Was the victory of the classic mood visible in art as well as literature? It stares at us in almost every French façade of the age. Some Gothic churches were Gothically restored, like the cathedral at Orléans; but more often old churches—like those of St.-Gervaise and St.-Étienne-du-Mont—were refurnished with Renaissance fronts. New churches might show a neo-Italian style throughout; so Jacques Lemercier designed the Church of the Sorbonne on the model of St. Peter’s—columns, pediment, and dome. In architecture, as in morals, letters, and philosophy, the pagan revival gave a bold new face to Christianity.
Even the Jesuits were caught in the Renaissance current, all the more readily since, as an order, they had no binding medieval roots. In their first generations, under Loyola and Laynez, they had been austere and fearless missionaries, devoted defenders of orthodoxy and the popes; but they had saved some measure of humanism at the Council of Trent; and as in their colleges they made the ancient classics the core of their curriculum, so in architecture they chose semiclassic façades for their outstanding shrines. From their brilliant church in Rome, the Gesù, they carried their style of luxuriant decoration across the Alps and over the Pyrenees. They were not uniformly pledged to copious ornament; their most famous architect—who raised the transept façade of the Orléans cathedral—designed churches and colleges on lines of severe simplicity congenial to his character and his funds. But when the order prospered it built with a happy exuberance. In 1627 it began the handsome church familiarly known to Paris as Les Jésuites—the façade Roman, the interior exquisitely carved in capitals, arches, and cornices, the choir vaults meeting harmoniously to support a luminous dome; John Evelyn, touring Paris in 1644, called this church “one of the most perfect pieces of architecture in Europe.”139 It was not unpleasantly baroque; it contained nothing distorted or bizarre. In France baroque was sobered by aristocratic taste—as Ronsard and Malherbe chastened the enormities of Rabelais.
Religious architecture languished during the Religious Wars, and in the intervals of peace civil architecture grew. City halls rose at La Rochelle, Lyon, Troyes, and Reims. In Paris Catherine de Médicis, wishing to leave the Louvre to Charles IX and his Queen, hired Philibert Delorme to build for her and her aides the Tuileries (1564), which took its name from the tile (tuile) potteries nearby. The new palace, fronted in Renaissance style with Corinthian pillars, rose west of the Louvre at the present Place du Carrousel, and ran for 807 feet along the Seine. It was burned down in the fury of the Commune in 1871; only the gardens remain—the delectable Jardins des Tuileries.
Civic building recovered rapidly under Henry IV. The Pont Neuf, opened to traffic in 1604, became the most popular of the bridges spanning the Seine. The Hôtel de Ville, finished in Henry’s dying year, remained till 1871 the rival of Notre Dame and the Louvre in the pride of the people. Like Francis I and Louis XIV, Henry gathered artists under his wing, understood them, and co-ordinated their work. For him they extended the Louvre by the Pavillon de Flore and connected it with the Tuileries by the Grande Galerie. At Fontainebleau they built the chapel, the Galerie des Cerfs, the Cour and Salon Ovale, the Porte Dauphine, and the Galerie de Diane. Fontainebleau under Henri le Grand was the fulfillment of the French Renaissance.
His widow, Marie de Médicis, before running afoul of Richelieu, engaged Salomon de Brosse to design her own Palais du Luxembourg, in the Rue Vaugirard south of the Seine (1613–20). When Louis XIII and Richelieu freed themselves from her they commissioned Lemercier to again extend the Louvre as the seat of government; now the Pavillon de l’Horloge was completed, the great wings were extended, and the lordly building took essentially its present form. From Lemercier’s plans Richelieu built in Paris the sumptuous Palais Cardinal, into which he gathered his collections of painting, sculpture, and other arts; here were Mantegnas, da Vincis, Veroneses, and Michelangelo’s Slaves. Most of this treasure passed to Louis XIII and XIV, to the Louvre, and to us.
In domestic architecture François Mansart reshaped the skyline of Paris by developing the mansard roof—having two slopes, the lower one steeper than the other, readily shedding snow and rain, and allowing greater space in the top floor; many a Paris student or artist has lived in a mansarde or attic room. Mansart designed several churches in Paris, and many châteaux in France—most successfully at what is now Maisons Laffitte, a suburb of the capital. In 1635 “Monsieur” Gaston d’Orléans commissioned him to rebuild the family château at Blois; Mansart finished only the northwest wing; its Renaissance façade and magnificent stairway remain the chefd’oeuvre of “the most skillful architect France has ever produced.”140