Paris Wanderlust: Baroque Twins in the Marais

Baroque Twins in the Marais

In the little hamlet of the Marais east of l’Hôtel de Ville are “fraternal twin” baroque churches, each dedicated to two saints.

Although their decoration is contrasting (one plain, the other ornate), their structural similarities are apparent: three levels, each with a set of columns. Their interiors are a different story: one Gothic, the other baroque.

First, the plain twin:

Église St-Gervais et St-Protais

Gothic interior, baroque facade

It took about 150 years to build St-Gervais St-Protais. In 1494, the nave and apse were begun in the Flamboyant Gothic style, but construction was delayed by the Hundred Years War and a lack of funding.

Come time to build the facade, architectural style was starting to shift toward the new baroque, introduced in Italy. Architect Salomon de Brosse embraced that innovation in his design for the church’s facade. Constructed 1616-1621, it was the first baroque church facade in France.

The facade of St-Gervais St-Protais is capped with an arched pediment — unlike the pointed gables of Gothic predecessors.

The eye is drawn upward along the inner two columns of the first two levels, with their three bays, to the top level, with its one. The columns of each level are progressively more slender, giving a feeling of lightness to the upper level.

Each set of columns of the three levels displays a different classical order: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, one stacked above the other and progressing from the plainest (Ionic) to the most ornate (Corinthian).

The three orders announce the ties of the new baroque style to ancient Greek and Roman architecture.

Stained glass

St-Gervais St-Protais is renowned for its 16th– and 17th-century stained glass:

I also find myself drawn to the gorgeous 20th-century stained-glass windows. Below, Sylvie Gaudin’s Pentacost (1995):

Below, modern stained glass by Claude Courageux:

The unusual stained glass window below combines early 16th-century (upper panes) with mid-20th-century. It tells the story of Isabelle and her brother King Louis IX.

Below, saint-king Louis IX in the Seventh Crusade attacking Damietta, a port city in Egypt.

Louis IX, tireless Crusader and would-be conqueror, sailed off to capture Damietta, controlled by a caliphate. Louis himself was later captured and was forced to relinquish Damietta as ransom. The Seventh Crusade was a disaster for Louis. In the end, his men were starving and demoralized. One Knight Templar wrote:

They will make a Mosque of Holy Mary’s convent, and since the theft pleases her Son, who should weep at this, we are forced to comply as well … Anyone who wishes to fight the Turks is mad, for Jesus Christ does not fight them any more. They have conquered, they will conquer. For every day they drive us down, knowing that God, who was awake, sleeps now, and Muhammad waxes powerful.

from Stephen Howarth

In the battle between the knight’s absolute belief that his mission was divinely protected and the reality of its abject failure, God lost. Small comfort to the miserable knight. The inquisition caught up with the Knights Templar, not for such cynical laments but because of their growing wealth and power.

Louis was canonized by the Catholic Church, as was his sister Isabelle. The pane below depicts Isabelle’s second burial. According to her hagiography, her body was exhumed nine days after her death and miraculously showed no sign of decomposition.

Louis achieved sainthood in part for bringing to France holy relics. His sister Isabelle was canonized for her body’s resistance to becoming one.

Wood carvings

In addition to its treasury of stained glass, St-Gervais St-Protais houses notable wood sculptures, sacred and profane. The church was named after twin Christian martyrs in Rome. Below, a carving of St Gervais by Michel Bourdin (c. 1620). Gervais holds a palm frond, symbol of martyrdom.

In its visceral depiction of suffering, the carved oak sculpture of Christ on the Cross by Auguste Préault (1809-1879) brings to mind Mathias Grünewald’s crucifixion scene, painted more than 300 years earlier.

Below: early 16th-century choir stalls (aka “mercy seats”), where clergy could rest — but not quite sit — during services.

Carved from wood, each stall sports a different scene from ordinary secular life. Below: a cooper with his casks:

Domesticated wild boar?

