Château de Fontainebleau, France

The Palace of Fontainebleau or Château de Fontainebleau, located 55 kilometres (34 miles) southeast of the center of Paris, in the commune of Fontainebleau, is one of the largest French royal châteaux. The medieval castle and subsequent palace served as a residence for the French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon III. It is now a national museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

With over 1500 rooms at the heart of 130 acres of parkland and gardens, Fontainebleau is the only royal and imperial château to have been continuously inhabited for seven centuries.

Capétiens, Valois, Bourbons, Bonaparte and Orléans, all members of French ruling dynasties, have lived within these walls. Kings and queens, emperors and empresses have all striven to make their own improvements to the château built around the original keep. The estate quickly became a huge palace in which many momentous historical events have been played out.

A visit to Fontainebleau opens up an unparalleled view of French history, art history and architecture.

Grand Apartments:
Gallery of Francis I
The Gallery of Francis I is one of the first and finest examples of Renaissance decoration in France. It was originally constructed in 1528 as a passageway between the apartments of the King with the oval courtyard and the chapel of the convent Trinitaires, but in 1531 Francis I made it a part of his royal apartments, and between 1533 and 1539 it was decorated by artists and craftsmen from Italy, under the direction of the painter Rosso Fiorentino, or Primatice, in the new Renaissance style. The lower walls of the passage were the work of the master Italian furniture maker Francesco Scibec da Carpi; they are decorated with the coat of arms of France and the salamander, the emblem of the King. The upper walls are covered by frescoes framed in richly sculpted stucco. The frescoes used mythological scenes to illustrate the virtues of the King.

On the side of gallery with windows, the frescoes represent Ignorance Driven Out; The Unity of the State; Cliobis and Biton; Danae; The Death of Adonis; The Loss of Perpetual Youth; and The Battle of the Centaurs and the Lapithes.

On the side of the gallery facing the windows, the frescoes represent: A Sacrifice; The Royal Elephant; The Burning of Catane; The Nymph of Fontainebleau (painted in 1860–61 by J. Alaux to cover a former entry to the gallery); The Sinking of Ajax;The Education of Achilles and The Frustration of Venus.

Ballroom
The ballroom was originally begun as an open passageway, or loggia, by Francis I. In about 1552 King Henry II closed it with high windows and an ornate coffered ceiling, and transformed it into a room for celebrations and balls. The ‘H’, the initial of the King, is prominent in the decor, as well as figures of the crescent moon, the symbol of Henry’s mistress Diane de Poitiers.

At the western end is a monumental fireplace, decorated with bronze statues originally copied from classical statues in Rome. At the eastern end of the room is a gallery where the musicians played during balls. The decor was restored many times over the years. The floor, which mirrors the design of the ceiling, was built by Louis-Philippe in the first half of the 19th century.

The frescoes on the walls and pillars were painted beginning in 1552 by Nicolo dell’Abate, following drawings by Primatice. On the garden side of the ballroom, the represent: The Harvest; Vulcan forging weapons for Love at the request of Venus; Phaeton begging the sun to let him drive his chariot; and Jupiter and Mercury at the home of Philemon and Baucis.

St. Saturnin’s Chapels
Behind the ballroom, there is St. Saturnin’s Chapel. The lower chapel was originally built in the 12th century, but was destroyed and completely rebuilt under Francis I. The windows made in Sèvres were installed during the Louis Philippe’s period and were designed by his daughter Marie, an artist herself. The upper chapel was the royal chapel decorated by Philibert de l’Orme. The ceiling, made in the same style as the ballroom, ends with a dome.

Room of the Guards
A room for the guards was always located next to the royal bedchambers. The Salle des Gardes was built during the reign of Charles IX. Some traces of the original decor remain from the 1570s, including the vaulted ceiling and a frieze of military trophies attributed to Ruggiero d’Ruggieri. In the 19th century Louis Philippe turned the room into a salon and redecorated it with a new parquet floor of exotic woods echoing the design of the ceiling, and a monumental fireplace (1836), which incorporates pieces of ornament from demolished rooms from 15th and early 16th century. The bust of Henry IV, attributed to Mathieu Jacquet, is from that period, as are the two figures on either side of the fireplace. The sculpted frame around the bust, by Pierre Bontemps, was originally in the bedchamber of Henry II. The decorations added by Louis Philippe include a large vase decorated with Renaissance themes, made by the Sèvres porcelain manufactory in 1832. During the reign of Napoleon III, the hall was used as a dining room.

