Tag Archives: Baroque architecture

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

Paris Wanderlust: Neoclassical Columns & Columns & . . .

Neoclassical Columns & Columns & . . .

I admit to having a bias against Neoclassical architecture. During my 50 years in the United States, I’ve seen too many banks that try to look like the Greek Parthenon on the outside and the Roman Pantheon on the inside, some including — with religious solemnity — grandiose murals of allegorical figures extolling the virtues of Industry and Prudence. That’s one kind of appropriation of antiquity. At least two of Paris’ palaces of finance are in Neoclassical style: La Bourse and La Monnaie de Paris. The spirit sometimes infects 19th-century caryatids in Paris, as in Industry and Commerce below:

Passage du Bourg l’Abbé (2e)

Another kind of appropriation is the romanticized Neoclassical imaginary of a lost Arcadian past, envisioned as a temple in a pastoral landscape: in other words, the gazebo. The classic example in Paris is the Temple de la Sybil in Parc des Buttes-Chaumont:


Such clichés aside, in Paris I saw a rich and varied Neoclassicism in architecture, sometimes associated with important historical events. The French Revolution in particular profoundly influenced the evolution of two churches that I’ll ponder below: the Panthéon and La Madeleine. These structures toggled between religious and secular functions — and in the latter instance, monument to the megalomanic Napoléon Bonaparte.

Église St-Sulplice

The façade of Église St-Sulplice reveals the cosmopolitan nature of Neoclassicism: it’s modeled on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Below is the façade of St-Sulpice, the last part of the church to be constructed:

Église St-Sulplice (1646-1732); to the left is Fontaine St-Sulpice (6e)

The nave and choir, however, were built during the heyday of the baroque. St-Sulpice is one of those “cusp” churches whose construction spanned about a century and whose style evolved over time — from baroque to Neoclassical.

St-Sulplice appears strikingly different from any other church in Paris. Its two tall towers and between them, the two-level classical colonnade are unique among Paris churches, owing to the influence of the British Baroque.

Mismatched towers

The towers were originally styled as baroque by the facade’s architect, Servandoni. After he died, his student decided that they should be styled as classical, in keeping with the rest of the façade. In 1780, he transformed one baroque tower to classical, and then the French Revolution froze construction for religious buildings. The south tower was never remodeled to match the classical one and remains baroque. The inconsistency rather suits the façade.

Missing pediment

View of St-Sulpice from Tour Montparnasse

The original facade included a pediment, which rested above the columns and between the towers. The pediment was later removed, and today, there’s something a bit odd about the façade. It’s not so much the mismatched towers, which are more a testament to the facade’s unfinished state. It’s the disquieting negative space between the towers: a broad lacuna, a nothingness.

Restoration of three faded Delacroix murals

St-Sulpice commissioned three murals from Delacroix, which he executed in 1861 in the Chapel of the Holy Angels. All three murals feature angels — not the gentle angel of the Annunciation, but angels in dramatic interactions of struggle or chastisement.

I saw these murals in 2017, before their restoration, and in 2019, when work was completed. The first two images below, from Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, show the transformation from dull to vivid:

To give an idea of scale, each of the two large murals is about 23 feet high.

I’m drawn to Delacroix’s rendition of the pile of clothes that Jacob has thrown off, the better to struggle with the angel:

Below, an equestrian angel drives the greedy Heliodorus from the temple because he was stealing from the widows and orphans fund.

Detail, Heliodorus Driven from the Temple

On the ceiling of the chapel, Delacroix painted St Michael Vanquishing the Demon:

Nuit Blanche at St-Sulpice

Nuit Blanche is a huge deal in Paris. I headed for the Grand Palais for a special exhibition, but seeing the extremely long line, I turned back. On my way home, I caught this respectable display at St-Sulpice:

School of Surgery

As surgery came into its own as a science during the French Enlightenment, Louis XV helped establish an academy to further the study of anatomy and surgery. Architect Gondouin drew up plans for a Neoclassical building, which was constructed expressly for its function.

