Paris During the Renaissance

By the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453, the English army had left Paris in ruins. Louis the 11th re-established prosperity and brought back a renewed taste for art, but it was François the 1st who brought the center of power back to Paris, restoring its role as a capital and introducing a new aesthetic, brought from Italy.

Paris during the Renaissance

The urban tissue of Paris remained greatly medieval until the end of the 16th century. Open to Renaissance ideas, the city was home to a host of intellectual and cultural revolutions, but it remained simultaneously very Catholic and hostile to the Reformation, as was evidenced by the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572! The massacre, often believed to have been instigated by Catherine de Medici, targeted important Huguenots visiting Paris for the wedding of the future King Henry the 4th – a former protestant – to Catherine’s daughter, Margaret.

Civil wars between Catholics and Protestants brought a halt to much of the development in Paris, which wouldn’t begin again until peace was restored with Henry the 4th’s arrival on the throne, reaffirming the city’s strength. Along with his minister, Sully, the king undertook an urban economic reconstruction program of unparalleled greatness. The capital’s advancements continued under the reign of Louis the 13th, with the creation of a royal printer, as well as the construction of the Jardin des Plantes and the Académie française, the famous institution that regulates the French language.

After revolts in Paris forced a young Louis the 14th to flee the capital, he moved the court and the seat of power to Versailles, where it would remain until the French Revolution. Of course, this wouldn’t stop the monarch from constructing large buildings, squares, theaters and immense mansions during his reign, a period that would later be called “the Great Century.” Minister Colbert was the instigator at the helm of Paris’s first urbanism movement, which would expand the city after the destruction of its medieval walls. The outskirts of the city began to develop, and the faubourgs or outlying cities were incorporated into the capital. Those to the west became the new aristocratic neighborhoods, and large planted promenades replaced the former city walls, becoming the boulevards of Paris.

Architecture and Urbanism

It was at the beginning of the 16th century that classic architecture began to resurface in the capital, with nods in the direction of ancient Rome and Greece. The first examples under François the 1st are timid: the Saint-Eustache and Saint-Etienne-du-Mont churches display classical décor on a medieval gothic structure. It was also under his reign that the modifications on the Louvre began, with architect Pierre Lescot at the helm of the renovation. From then on, a new kind of palace façade began to develop, a style that, while founded in the modification of classic rules, was not a complete copy of Italian Renaissance art.

During his reign, Henry the 4th continued works on the Louvre and the Tuileries palace, which he linked via the grand gallery, a project that created a gigantic façade, which was displayed along the right bank of the Seine. He also built Pont-Neuf, whose name means “New Bridge.” It is paradoxically the oldest bridge in Paris! He began building new city squares that were more geometrical and homogenous, such as the Place Royale (now called Place des Vosges) and Place Dauphine. Within the city, and especially in the new Marais area, personal mansions or hotel particuliers were under construction. The Carnavalet, Donon, d’Albret and other mansions were built. Some still stand today!

The triumph of classicism and urbanism was seen particularly during the reign of Louis the 14th. He developed the ideas of perfect perspective and intricately geometric city squares within the capital. French-style gardens like the Tuileries, designed by Le Nôtre, the colonnade of the Louvre and more hotels particuliers – de Soubise and de Rohan – were built as well. But perhaps his biggest contribution was the jewel that is Invalides.

Later, developments during the reign of Louis the 15th led to a return to exuberance, with the rococo style that is particularly evident in some of the hotel particuliers in the faubourg Saint-Germain. But from his reign, perhaps the most important detail is the Place Louis XV, now called the Place de la Concorde.

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