Paris: Day 4 is not in Paris

This is the Chateau de Fontainebleau. It’s a former royal palace outside of Paris, like Versailles, but less crowded. (It gets like 1/30 as many visitors. It’s also less overblown-ridiculously decorated.)

Both near and far from Paris, Fontainebleau had everything to please Francis I. He was a humiliated king, returning from a trying period of imprisonment in Madrid (1525-1526), who set his sights on this prestigious medieval ruin and undertook its reconstruction. In 10 years, the project to redevelop a hunting castle evolved into an ambitious and monumental building site, establishing Fontainebleau as the king’s favourite ‘house’. On the foundations that retained the original plan, the master builders built a new dwelling with more light and extended a residence towards the west that was enriched with the best finery of the Renaissance.

Chateau de Fontainebleau

The origins of the Château de Fontainebleau remain a mystery. Of its primitive silhouette, the keep, a massive square-shaped building, and the oval layout of the oldest of its courtyards still remain [show above]. While the name Fontainebleau first appears in 1137, in a Latin charter of King Louis VII, its construction could date back to the very beginning of the 12th century, or even to the end of the previous one. More than just a hunting castle in the heart of the game-filled ‘Beer Forest’, this first Fontainebleau was, from the outset, honoured with the title of ‘palace’. It hosted the stays of Capetian kings who were building and strengthening, from reign to reign, the authority of the ‘Lys de France’. As for the name of the castle, it is said to come from a modest fountain that broke with the aridity of the surrounding forest, the Bliaud Fountain, which offered a thirst-quenching spring in the sandy and rocky deserts of the surrounding hills. Over the centuries, semantic reverie transformed this Bliaud fountain into a ‘Belle Eau fountain’. . .
Chateau de Fontainebleau

Despite that history, most of the rooms on display show the influence of Napoleon.

This is Napoleon. No wait, the other Napoleon. The one who was emperor of France from 1804-1814 &1815 (and probably didn’t sit on your head in the middle of the night and stick his claws into your neck if you didn’t play with him (not that I know of anyway)).

Reception room.  From panel: In what was her antechamber, Anne of Austria had the ceiling of the King Henri II’s bedchamber installed. This exceptional ceiling known as ‘Planets’ . . .  [is] adorned with figures embodying the planets.
As you can see, the furnishing of the rooms is fairly restrained. There are country houses with more ostentatious decor than this.

Or not. (Anne of Austria’s bedchamber, wife of Louis XIII & mother of Louis XIV)

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 great 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.

(Trying taking a photo of the empty hall in Versaille’s Hall of Mirrors. Ha.)

The Guard Room. From panel: This room, the first of the King’s apartment, was occupied by the soldiers of the guard.

This sumptuous ballroom located between the Oval Court and the gardens, features pillars wrapped in oak panelling with fluted pilaster columns and is one of the most remarkable rooms in the Château de Fontainebleau. Decorated in the 16th century in the reign of Henri II, it gave the palace an all-weather, resplendent hall that was dedicated to the festivities of the Valois court. The rich coffered ceiling is covered with moon emblems and the king’s motto. As for the myths in the paintings, they were frescoed by Nicolo dell’Abbate under the direction of Primatice.
Chateau de Fontainebleau

This is a stairwell, for a staircase built 1748 for Louis XV to give him better access to his apartment. Before that, it was a bedchamber for the mistress of Francis I.

Ceiling of the Council Chamber. From panel: The ceiling, painted by Boucher, represents The Chariot of Apollo, surrounded by groups of children posing as The Seasons

One thing I did find disappointing: there was the king’s guard room, and the king’s antechamber and then… you’re heading down some stairs and it’s all over. There’s no “king’s bedchamber which has been converted to a throne room by Napoleon” because it was closed.

There was one last place before leaving the building. This epitome of austerity is the chapel

Obviously designed to inspire virtues such as charity and humility.

Now to outside and some of the gardens

The Diana Garden

Formerly the Queen’s private garden, this garden is bordered by the monarchs’ most intimate spaces (the Empress’ Petits Appartements and Marie Antoinette’s Turkish boudoir). Until the 19th century, this garden was enclosed by buildings. When they were demolished, and an adjoining strip of land was purchased, it was extended towards the town. Redesigned in the style of an English landscape garden and planted with remarkable trees such as a Catalpa and an American tulip tree, it takes its name from a fountain decorated with a statue of Diana the Huntress.
Chateau de Fontainebleau

In 1528 the Porte Dorée replaced a medieval gate that was in the same location. Its succession of loggias, with vaulted ceilings resting on corner columns, and its array of pilasters and pediments, make it one of the most innovative pieces of architecture from the early overhaul of Fontainebleau by Francis I. Somewhere between a French Medieval Châtelet and the residences of Italian princes, it reflected the king’s desire make the entrance to his renovated residence more impressive. Opening directly onto the Cour Ovale via an entrance porch adorned with frescoes by Primaticcio, this gate was, for centuries, the main entrance to the château.
Chateau de Fontainebleau

There is a Napoleon Museum which had the sort of exhibits you probably expect, and it wasn’t that interesting at the end of a long day, except for two things

“The Emperor on Campaign”

From panel:
In 1811 Napoleon was at the height of his power. A son – a guarantee of continuity – was born in splendour at the Tuileries palace on 20 March 1811. Christened Napoleon-Francois-Joseph-Charies, the boy was titled “King of Rome” before he was even conceived. . . . The little King’s apartments in the various Imperial palaces were furnished specifically for him. Madame de Montesquiou commissioned a large ceremonial cradle, designed by Prud’hon and crafted by Thomire et Duterme, for the child’s bedroom at the Tuileries. A stucco “geographical table” was acquired for the palace of Meudon – where Napoleon intended for the Princes of the Imperial Family to receive their education – with a map of the world decorating its table top. The Meudon chairs were upholstered in yellow fabric embroidered with fritillaria, or imperial flowers, an emblematic motif of the regime.

And now it is, sadly, time to leave, for I am tired and so is the sun.

A quick photo of the town before I take the bus to the train station, which gives me a chance to share another two-storey carousel.

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