The former École de Chirurgie (1769-1774). Currently it houses the Musée d’histoire de la médecine, 12 Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine.

The innovative plans for the academy included a hemispherical amphitheatre for surgery instruction. The façade is encoded with the plans for the academy’s construction: a bas-relief shows a muse presenting a scroll of the school’s layout to a figure who points to the amphitheatre:

Odéon – Théâtre de l’Europe

Neoclassical, in a boxy kind of way:

Architects: Marie-Joseph Peyre and Charles de Wailly; built 1782

Le Panthéon

The Panthéon of Paris started as a church dedicated to Ste Geneviève. It was the most ambitious Neoclassical edifice to date, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.

Architect: Soufflot, Le Panthéon de Paris (5e)

The Panthéon was begun in 1758, during the reign of Louis XV. Its completion in 1790 coincided with the French Revolution, whose extreme cultural shift saw the pillaging and repurposing of French churches. Mobs smashed statues and other religious icons and retrofitted religious buildings to serve the new Revolutionary ideals. Leaders saw an opportunity to appropriate the monumental edifice of the Panthéon for a more secular purpose: honouring writers, poets, scientists, artists, philosophers, statesmen, and other notable persons in French history — except kings, queens, cardinals and saints.

The secularization — or more accurately dechristianization — of French churches has always seemed to me like a fantastical thought experiment: bastions of Christianity seemingly turning on a dime to become Temples of Reason. Sometimes, however, religious icons were traded out for new ones. In a syncretistic bow to the cult of Mariolotry, a sculpture of Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty (Marianne to the French), was sometimes placed at the altar. This was the case with the Panthéon:

More about this “altar” below.

Since the inception of the Panthéon as a Catholic church and its dechristianization during the French Revolution, the forces of religion, royalty, and republic caused the edifice to alternate between church and secular mausoleum. During the 1870s, the Third Republic conclusively determined the Panthéon’s secular function of celebrating the exceptional contributions of French persons to la patrie.

Below, the pediment in its present secular form: the Motherland (Marianne?) distributes wreathed crowns to civic, military, and artistic greats; below, the emblem: “To great men, from the grateful nation.”

The interior of the Panthéon blends classical forms with Gothic heights:

The domes lead to the apse:

In a Catholic church, the apse shelters the altar, but in the Panthéon, the apse is home to an odd combination of Byzantine mosaic and Revolutionary sculpture:

Academic painter Auguste Hébert created the Byzantine Revival mosaic at the apse in 1884: Christ Showing the Angel of France the Destiny of Her People. From left to right: Jeanne d’Arc, Mary, Jesus, the Angel of France (sword at the ready), and Geneviève holding a ship, the blason of Paris.

The mosaic with its doe-eyed women offers a peculiar 19th-century update of Byzantine style: Mary looks a bit like a Victorian porcelain doll.

Perhaps the Panthéon’s Christian iconography — including many of the paintings and the crucifix atop the exterior dome — was a compromise on the part of secular forces.

Below the mosaic: a 1921 academic sculpture by François-Léon Sicard. Members of the Revolutionary National Convention lean toward Marianne, arms outstretched in an attitude of veneration (is that Robbespierre bringing up the rear?), while soldiers emerge from behind her.

The two works — mosaic and sculpture — are radically different yet formally in sync. Both follow a centered arch or pyramid form. Each enacts an apotheosis: on the one hand, of Christian teleology, and on the other, of Revolution. Both display veneration, backed up by an armed female angel/saint. Where else would they all find a home together but the altar of a sacred-secular temple?

Most of the sculptures of the Panthéon are secular monuments. The one dedicated to Diderot is entitled The Encyclopedia Prepares the Idea of ​​the Revolution:

The sculpture follows the conventional academic syntax of allegory and the form of a pyramid, both suggesting apotheosis.