Some of the carvings depicting nudity (especially female) have been defaced, like the mermaid below . . .

. . . and this hot tub scene:

Model of the church facade, carved in wood and installed on a chapel wall:

The community elm tree

The community elm tree in front of St-Gervais St-Protais was a meeting place for various neighbourhood activities since medieval times. Chopped down during the French Revolution, it was later replaced.

Wrought iron depictions of the elm tree on a nearby balcony celebrate the traditional tree.

Église St-Paul et St-Louis

All baroque

The ornate façade of St-Paul St-Louis follows the same general form as its older counterpart. Both are bilaterally symmetrical: the form of the left half mirrors that of the right.

built 1627-1641

But unlike St-Gervais St-Protais’ split personality of Gothic and baroque, the younger St-Paul St-Louis displays 17th-century baroque inside and out. St-Gervais St-Protais, an architectural pioneer, helped to inaugurate the qualities of the new French baroque.

The façade of St-Paul St-Louis is distinguished by its extreme ornamentation, a baroque proclivity exemplified by its third level:

In the emerging 17th-century French baroque style, the dome took center stage Inside, light streams from cupolas, an innovation inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.

Treasures of St-Paul St-Louis

Eugène Delacroix painted Christ in the Garden of Olives in 1826 for St-Paul St-Louis:

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Christ in the Garden of Olives (1826)

La Vierge de douleur by French Renaissance sculptor Germain Pilon:

Germain Pilon (1525-1590), La Vierge de Douleur

Sorbonne Chapel

Students hang out in front of 17th-century baroque Sorbonne Chapel, designed by Jacques Lemercier.

Architect: Jacques Lemercier (1585-1654), Sorbonne Chapel (1635-1642)

Temple du Marais

Below, the dome of the former church of Ste Marie de la Visitation is echoed in the arch over the rose window and the classical portal.

Architect: François Mansart; built 1632-1634. It’s now a Protestant church.

Dôme des Invalides

The former royal church of the Dôme des Invalides is a late baroque edifice designed in 1676 and completed in 1706. The architect who won the commission was Jules Hardouin-Mansart, grand-nephew of François Mansart, who designed the early baroque Temple du Marais.

The baroque style of grand-nephew Mansart had certainly evolved in size and complexity since the beginnings of the French baroque.

The size and weight of Mansart’s gold-plated dome for Les Invalides posed a problem for the load-bearing walls of the church. Mansart resolved this dilemma by using double columns as buttresses to support the dome and distribute its weight downward instead of outward.

There’s something pleasing and symmetrical about the proportions of the church. A (very) casual measurement tells me that, excluding the dome, the height and width of the building are equivalent.

Église St-Thomas-d’Aquin

The modest-sized church at Rue du Gribeauval was built entirely in the baroque style as a chapel for the Reform Dominicans, or Jacobins.

Église St-Thomas-d’Aquin was constructed in 1682, and the facade was added in 1766 — late for the baroque, but consistent with the style of the rest of the church.

The church isn’t easy to find: it’s tucked into a roundabout off Rue du Bac.

From monastery to artillery museum

As my eyes scanned the other buildings in the circle, I noticed something odd about the building to the left (below), the pediment in particular:

A cannon and a rocket, nestled among oak leaves and acorns, are engraved in the pediment:

Why the weapons of war? The pediment belonged to a building that was part of the monastery complex of Église St-Thomas-d’Aquin. After the French Revolution, the monks lost the use of their monastery and church . During the reign of Napoleon I, the church reverted to religious use, but the monks didn’t get back their monastery.

The building in question became a weapons depot and later morphed into the Museum of Artillery.

Next: Neo-Classical Columns & Columns & . . .

Camille Martin

One response to “Paris Wanderlust: Baroque Twins in the Marais

  1. Pingback: Paris Wanderlust: Hybrids at the Cusp of the Renaissance | Rogue Embryo

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