Stairway of the King
The stairway of the King was installed in 1748 and 1749, in the space occupied during the reign of Francis I by the bedroom of Anne de Pisseleu, the Duchess of Étampes, a favorite of the King. It was designed by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, who used many decorative elements from the earlier room, which had originally been decorated by Primatice. The upper portion of the walls is divided into panels, oval and rectangular, with scenes representing the love life of Alexander the Great. The paintings are framed by large statues of women by Primatice. The eastern wall of the room was destroyed during the reconstruction, and was replaced during the reign of Louis Philippe in the 19th century with paintings by Abel de Pujol.

Queen’s bedroom
All of the Queens and Empresses of France from Marie de Medici to the Empress Eugènie, slept in the bedchamber of the Queen. The ornate ceiling over the bed was made in 1644 by the furniture-maker Guillaume Noyers for the Dowager Queen Anne of Austria, the mother of Louis XIV, and bears her initials. The room was redecorated by Marie Leszczynska, the Queen of Louis XV in 1746–1747. The ceiling of the alcove, the decoration around the windows and the wood panelling were made by Jacques Vererckt and Antoine Magnonais in the rocaille style of the day. The decoration of the fireplace dates to the same period.

Boudoir of Marie-Antoinette
The boudoir next to the Queen’s bedroom was created for Queen Marie-Antoinette in 1786, and permitted the Queen to have a measure of privacy. The room is the best surviving example of the decorative style just before the French Revolution, inspired by ancient Roman models, with delicately painted arabesques, cameos, vases, antique figures and garlands of flowers against a white background, framed by gilded and sculpted woodwork.

The room was made for the Queen by the same team of artists and craftsmen who also made the game room; the design was by the architect Pierre Rousseau (1751-1829) (fr); the wood panelling was sculpted by Laplace, and painted by Michel-Hubert Bourgeois and Louis-François Touzé. Eight figures of the Muses were made in plaster by Roland; the ornate mantle of the fireplace was made by Jacques-François Dropsy, and decorated with glided bronze works by Claude-Jean Pitoin. The mahogany parquet floor, decorated with the emblems of the Queen, was made by Bernard Molitor, and finished in 1787. The painted ceiling, by Jean-Simon Berthélemy, shows Aurora with a group of angels.

Throne Room of Napoleon (former bedroom of the King)
In 1808 Napoleon decided to install his throne in the former bedroom of the Kings of France from Henry IV to Louis XVI, on the exact place where the royal bed had been. Under the Old Regime, the King’s bed was a symbol of royal authority in France and was saluted by courtiers who passed by it. Napoleon wanted to show the continuity of his Empire with the past monarchies of France. The majority of the carved wood ceiling, the lower part of the wood panelling, and the doors date to the reign of Louis XIII. The ceiling directly over the throne was made at the end of the reign of Louis XIV. Louis XV created the portion of the ceiling directly over the throne, a new chimney, sculpted wooden medallions near the fireplace, the designs over the doors, and the fine carved woodwork facing the throne (1752–54). He also had the ceiling painted white and gilded and decorated with mosaics, to match the ceiling of the bedroom of the Queen.

Napoleon added the standards with his initial and the Imperial eagle. The decoration around the throne was originally designed in 1804 by Jacob-Desmalter for the Palace of Saint-Cloud, and the throne itself came from the Tuileries Palace.

The chimney was originally decorated with a portrait of Louis XIII painted by Philippe de Champaigne, which was burned in 1793 during the French Revolution. Napoleon replaced it with a portrait of himself, by Robert Lefèvre. In 1834, King Louis-Philippe took down Napoleon’s picture and replaced with another of Louis XIII, from a painter of the school of Champaigne,

Council Chamber
The Council Chamber, where the Kings and Emperors met their closest advisors, was close to the Throne Room. It was originally the office of Francis I, and was decorated with painted wooden panels showing following designs of Primatice, the virtues and the heroes of antiquity. The room was enlarged under Louis XIV, and the decorator, Claude Audran, followed the same theme. The room was entirely redecorated between 1751 and 1754 by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, with arcades and wooded panels showing the virtues, and allegories of the seasons and the elements, painted by Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre and Carle van Loo. The painter Alexis Peyrotte added another series of medallions on the upper walls depicting floral themes, the sciences and arts. The five paintings on the vaulted ceiling were the work of François Boucher, and show the seasons and the sun beginning his journey and chasing away the night. A half-rotonda on the garden side of the room was added by Louis XV in 1773, with a painted ceiling by Lagrenée depicting Glory surrounded by his children.

