Cour Carrée

Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Cour Carrée is one of the main courtyards of the Louvre Palace in Paris. It was gradually built as the medieval Louvre castle was progressively demolished in favour of a Renaissance palace.


Map showing both the Louvre castle and the Cour Carrée.

Between 1190 and 1215, Philip Augustus built the Wall of Philip II Augustus around Paris to protect the capital from the English. To reinforce this enclosure on the western side, he built the Louvre castle, a large fortress with four high walls protected b y a moat, towers, and a dungeon.

Under King Charles V of France (1364-1380), with the population of Paris increasing, Paris spread well beyond the Philip Augustus wall. The king built a new enclosure encompassing the new quarters. As the Louvre castle was now inside the new city walls, it lost much of its military interest. The king renovated the castle to make it more comfortable, installing numerous windows, adding chimneys, statues, turrets and gardens.

After returning from a two-year captivity in Italy and Spain following his defeat at Pavia in 1524, King Francis I of France wanted to transform the old castle of the Louvre into a Renaissance style palace like those he encountered during his captivity. In 1528, he ordered the demolition of the "Grosse Tour" (great tower), which had served as keep. This took four months and the tower was replaced by a moat serving the main court of the castle. In 1546, the King asked architect Pierre Lescot and sculptor Jean Goujon to further renovate the castle.

Salle des caryatides

After Francis I's death, his son Henri II (1547-1559) continued the work and oversaw demolition of the west wall, which he replaced with a Renaissance palace of the same length between December 1546 and March 1549. This area, the current Lescot Wing, hosted the "hall of the guards", today "Salle des caryatides", a room for events which also serves as a ballroom. Many historical events took place there, such as the wedding of King Henri IV, an episode of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, the funeral wake of Henry IV, and the first performance of a Molière play for King Louis XIV on October 16, 1658.

The Louvre castle on a 1615 map with two remaining medieval walls and two walls in Renaissance style.

Henry II then demolished and rebuilt the southern wall (1553-1556) to pave the way for the creation of the king's pavilion.[clarification needed] At this stage, the building was very heterogeneous since two sides were Renaissance-style palaces and the other two remained those of the medieval castle with walls, battlements, and towers.

Queen Catherine de' Medici focused on building her Tuileries Palace, while Henry IV wanted his "gallery along the river",[citation needed] that is to say a link between the Louvre and the Tuileries. His plan was to quadruple the size of the courtyard of the Louvre castle by extending the buildings already built.

West side of the Cour Carrée with the Lescot Wing, the Pavillon de l'Horloge and the Lemercier Wing.

Louis XIII demolished the north wall of the castle in 1624. The Lescot Wing was built for a court with the size of the one of the castle.[clarification needed] It was not easy to integrate it into a courtyard with sides twice as long. The new architect, Jacques Lemercier, planned to duplicate this wing to the north: the present Lemercier Wing (1636). And he installed a pavilion between the two: the Pavillon de l'Horloge, today known as Pavillon Sully.

Louis XIV had the east wall demolished and renovated by architect Louis Le Vau. The last two walls to be demolished (north and east) were simply razed and the ditches filled. Their foundations remained intact. This is what made it possible to rediscover them in the nineteenth century (1866) and to update their base during the works of the Grand Louvre: it is the current collection of the Medieval Louvre.[clarification needed]

Louis XIV doubled the length of the south wing and built the north wing. Three sides of the courtyard were then in place. It remained to build the east wing, important because it faced the city with houses and buildings nearby. This would be the new main entrance to the Louvre. After a contest launched by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the king decided in 1665 to have Perrault's Colonnade built outside on the east by Claude Perrault and Louis le Vau. The work dragged on because it was necessary to buy the land and the houses in front of the future colonnade to clear the view (the king does not have the power of expropriation). Moreover, the king privileges the Palace of Versailles from 1674.

Louis XIV also decided to double the width of the south wing (1670). This is why today we have two series of rooms: on the courtyard side, the rooms of the Charles X museum ; on the river Seine, the rooms of the Campana gallery with essentially Greek potteries. But construction of the south wing was not completed until a century later.

After the royal court moved to Versailles, the unfinished buildings hosted artists. Heterogeneous constructions were erected in the courtyard.

After its abandonment and degradation during the Revolution, Louis XVIII restored the Louvre and put his monogram (two L's of stick characters turning their backs) on the three exterior facades of the Cour Carrée (including the colonnade), although he had only restored them.


Map of the cour Carrée.
Republican rooster at the fronton of the central wing of the east wing.

The buildings form a square of about 160 meters on each side. They are articulated on eight Wings that punctuate eight Pavilions from northwest to west

  • the pavillon de Beauvais
  • the pavillon de Marengo to the north;
  • the pavillon nord-est
  • the pavillon central (or pavillon Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois ), to the east, bordered on the outside by the Colonnade
  • the pavillon sud-est
  • the pavillon des Arts, to the south
  • the pavillon du Roi (King's Pavilion)
  • the pavillon Sully (formerly known as pavillon de l'Horloge, Clock Pavilion), to the west, recognizable by its clock, its four groups of monumental caryatids, its friezes of children and its high domed roof, the prototype of all the domes of the Louvre, in harmony sought after by successive architects.

On either side of the Sully pavilion there are:

  • The Lescot Wing, built from 1546 to 1558, up to the King's Pavilion on the left.
  • The Lemercier Wing, built in 1639, up to the pavilion de Beauvais on the right.

At the center of the Cour Carrée, there is a fountain.

Although the buildings were built over a period of 250 years, they show great homogeneity. The ground floor and the two floors have successions of windows, bas-reliefs, and statues in niches. The French sovereigns left their monograms on the parts they built. Those of Henri II, Charles IX, Henri IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV can easily be identified and they help track the history of construction.

The Republic did not want to be outdone and installed a rooster in the pediment of the central wing of the east wing.[clarification needed]

Reliefs on the pavilion Sully. Top, the Law; left, Moses and Isis; right, Manco Capac and Numa Pompilius.

Example sculptures[edit]

All the reliefs and statues in the Cour Carrée courtyard represent specific allegories or figures.

Here is the example of the first window on the left of the second floor of the Lemercier wing, so close to the Pavillon de l'Horloge. Above the window, is an allegorical figure of Law. Then, at window level from left to right: Moses with the tablets, the Egyptian goddess Isis with a sister, the Inca emperor Manco Cápac with the sun whose son he is, and Numa Pompilius, the second king of the Roman monarchy.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°51′37″N 2°20′19″E / 48.860399°N 2.338644°E / 48.860399; 2.338644