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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

Saint-Germain-en-Laye

The chateau at Saint-Germain-en-Laye was partially reconstructed by François I. Henri IV enjoyed visiting there because, given its proximity to Paris, he could spend the day hunting or enjoying the countryside. He began to spend more time there starting in 1594, because a new architectural project had begun to form in his mind. Instead of the chateau, however, he turned his attention to a small annex built by Henri II next to a terrace overlooking the Seine. The site was handsome, with a splendid view. Henri wanted to expand this pavilion and turn it into a real residence. Unfortunately, only a few vestiges of what would become the New Chateau de Saint-Germain have come down to us.

Work began in 1594, when the architect Louis Métezeau was appointed "Ordonnateur des bastiments neufs de Saint-Germain". The façade of Henri II's pavilion that overlooked the Seine was given two additional galleries, the Galerie du Roi and the Galerie de la Reine, and the Grande Galerie was heightened by a entire storey. To make up a difference in height of some 65 metres and a prospect that was more than 250 metres wide, the gardens were landscaped into seven terraces bordered by box trees and connected by a series of ramps and galleries. The hanging gardens of Saint-Germain had fountains and man-made grottos fitted with water-powered automatons, thanks to the talents of the Italian hydraulics engineer Tommaso Francini.

The New Chateau's décor was entrusted to the painters Louis Poisson and Toussaint Dubreuil . Starting in 1596, Poisson created paintings of the world's major cities (Venice, Prague, Jerusalem, etc.), while Dubreuil decorated the Galerie de la Reine with paintings inspired by Ronsard's La Franciade and Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Henri IV liked to visit the worksite and talk with the artists and craftsmen at work there. He had other reasons as well – starting in 1604, he brought all of his children, legitimate and illegitimate alike, together under one roof. Over the years – and much to the dismay of Marie de Médicis – no less than eleven children were housed and raised together under the watchful eye of Madame de Monglat. The work was finally completed in 1608–09, and the result was admired by all. In 1610, Le Mercure françois could, without exaggeration, rank the Château Neuf de Saint-Germain as one of the five wonders of the kingdom.

Related multimedia

Title: View of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

View of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
© RMN / Agence Bulloz
Caption:
View of the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye: "Le Château Neuf et le Château Vieux in 1614", engraving by Matthäus Mérian the Elder. Bibliothèque nationale de France

Title: Portrait of the royal chateaus of Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Portrait of the royal chateaus of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Perspective drawing
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
Portrait of the royal chateaus of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Perspective drawing, voloured etching. Musée national du château de Pau, P. 1850

Title: Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Grotte
© Musée d’archéologie nationale, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Caption:
Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Grotte des Orgues du Château-Neuf, engraving after A. Francini, 1614

Title: Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Caption:
Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Château-Neuf, by Guillaumot Père, 1637.

Title: View from the terrace at Saint-Germain-en-Laye

View from the terrace at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, engraving
© 1980 Inventaire Général / SPADEM
Caption:
View from the terrace at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, engraving. Photo: Ministère de la culture / J-B Vialles

Title: Le Jardin du roy tres-chrestien Henry IV

Flower "Martagum Pannonicum"
© BnF
Caption:
Le Jardin du roy tres-chrestien Henry IV, by Pierre Vallet, 1608. Plate 23, Martagum Pannonicum flore suave rubente. Réserve des livres rares de la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal S-952

Title: Le Jardin du roy tres-chrestien Henry IV

Flower "Chamoeris angustifolia"
© BnF
Caption:
Le Jardin du roy tres-chrestien Henry IV, by Pierre Vallet, 1608. Plate 26, Chamoeris angustifolia flore vario par Pierre Vallet. Réserve des livres rares de la Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal S-952
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