Apartment of the Pope and of the Queen-Mothers
The apartment of the Pope, located on the first floor of the wing of the Queen Mothers and of the Gros Pavillon, takes its name from the 1804 visit of Pope Pius VII, who stayed there on his way to Paris to crown Napoleon I the Emperor of France. He stayed there again, involuntarily, under the close supervision of Napoleon from 1812 to 1814. Prior to that, beginning in the 17th century it was the residence of the Queen Mothers Marie de’ Medici and Anne of Austria. It was also the home of the Grand Dauphin, the oldest son of Louis XIV. In the 18th century it was used by the daughters of Louis XV, and then by the Count of Provence, the brother of Louis XVI. During the First Empire it was used by Louis, the brother of Napoleon, and his wife Queen Hortense, the daughter of the Empress Josephine. During the reign of Louis-Philippe, it was used by his eldest son, the Duke of Orleans. During the Second Empire, it was occupied by Stephanie de Bade, the adopted niece of Napoleon I. It was restored in 1859–1861, and used thereafter for guests of high rank. It was originally two apartments, which were divided or joined over the years depending upon its occupants.

Gallery of Diana
The Gallery of Diana, an eighty-meter (242.4 feet) long corridor now lined with bookcases, was created by Henry IV at the beginning of the 17th century as a place for the Queen to promenade. The paintings on the vaulted ceiling, painted beginning in 1605 by Ambroise Dubois and his workshop, represented scenes from the myth of Diana, goddess of the Hunt. At the beginning of the 19th century, the gallery was in ruins. In 1810 Napoleon decided to turn it into a gallery devoted the achievements of his Empire. A few of the paintings still in good condition were removed and put in the Gallery of Plates. The architect Hurtault designed a new plan for the gallery, inspired by the Grand Gallery of the Louvre, featuring paintings on the ceiling illustrating the great events of Napoleon’s reign. By 1814 the corridor had been rebuilt and the decorative painted frames painted by the Moench and Redouté, but the cycle of paintings on the Empire had not been started, when Napoleon fell from power.

Once the monarchy was restored, King Louis XVIII had the gallery completed in a neoclassical style. A new series of the goddess Diana was done by Merry-Joseph Blondel and Abel de Pujol, using the painted frames prepared for Napoleon’s cycle. Paintings were also added along the corridor, illustrating the history of the French monarchy, painted in the Troubador style of the 1820s and 1830s, painted by a team of the leading academic painters. Beginning in 1853, under Napoleon III, the corridor was turned into a library and most of the paintings were removed, with the exception of a large portrait of Henry IV on horseback by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse. The large globe near the entrance of the gallery, placed there in 1861, came from the office of Napoleon in the Tuileries Palace.

Apartments of Napoleon:
In 1804 Napoleon decided that he wanted his own private suite of apartments within the Palace, separate from the old state apartments. He took over a suite of six rooms which had been created in 1786 for Louis XVI, next to the Gallery of Francis I, and had them redecorated in the Empire style.

The old apartment included a dressing room (cabinet de toilette), study, library, and bath.

Emperor’s bedroom
Beginning in 1808, Napoleon had his bedroom in the former dressing room of the King. From this room, using a door hidden behind the drapery to the right of the bed, Napoleon could go directly to his private library or to the offices on the ground floor.

Much of the origin decor was unchanged from the time of Louis XVI; the fireplaces, the carved wooden panels sculpted by Pierre-Joseph LaPlace and the sculpture over the door by Sauvage remained as they were. The walls were painted with Imperial emblems in gold on white by Frederic-Simon Moench. The bed, made especially for the Emperor, was the summit of the Empire style; it was crowned with an imperial eagle and decorated with allegorical sculptures representing Glory, Justice, and Abundance. The Emperor had a special carpet made by Sallandrouze in the shape of the cross of the Legion of Honor; the branches of the cross alternate with symbols of military and civilian attributes. The chairs near the fireplace were specially designed, with one side higher than the other, to contain the heat from the fire while allowing the occupants to see the decorations of the fireplace. The painting on the ceiling of the room was added later, after the downfall of Napoleon, by Louis XVII. Painted by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, it is an allegory representing The clemency of the King halting justice in its course.

The study was a small room designated as Napoleon’s work room. In 1811 he added the camp bed, similar to the bed he used on his military campaigns, so he could rest briefly during a long night of work.

The salon of the Emperor was simply furnished and decorated. It was in this room, on the small table on display, that the Emperor signed his abdication in 1814.

