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Meudon, château oflocked

  • Ian Dunlop

French royal château near Paris. The first château at Meudon (the Vieux Château) was built for Cardinal Sanguin and his niece Anne de Pisselieu, Duchesse d’Etampes (1508–80), mistress of Francis I, between 1520 and 1540. It was of an austere simplicity: two superimposed orders proportioned the façades, and the dormer windows were surmounted by triangular and segmental pediments. On the garden front appeared, probably for the first time, what was to become the classic French façade arrangement. It was divided into five sections with three projecting pavilions, one central and one at each end; each section had a separate roof, those of the pavilions being taller than those of the blocks connecting them. The châteaux of Fontainebleau and Coulommiers, for instance, followed this example. Four small corner towers were built out on corbels like those at Anet.

In 1553 the Duchesse d’Etampes sold Meudon to Charles de Guise, Cardinal of Lorraine, who added a grotto designed by Francesco Primaticcio with decorations by Domenico del Barbieri. In 1654 Abel Servien (1593–1659), Surintendant des Finances to the young Louis XIV, constructed an enormous terrace on the entrance side of the château, and engaged Louis Le Vau (see Le Vau family §(1)) to work on the interior from 1656. In 1679 the property was bought by the Marquis de Louvois, who employed André Le Nôtre to improve the gardens. He made happy use of the natural contours: to the south the ground falls away steeply and was cut back into two terraces, the lower of which contained an orangery. The main axis of the garden continued south into the distance along the Allée de Trivaux. At the point at which the alley should have been crossed by the park wall, Le Nôtre replaced the wall with a moat from which rose a number of slender jets so closely set as to merit the name of La Grille d’Eau. The grotto dominated a secondary axis that commanded a steep descent into the Jardin Bas and the Grand Parterre de Gazon, beyond which lay the meadows of Fleury. The transition from formal garden to natural landscape was perfectly achieved.

In 1695 Louis XIV bought Meudon for his son, Louis de Bourbon, the Grand Dauphin (see Bourbon, House of family, §I, (9)). In 1706 the latter employed Jules Hardouin Mansart to replace the grotto with a new building, the Château Neuf. The Vieux Château was burnt down by accident during the French Revolution (1789–95) and demolished in 1795. Napoleon I made the Château Neuf the residence of his son, the King of Rome. In 1870 this too was burnt down, by the Prussians. The central pavilion and the lower storeys of its wings survive as an observatory.

Bibliography

  • P. Biver: Histoire du château de Meudon (Paris, 1923)
  • F. H. Hazelhurst: Gardens of Illusion: The Genius of Le Nôtre (Nashville, 1980)
  • I. Dunlop: Royal Palaces of France (London, 1985)