though the chateaux of the Loire were not abandoned, the king embarked on a major programme of prestige building in the Ile-de-France which lasted until his death.

Of all those major architectural undertakings, Fontainebleau was his favourite. Its purpose was to glorify the king's supremacy and magnificence and to surpass the new royal palaces of Henry VIII and Charles V. And so it did. Situated some fifty miles south of Paris in the midst of the forest of Biere, a hunter's paradise, Fontainebleau was in 1527 a decadent medieval chateau which dated back to the twelfth century. About seventy yards to the west was a monastery founded by St Louis. The accounts show that the works started in 1528 under the supervision of a Parisian master mason, Gilles Le Breton. The keep and the outline of the buildings around the original Oval Court were to be preserved, the court façade of the buildings renovated, the old gateway replaced by a new entrance (Gilded Gate) and two short blocks built to link it to the keep. On the site of the monastery a vast court (White Horse Court) bordered by four wings, the east one formed of five pavilions, was planned. To link these two sets of buildings a long gallery (Francis I Gallery) was to be erected e between the keep and the east n wing of the White Horse Court.

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