Theatre:
Concerts, plays and other theatrical productions were a regular part of court life at Fontainebleau. Prior to the reign of Louis XV these took place in different rooms of the palace, but during his reign a theatre was built in the Belle-Cheminée wing. It was rebuilt by the architect Gabriel, but was destroyed by a fire in 1856. It had already been judged too small for the court of Napoleon III, and a new theatre had been begun in 1854 at the far eastern end of the wing of Louis XIV. It was designed by architect Hector Lefuel in the style of Louis XVI, and was inspired by the opera theatre at the palace of Versailles and that of Marie-Antoinette at the Trianon Palace. The new theatre, with four hundred seats arranged in a parterre, two balconies and boxes in a horseshoe shape, was finished in 1856. It has the original stage machinery, and many of the original sets, including many transferred from the old theatre before the fire of 1856.

The theatre was closed after the end of the Second Empire and was rarely used. A restoration began in 2007, funded with ten million Euros by the government of Abu-Dhabi. In exchange, the theatre was renamed for Sheik Khalifa Bin Zayed al Nahyan. It was inaugurated on 30 April 2014. The theatre can be visited, but it no longer can be used for plays because some working parts of the theater, including the stage, were not included in the restoration.

Chinese Museum:
The Chinese Museum, on the ground floor of the Gros Pavillon close to the pond, was among the last rooms decorated within the Chateau while it was still an imperial residence. In 1867, the Empress Eugenie had the rooms remade to display her personal collection of Asian art, which included gifts given to the Emperor by a delegation sent by the King of Siam in 1861, and other objects taken during the destruction and looting of the Old Summer Palace near Beijing by a joint British-French military expedition to China in 1860.

The objects displayed in the antechamber include two royal palanquins given by the King of Siam, one designed for a King and the other (with curtains) for a Queen. Inside the two salons of the museum, some of the walls are covered with lacquered wood panels in black and gold, taken from 17th century Chinese screens, along with specially designed cases to display antique porcelain vases. Other objects on display include a Tibetan stupa containing a Buddha taken from the Summer Palace in China; and a royal Siamese crown given to Napoleon III. The salons are lavishly decorated with both Asian and European furnishings and art objects, including silk-covered furnishings and Second Empire sculptures by Charles Cordier and Pierre-Alexandre Stonework. The room also served as a place for games and entertainment; an old bagatelle game and a mechanical piano from that period are on display.

Chapel of the Trinity:
The Chapel of the Trinity was built at the end of the reign of Francis I to replace the old chapel of the convent of the Trinitaires. It was finished under Henry II, but was without decoration until 1608, when the painter Martin Freminet was commissioned to design frescoes for the ceiling and walls. The sculptor Barthèlemy Tremblay created the vaults of the ceiling out of stucco and sculpture. The paintings of Freminet in the central vaults depict the redemption of Man, from the appearance of God to Noah at the launching of the Ark (Over the tribune) to the Annunciation. They surrounded these with smaller paintings depicting the ancestors of the Virgin Mary, the Kings of Judah, the Patriarchs announcing the coming of Christ, and the Virtues. Between 1613 and 1619 Freminet and Tremblay added paintings in stucco frames between the windows on the sides of the chapel, depicting the life of Christ. Freminet died in 1619 and work did not resume until 1628.

The Trinity chapel, like Sainte-Chapelle in Paris other royal chapels, had an upper section or tribune, where the King and his family sat, with a separate entrance; and a lower part, where the rest of the Court was placed. Beginning in 1628, the side chapels were decorated with iron gates and carved wood panelling, and the Florentine sculptor Francesco Bordoni began work on the marble altar. The figure to the left depicts Charlemagne, with the features of Henry II, while the figure on the right depicts Louis IX, or Saint Louis, with the features of Louis XIII, his patron. Bordoni also designed the multicolored marble pavement before the altar and the on the walls of the nave. The painting of the Holy Trinity over the altar, by Jean Dubois the Elder, was added in 1642. In the mid-17th century the craftsman Anthony Girault made the sculpted wooden doors of the nave. while the Jean Gobert made the doors of the tribune where the Royal family worshipped.

In 1741, the royal tribune was enlarged, while ornate balconies of wrought iron were added between the royal tribune and the simpler balconies used by the musicians and those who chanted the mass. In 1779, under Louis XVI, the frescoes of Freminet illustrating the life of Christ, which had deteriorated with time, were replaced by new paintings on the same theme. The paintings were done in the same style by about a dozen painters from the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.

