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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

Fontainebleau

The Louvre, though essential, was impractical, and Henri IV quickly made the Chateau de Fontainebleau his preferred residence. His Valois predecessors, from François I to Charles IX , had also made it their habitation of choice outside of Paris. In addition to the chateau's relative isolation – the distance between Fontainebleau and Paris kept the curious at bay but put the capital within reach in case of emergency – Henri IV liked the chateau because of its proximity to nature. Surrounded by gardens where the king could wander to his heart's content, it was also next to a forest teeming with game. This was a place he knew well, as he had spent time there as a child, before leaving on the royal Tour de France in 1564.

Just as Louis XIV would do to Versailles, Henri IV quickly transformed Fontainebleau into a massive worksite, employing architects, artists and macons for years on end. And, like Versailles would later become, Fontainebleau was both a capital and a residence – the home of the new House of Bourbon and the birthplace of most of the king's children, the future Louis XIII first among them.

From an architectural standpoint, although Henri IV respected the various changes introduced by his predecessors, he very much put his own stamp upon the place via his architects Louis Métezeau and Androuet du Cerceau . Three new galleries (the Galerie de la Volière, Galerie des Chevreuils, and the Galerie de la Reine [or de Diane]) were constructed, enclosing the queen's garden. In 1601, Henri IV had a monumental royal tennis court (jeu de paumes) built at the northeast corner of the Cour du Cheval-Blanc. Finally, between 1606 and 1609, the king constructed the large-scale Cour des Offices, flanked by massive and sober pavilions made of sandstone, plaster-covered stone and brick.

As important as these architectural transformations were, they were less spectacular than the changes made to the chateau's gardens. Special attention was also paid to the chateau's interior decoration, so much so that, given the large number of artists who took part, one can speak of a " école de Fontainebleau".

Related multimedia

Title: General view of the chateau de Fontainebleau

General view of the chateau de Fontainebleau
© BnF
Caption:
General view of the chateau de Fontainebleau, engraving by Michel Lasne after a drawing by Alexandre Francine from 1614. Published in Trésor des merveilles de la maison royale de Fontainebleau by R.P.F. Pierre Dan. Département des estampes et de la photographie de la Bibliothèque nationale de France

Title: Portrait of the royal house of "Fontaine belleau"

The chateau de Fontainebleau, engraving
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
Portrait of the royal house of "Fontaine belleau", perspective drawing, coloured etching. Musée national du château de Pau, P. 1850

Title: Two side elevations of the chateau de Fontainebleau

Two side elevations of the chateau de Fontainebleau
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Two side elevations of the chateau de Fontainebleau, ink wash and watercolour, 1676, Paris, AN, Va LX p. 10

Title: Two side elevations of the chateau de Fontainebleau

Two side elevations of the chateau de Fontainebleau
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Two side elevations of the chateau de Fontainebleau, ink wash and watercolour, 1676, Paris, AN, Va LX p. 11

Title: Chateau de Fontainebleau

Chateau de Fontainebleau, fountain in the Garden of Diana
© RMN / Gérard Blot
Comment:
Much of the work on the gardens was entrusted to Claude Mollet , the king's jardinier ordinaire. Between 1594 and 1610, the grounds were expanded considerably, and a series of gardens were created, where the king could wander and take the air. These gardens were often fitted with fountains and jeux d’eau devised by the Italian hydraulics engineer Tommaso Francini.
Caption:
Chateau de Fontainebleau, fountain in the Garden of Diana by Pierre Biard (1559-1609) Pierre Noël, l'Aîné

Title: Le Jardin du roy tres-chrestien Henry IV

Flower "Corona imperialis", drawing
© BnF
Caption:
Le Jardin du roy tres-chrestien Henry IV, by Pierre Vallet, 1608. Plate 1, Corona imperialis. Réserve des livres rares de la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal S-952

Title: Le Jardin du roy tres-chrestien Henry IV

Flower "Anemo", drawing
© BnF
Caption:
Le Jardin du roy tres-chrestien Henry IV, by Pierre Vallet, 1608. Plate 4, Anemo. pavo maior. Anemo. maxima latifolia polyanthos calcedoni. Réserve des livres rares de la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal S-952

Title: Galerie des Cerfs, Chateau de Fontainebleau

Galerie des Cerfs, Chateau de Fontainebleau
© RMN / Georges Fessy
Comment:
In contrast to the Louvre and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the chateau de Fontainebleau still retains traces of the artists that helped to create it. Early in Henri IV's reign, it was Ruggiero Ruggieri, the former partner of Primatice , and his son-in-law Toussaint Dubreuil that held sway. Later, other artists who came to work at Fontainebleau included the painters Ambroise Dubois (who was responsible for decorating the Galerie de la Reine), Louis Poisson (who provided the large-scale paintings of forests and hunting scenes in the Galeries des Cerfs and the Galerie des Chevreuils) and Martin Fréminet (who painted the Chapelle de la Trinité), as well as the sculptors Mathieu Jacquet and Barthélémy Tremblay.
Caption:
Galerie des Cerfs, Chateau de Fontainebleau

Title: Battle of Ivry and the surrender of Mantes

"La Belle Cheminée" at the Château de Fontainebleau
© RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola
Comment:
A veritable beehive of artistic activity resulted in a complete renewal of the chateau's interior decoration. Mythological scenes were created, designed to display the virtues of the king (such as the story of Hercules in the Pavillon des Poëles), as well as romantic scenes and depictions of battles (including the recapture of Amiens in the Galerie d’Ulysse).
Caption:
Fragments of "La Belle Cheminée" at the Château de Fontainebleau depicting the Battle of Ivry and the surrender of Mantes (1597–1600), by Mathieu Jacquet. Musée du Louvre
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