For his part, Diderot resists any article of faith:

If reason is a gift from heaven, and the same thing can be said of faith, then heaven has given us two incompatible and contradictory presents.

Thus speaks Diderot of the Radical Enlightenment, who rejects the marriage of faith and reason.

But the sculpture The Encyclopedia Prepares the Idea of ​​the Revolution glorifies not so much Diderot the philosopher as Diderot the encyclopedist — perhaps deemed to be the safer choice. But Diderot the encyclopedist nonetheless writes for his entry on “irreligious”:

Immorality and irreligion should not be confused. Morality can exist without religion and religion can exist and even often does exist alongside immorality.

The bones of Diderot the unvarnished freethinker have over the centuries steadfastly been denied formal entry into the mausoleum of the Panthéon — perhaps that has changed recently?

Allegorical figure of Truth with a mirror

The Foucault Pendulum

The little scientist in me feels a frisson seeing proof of a principle as fundamental as the rotation of the earth. Foucault’s ingenious 1851 demonstration could hardly have found a better home than the Gothic heights of the former church.

Foucault’s scientific pendulum swings from a rod installed in the oculus of a dome:

I wanted to experience for myself the timepiece whose giant gear is the earth. Below, the pendulum lines up a quarter of the way between 14 and 15:

The frisson:

The Crypt

A plethora of great men (and a sprinkling of great women) are interred in the labyrinthine crypt below the Panthéon:

Église de la Madeleine

The Panthéon started as a church and ended as a secular mausoleum. La Madeleine took the opposite path. After a couple of false starts as a church, La Madeleine was built as a monument glorifying Napoleon’s military prowess and ended up a church.

Construction of La Madeleine the church began before the French Revolution but it wasn’t until the reign of Napoleon I that it gained traction in 1807. Napoleon practically started his Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armée from scratch along his own vision: a Neoclassical monument modeled on a Roman temple.

Below: a view from La Madeleine toward the Assemblée Nationale, whose strict Neoclassical style was added to mirror that of the church. From the Place de la Concorde, the Luxor Obelisk juts out between the two edifices.

Construction of La Madeleine wasn’t completed until after the fall of Napoleon I. The structure was ultimately consecrated as a church during the Restoration of the monarchy.

A view of the three domes in the nave leading the eye toward the apse:

Napoleon upstages Jesus and Mary Magdalene

The 1837 fresco in the apse of La Madeleine represents the history of Christianity with much pomp. The circular sweep of figures and fluffy clouds is littered with gold crowns worn by clergy and monarchs alike.

Jules-Claude Ziegler; apse of La Madeleine (painted in 1837)

Napoleon, wearing his bright red coronation robe and gold laurel leaf crown, sits front and center as if viewing an historical play. He upstages the central drama of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and even turns his head away from them. Napoleon is the center of attention in his own drama of the Concordat. He seems to be negotiating, from a position of power, the agreement to restore the institution of the Catholic Church after the French Revolution crushed it.

Meanwhile, the menacing black eagle with sharp beak upstages them all by turning away from the entire spectacle and gazing intently at a vulnerable male nude reclining on a cloud.

Mozart’s Requiem

The day that I visited La Madeleine, I happened upon a rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem.

That work is part of the history of La Madeleine. Chopin, whose funeral was held in that church, had requested a performance of Mozart’s mass for the dead. La Madeleine was thrown for a loop: how to handle Mozart’s female vocal parts in a church that had never allowed them in the choir? A compromise was reached: the women sang behind a curtain. I suppose the church considered female voices like the interval of the tritone in Gregorian chant: the devil in music.

Entrance doors: The Ten Commandments and The Last Judgment

One of many bronze bas-reliefs on the entrance doors, on the theme of the Ten Commandments:

The pediment at the entrance, depicting the Last Judgment:

Next: Mansions of the “Tax Farmers”

Camille Martin