Projects for the Louvre: First Project

Isabel Smith

Bernini's First Project for the East Facade of the Louvre, 1664

Fig. 1. Bernini, “First Project for the Louvre, East Elevation,” 1664, Paris, Musée de Louvre, (source–http://www.artres.com/c/htm/Home.aspx)

Bernini’s first project for the east façade of the Louvre arrived in Paris from Rome on July 25, 1664 (fig. 1). Bernini sent two drawings to Paris, one in his hand and one in the hand of his assistant Mattia de Rossi. This facade is dramatically curved with a pavilion centered between the curving wings of the left and right side of the façade. There are open arcades located on the curved wings of the façade. The circular pavilion and rotunda, similar to Le Vau’s plan are reminiscent of the emblem of the ‘Sun King.’ This façade is also extremely ornate. The roofline features small statues and the rotunda decorated with medallion shape relief sculpture. The curved façade of Bernini’s first project was characteristic of the High Baroque and is similar to several Roman structures, such as Bernini’s colonnade in St. Peters Square (fig. 4).

Bernini, "St. Peters Square," 1656-1657, Rome, Italy (http://www.scalarchives.com)

Fig. 4.  Bernini, “St. Peters Colonnade,” 1656-1657, Rome, Vatican City, (source–http://www.scalarchives.com)

The massive colonnade of St. Peters is separated into two curving wings that surround the square, but do not close it. The wings of the colonnade are often referred to as arms that envelope the visitor and draw them into the basilica. The roofline of the colonnade is decorated with sculptures of the different saints.  Although less grand Bernini’s first project for the Louvre features a similar idea to the colonnade of St. Peters, the two arms of the façade reach out to visitors encouraging them to approach the palace. The invitation that Bernini attempts to create in this façade was problematic. The dramatic curved façade with its outreaching arms is too inviting and contradicts with the idea of a calm and controlled king.

Bernini, First Project for the Louvre, First floor plan, 1664, Paris, France (

Fig. 5.  Bernini, “First Project for the Louvre, Plan for the Ground Floor,” 1664, Paris, Musée de Louvre (source– Diary of the Cavaliere Bernini’s Visit to France by Paul Fréart De Chantelou)

However, it was not the dramatic curves of the façade that caused Colbert to object to this plan. Colbert felt that the open arcades and the flat roof would be inappropriate for the French climate.[2] The plan for the ground floor of this façade also presented several problems (fig. 5).  This floor plan proposed that the King’s bedchamber be moved from the south wing to the east wing, which was the nosiest part of the chateau and with so many doors on the east façade, presented the greatest security risk. The curved façade of Bernini’s first project allowed for no direct line of sight from one end of the wing to the other. In French Chateaus, the open gallery that spanned the length of a façade was highly valued, partly because it allowed more natural light to be let in to the palace.

"Plan for the First Floor of the Château de Versailles," 1674, Musée National Des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, (source--http://www.artres.com/c/htm/Home.aspx)

Fig. 6. “Plan for the First Floor of the Château de Versailles,” 1674, Musée National Des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, (source-http://www.artres.com/c/htm/Home.aspx)

For example, the floor plan for the first floor of the garden façade of Versailles includes galleries, or rooms that had aligning doorways allowing the entire palace to seem more open and light (fig. 6) Bernini’s floor plan is based on Italian requirements. The floor plan of the first floor of the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, with which Bernini had some involvement, features interior stairwells, which are isolated from sources of natural light. Similar to the Palazzo Barberini, Bernini’s floor plan has many small rooms, while the first floor of the garden façade of Versailles has less rooms, but larger in size.

Louis Le Vau,

Fig. 7.  Louis Le Vau, “Collége des Quatres Nations,” ca. 1662, (source– Art and Architecture in France by Anthony Blunt)

It is also possible that Bernini’s first project for the Louvre failed because it was too similar to buildings constructed by the former Chief Minister Mazarin. For example, in the early 1660s executers of Mazarin’s estate commissioned Royal Architect Louis Le Vau to construct the Collège des Quatres Nations now the Institut de France (fig. 7). Although France’s Royal Architect designed this structure, the Institut de France is considered one of the few buildings in France at the time to use some of the principles of Roman Baroque Architecture, “the domed church flanked with wings curving forward combines motives from Pietro da Cortona and Borromini, and presents a dramatically effective ensemble not to be paralleled in French architecture of the seventeenth century.”[3] Similar to Bernini’s first project, the façade of Le Vau’s Institut de France is curved with a central rotunda. However, in the case of the Institut de France the rotunda has a dome instead of a flat roof. This building is also heavily decorated wit the similar sculpture on the roofline to Bernini’s first design. It is possible that Colbert rejected this design in an effort to disassociate the French Monarchy from the deceased Chief Minister Mazarin. The similarities between the two designs meant that had Colbert accepted Bernini’s first design he would not be establishing a new French architectural style that he and Louis felt was so important to do, and would imply that Louis meant to rule in a way similar to Mazarin. This would have been detrimental to the public’s perception of Louis because Mazarin was so hated.


[1] Michael Hall, “ Gianlorenzo Bernini’s Third Design for the East Façade of the Louvre of 1665, Drawn by Mattia De Rossi,” The Burlington Magazine 1 (July 2007), 478.

[2] Cecil Gould, Bernini in France: An Episode in Seventeenth-Century History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 16.

[3] Anthony Blunt, Art and Architecture in France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 218.