Used by the kings of France from the 12th century, the hunting lodge of Fontainebleau, standing in the heart of the vast forest of the Ile-de-France in the Seine-et-Marne region, was transformed, enlarged and embellished in the 16th century by King François I, who wanted to make it a “new Rome”. Surrounded by an immense park, the palace, to which notable Italian artists contributed, combines Renaissance and French artistic traditions. The need to expand and decorate this immense palace created the conditions for the survival of a true artistic centre.
The construction of the palace began in 1528. The modifications undertaken later by François I’s successors and carried out on different scales until the 19th century have left their imprint on the physionomy of the present complex, which today comprises five courtyards placed in an irregular manner and surrounded by an ensemble of buildings and gardens.
UNESCO World Heritage listing
FONTAINEBLEAU. — Bateau de Prince Imperial. — LL
Publisher: Levy Sons & Co. (1895-1919)
As the only child of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, Napoleon Eugène Louis Jean Joseph, the Imperial Prince, was particularly spoilt. The Emperor, who wanted to teach him the basics of navigation, ordered a frigate for him. Built by the Brest Arsenal’s workshops, it was given to the young prince in 1863, for his seventh birthday.
Chateau de Fontainebleua
A year earlier in 1863 Napoleon III almost certainly commissioned the small frigate that was given to his son, Napoleon Eugene Louis Giuseppe Bonaparte, the Imperial Prince (1856-1879.) Built at the arsenal at Brest, the boat was a present to the boy for his seventh birthday. 3.90 M long, with a beam of 1.10 M and 6 M high, the boat was a miniature reproduction of a XIX century ship. Its two bridges had 100 toy cannon along its sides, a helms wheel, an anchor, a bowsprit that was almost two metres long and complex rigging. The boat could be rowed by two or three people seated on benches below. Napoleon II and the Capatin Duperré used the boat to give the Imperial Prince his first lessons on navigation. Up to 1870 the fleet was just for the pleasure of the Royal Court. After the Prussians invaded, the fleet was transported to Saint-Cloud where it was unfortunately completely destroyed. The only boats left at Fontainebleau were Eugenia’s gondola and the Prince’s frigate. The gondola was sold in 1907 and the frigate was abandoned on the Pond for years until it was brought into the castle for restoration in 1926 under the direction of the architect Jean-Paul Alaux.
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PALAIS DE FONTAINEBLEAU
Pavillon Louis XV – Entrée du Musée Chinois et l’Étang aux Carpes
Louis XV Pavilion – Entrance to the Chinese Museum and the carps pond.
Published by Musées Nationaux
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 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.
Formerly a monastery church belonging to the Mathurin monks under Saint Louis, the Chapel of the Trinity was re-annexed to the château under Francis I. Rebuilding works commenced during this reign and continued under that of Henry II, while the current roof dates from the reign of Henry IV. Its outstanding décor, characteristic of the Second École de Fontainebleau, prefigures the baroque style.
Château de Fontainebleau
Requested in 1805 by Napoleon I for what was formerly the King’s Chamber, the Throne Room in the Château de Fontainebleau is the only such room in France still in its original state. Together with Napoleon’s crown, his two ensigns and his daïs, the throne was installed in the alcove in which the king’s bed formerly stood. Originally made for the Château de Saint Cloud in 1804 by Jacob-Desmalter, based on designs by the architects Percier and Fontaine, it was installed at Fontainebleau in 1808. The seat itself had been created for the throne at the Tuileries Palace.
Château de Fontainebleau
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 original 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
Madame de Maintenon’s Apartment is situated on the first floor of the old fortified entranceway, in the Porte Dorée, and is named in memory of its illustrious former occupant and the events which took place there in the 17th century.
Château de Fontainebleau