Gardens and the park:
From the time of Francis I, the palace was surrounded by formal gardens, representing the major landscaping styles of their periods; the French Renaissance garden, inspired by the Italian Renaissance gardens; the French formal garden, the favorite style of Louis XIV; and, in the 18th and 19th century, the French landscape garden, inspired by the English landscape garden.

Garden of Diana
The Garden of Diana was created during the reign of Henry IV; it was the private garden of the King and Queen, and was visible from the windows of their rooms. The fountain of Diana was originally in the center of garden, which at that time was enclosed by another wing, containing offices and later, under, Louis XIV, an orangerie. That building, and another, the former chancellery, were demolished in the 19th century, doubling the size of the garden. From the 17th until the end of the 18th century, the garden was in the Italian and then the French formal style, divided by straight paths into rectangular flower beds, flower beds, centered on the fountains, and decorated with statues, ornamental plants and citrus trees in pots. It was transformed during the reign of Napoleon I into a landscape garden in the English style, with winding paths and trees grouped into picturesque landscapes, and it was enlarged during the reign of Louis-Philippe. it was opened to the public after the downfall of Napoleon III.

The fountain in the center was made by Tommaso Francini, the master Italian fountain-maker, whose work included the Medici Fountain in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. The bronze statue of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, with a young deer, was made by the Keller brothers in 1684 for another royal residence, at Marly. It is a copy of an antique Roman statue, Diana of Versailles, which was given by the Pope to King Henry IV, and which is now in the Louvre. The original statue of the fountain, made by Barthelemy Prieur in 1602, can be seen in the Gallery of the Cerfs inside the palace. The sculptures of hunting dogs and deer around the fountain were made by Pierre Biard.

Carp pond, English garden, grotto and spring
The large pond next to the palace, with a surface of four hectares, was made during the reign of Henry IV, and was used for boating parties by members of the Court, and as a source of fish for the table and for amusement. Descriptions of the palace in the 17th century tell of guests feeding the carp, some of which reached enormous size, and were said to be a hundred years old. The small octagonal house on an island in the center of the lake, Pavillon de l’Ètang, was added during the reign of Louis XIV, then rebuilt under Napoleon I, and is decorated with his initial.

The English garden also dates back to the reign of Henry IV. In one part of the garden, known as the garden of pines, against the wing of Louis XV, is an older structure dating to Francis I; the first Renaissance-style grotto to be built in a French garden, a rustic stone structure decorated with four statues of Atlas. Under Napoleon, his architect, Maximilien-Joseph Hurtault, turned this part of the garden into an English park, with winding paths and exotic trees, including the catalpa, tulip trees, the sophora, and cypress trees from Louisiana, and with a picturesque stream and antique boulders. The garden features two 17th century bronze copies of ancient Roman originals, the Borghese gladiator and the Dying Gladiator. A path leads from the garden through a curtain of trees to the spring which gave its name to the palace, next to a statue of Apollo.

Parterre and canal
On the other side of the chateau, one the site of the garden of Francis I, Henry IV created a large formal garden, or parterre Along the axis of the parterre, he also built a grand canal 1200 meters long, similar to one at the nearby chateau of Fleury-en-Biere. Between 1660 and 1664 the chief gardener of Louis XIV, André Le Nôtre, and Louis Le Vau rebuilt the parterre on a grander scale, filling it with geometric designs and path bordered with boxwood hedges and filled with colorful flowerbeds. They also added a basin, called Les Cascades, decorated with fountains, at the head of the canal. LeNotre planted shade trees along the length of the canal, and also laid out a wide path, lined with elm trees, parallel to the canal.

The fountains of Louis XIV were removed after his reign. More recently, the Cascades were decorated with works of sculpture from the 19th century. A large ornamental fountain was installed in the central basin in 1817. A bronze replica of an ancient Roman statue, “The Tiber”, was placed in the round basin in 1988. It replaced an earlier statue from the 16th century which earlier had decorated the basin. Two statues of sphinxes by Mathieu Lespagnandel, from 1664, are placed near the balustrade of the grand canal.

Museum of Napoleon I
The Museum of Napoleon I was created in 1986 in the wing on the right side of the Court of Honor, where the apartments of the princes of the First Empire had been located. It includes a gallery of portraits of members of Napoleon’s family, medals and decorations, several costumes worn during Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor, and a gold leaf from the crown he wore during the coronation; a large collection of porcelain and decorative objectives from the Imperial dining table, and a cradle, toys, and other souvenirs from the Emperor’s son, the King of Rome. It also has a collection of souvenirs from his military campaigns, including a recreation of his tent and its furnishings and practical items which he took with him on his campaigns.

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