Arts & Culture

View of the Château de Fontainebleau

Pierre-Denis Martin1718/1723

Château de Fontainebleau
Château de Fontainebleau

Part of a series on the eight Royal Houses commissioned in 1718, this representation of an elevated view of Fontainebleau provides an imposing panorama of the château, its gardens, the village and the forest seen from the south. In the foreground we can see a royal hunt at the very end of the reign of Louis XIV.

Fontainebleau was a favored hunting residence for the Kings of France, and Louis XIV (1638-1715) especially enjoyed his many trips during the fall in Fontainebleau, where some important episodes of his reign took place. A year before his death, Louis XIV went hunting in a coach, called "le soufflet", visible in the lower right corner of the picture. The character dressed in scarlet on a white horse in the center is probably the Duke of Orléans, who became the Régent after the death of the King. On the left the dogs are pursuing a deer among the rocks, while horsemen are playing the horn.

The gardens are the greatest achievements in Fontainebleau during the reign of Louis XIV and they can be very clearly seen in the painting by Pierre-Denis Martin.

The Grand Parterre, created between 1660 and 1664 by Le Nôtre and Le Vau on the site of François I "Grand Jardin", is just in the middle of the picture. It is still today the largest formal garden in Europe, extending over 14 hectares (35 acres), then adorned with intricate box hedge work in the French style. The square pool in the center is decorated with a fountain called "le Pot bouillant" (replaced by another fountain in 1817). To the south, on the forest side, the round basin called "le Romulus" (surrounded by the basin called "le Bréau") is decorated with a 16th century bronze statue representing the Tiber after the Antique (no longer extent and replaced now by a copy).

On the left, separated from the Grand Parterre by the "allée de Maintenon" (which leads to the Pavilion of the Golden Gate, main entrance to the castle during the Renaissance) we find the Carp Pond. This pond is adorned with a small octagonal pavilion built in 1662 by Le Vau, used for private parties during the reign of Louis XIV. On the left again, the triangular garden is François I’s former "Garden of Pines", amended during the reign of Louis XIV (now we find there the 19th century "English Garden").

On the other side of the Grand Parterre, to the east, stretches the Grand Park and the Grand Canal built by Henri IV in 1609, where parties with small boats were organized for the Court’s amusement. Between the Grand Parterre and the Grand Canal there is the "Basin of Cascades" and its many fountains, also created under Louis XIV (then rebuilt and transformed in the 19th century). North of the Grand Canal we can see five big basins also decorated with fountains, built in 1684 (no longer extent), and paths converging in the park to a single fountain built under Louis XIII.

At the northwest corner of the Grand Park, near the town, one can notice a pool and next to it three small pyramids: this is the "Basin of the Mirror", and the pyramids are the former coolers of the castle, were ice was stored in winter for the conservation of food and refreshments at the King's table.

The castle itself stretches between the gardens and the village. Louis XIV brought very few structural changes to the extent buildings, which are in the picture essentially those built between the reigns of François I and Henri IV, before the transformations of the 18th and 19th centuries. On the left we recognize the Courtyard of the White Horse, where the famous Horseshoe Staircase is located (hidden in the picture). This courtyard was then closed by Renaissance wings: to the north by the Ministers’ Wing (still extent), to the west by the Wing of Ferrara (replaced under Napoleon I by the grid of honor), to the south (near the gardens) by the wing of the Ulysses Gallery, famous for its Renaissance decoration due to Primaticcio (replaced in the 18th century by the Louis XV Wing, built by Gabriel).

Near the wing of the Ulysses Gallery, on the left, the small building with a pointed roof is the Pavilion of Pomona, also famous for its Renaissance decoration (no longer extent). On the right, the pavilion in the angle is called the Stoves Pavilion, another 16th century building (replaced in 1750-1754 by Gabriel’s Great Pavilion).

To the east the rest of the buildings, mainly built in the 16th and 17th centuries, appear on the painting in a state close to the current state.

We can see especially well the facades on the gardens side: from left to right the Fountain Courtyard near the pool, with on the right the Fine Fireplace Wing built to plans by Primaticcio, then the Renaissance Golden Gate Pavilion which leads to the Oval Courtyard where the old keep is located, the Ballroom (with its walls frescoed with mythological scenes by Niccolo dell’Abbate, from drawings by Primaticcio), the Saint Saturnin Chapel, the Tiber Pavilion and finally The Offices Courtyard (also called "Henri IV’s Quarters"), with its large buildings destined for the kitchen and the officers accommodation.

On the side of the village we can catch sight of the trees of the Garden of the Queen (now the "Diana Garden"), private garden of the sovereigns, surrounded by different wings of the castle. In the background (north side) the wing that can be clearly seen is the Aviary (Volière), built under Henri IV and transformed into an Orangery by Le Nôtre. On the right is the Stag Gallery Wing, and on the left the Deer Gallery, also built under Henri IV. The Orangery and the Deer Gallery were destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century and Pierre-Denis Martin’s painting is an interesting testimony on those parts of the castle.

North of the castle is the town of Fontainebleau, with the Saint-Louis church, built in 1613 and established as a parish in 1661, and the many mansions built to house members of the court during the stays of the King. Attached to the right of the Henri IV Quarters we recognized for example the Superintendency of Finances and the Hôtel d'Albret. At the other end of the castle, in front of the Wing of Ferrara we find the Superintendency of Buildings, built under Louis XIV, and the Hôtel of Ferrara (today its monumental entrance gate only remains). Far left we recognize the gate of the Hôtel de Montpensier.

South of the gardens, we can also see several outbuildings of the castle. To the left of the Allée de Maintenon, under the Pond, there is the "Old Kennel", built by François I, home to the Petite Ecurie, and where the Grand Huntsman lived. To the right, between the Allée de Maintenon and the Bréau is the "Old Government", house since Henri IV of the Captain of the Hunt, which was then also intendant and governor of the castle and the town of Fontainebleau.
To the right of the Bréau we see the "Pavilion of the Grand Master of France", built under François I, and occupied during the 17th century by the Princes of Condé. On the other side of the Grand Parterre, near Henri IV’s Quarters there is the "Pavilion of the Grand Chamberlain" (still existing and known since the 19th century as the "Sully Pavilion"). The pond next to this Pavilion is "the Trough", where the horses drink water.

South of the Grand Canal finally, is the Héronnière (built under Francis I to raise herons), house of the Grande Ecurie under Louis XIV.

Around the castle, the entire picture is populated with tiny characters working in the fields and gardens.

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