By Augustus J. C. Hare


The golden age of Fontainebleau came with the Renaissance and Francis I., who wished to make Fontainebleau the most glorious palace in the world. "The Escurial!" says Brantome, "what of that? See how long it was of building? Good workmen like to be quick finished. With our king it was otherwise. Take Fontainebleau and Chambord. When they were projected, when once the plumb-line, and the compass, and the square, and the hammer were on the spot, then in a few years we saw the Court in residence there."

Il Rosso was first (1531) employed to carry out the ideas of Francois I. as to painting, and then Sebastian Serlio was summoned from Bologna in 1541 to fill the place of "surintendant des bastiments et architecte de Fontainebleau." Il Rosso-Giovambattista had been a Florentine pupil of Michelangelo, but refused to follow any master, having, as Vasari says, "a certain inkling of his own." Francois I. was delighted with him at first, and made him head of all the Italian colony at Fontainebleau, where he was known as "Maitre Roux." But in two years the king was longing to patronize some other genius, and implored Giulio Romano, then engaged on the Palazzo del Te at Mantua, to come to him. The great master refused to come himself, but in his place sent the Bolognese Primaticcio, who became known in France as Le Primatice.

The new-comer excited the furious jealousy of Il Rosso, whom he supplanted in favor and popularity, and who, after growing daily more morose, took poison in 1541. Then Primaticcio, who, to humor his rival had been sent into honorable exile (on plea of collecting antiquities at Rome), was summoned back, and destroyed most of Il Rosso's frescoes, replacing them by his own. Those that remain are now painted over, and no works of Il Rosso are still in existence (unless in engravings) except some of his frescoes at Florence.

With the Italian style of buildings and decorations, the Italian system of a Court adorned by ladies was first introduced here under Francois I., and soon became a necessity…. Under Francois I., his beautiful mistress, the Duchesse d'Etampes--"la plus belle des savantes, et la plus savante des belles," directed all the fetes. In this she was succeeded, under Henry II., by Diane de Poitiers, whose monogram, interwoven with that of the king, appears in all the buildings of this time, and who is represented as a goddess (Diana) in the paintings of Primaticcio.

Under Francois II., in 1560, by the advice of the queen-mother, an assembly of notables was summoned at Fontainebleau; and here, accompanied by her 150 beautiful maids of honor, Catherine de Medici received the embassy of the Catholic sovereigns sent to demand the execution of the articles of the Council of Trent, and calling for fresh persecution of the reformers.

Much as his predecessors had accomplished, Henri IV. did more for the embellishment of Fontainebleau, where the monogram of his mistress, Gabrielle d'Estrees, is frequently seen mingled with that of his wife, Marie de Medici. All the Bourbon kings had a passion for hunting, for which Fontainebleau afforded especial facilities.

It was at Fontainebleau that Louis XIII. was born, and that the Marechal de Biron was arrested. Louis XIII. only lived here occasionally. In the early reign of Louis XIV., the palace was lent to Christina, of Sweden, who had abdicated her throne.

It was in one of the private apartments, occupying the site of the ancient Galerie des Cerfs, now destroyed, that she ordered the execution of her chief equerry, Monaldeschi, whom she had convicted of treason. She listened patiently to his excuses, but was utterly unmoved by them and his entreaties for mercy. She provided a priest to confess him, after which he was slowly butchered by blows with a sword on the head and face, as he dragged himself along the floor, his body being defended by a coat of mail….

Even after the creation of the palaces of Versailles and Marly, Louis XIV. continued to make an annual "voyage de Fontainebleau." He compelled his whole court to follow him; if any of his family were ill, and unable to travel by road, he made them come by water; for himself, he slept on the way, either at the house of the Duc d'Antin (son of Mme. de Montespan) or of the Marechal de Villeroy.

It was here that the Grand Dauphin was born, in 1661. Here, also, it was that Mme. de Maintenon first appeared at the councils, and that the king publicly asked her advice as to whether he should accept the throne of Spain for the Duc d' Anjou. Here, also, in 1685, he signed the revocation of the edict of Nantes. The great Conde died in the palace. Louis XV. was married here to Marie Leczinska in 1725; and here the Dauphin, his son, died in 1765. Louis XIV. delighted in Fontainebleau for its hunting facilities.

After the Revolution, Napoleon I. restored the chateau and prepared it for Pius VII. who came to France to crown him, and was here (January 25, 1813) induced to sign the famous Concordat de Fontainebleau, by which he abjured his temporal sovereignty. The chateau which witnessed the abdication of the Pope, also saw that of Napoleon I., who made his touching farewell to the soldiers of the Vielle-Garde in the Cour du Cheval-Blanc, before setting off for Elba…. The Cour du Cheval-Blanc, the largest of the five courts of the palace, took its name from a plaster copy of the horse of Marcus Aurelius at Rome, destroyed 1626. Recently it has been called the Cour des Adieux, on account of the farewell of Napoleon I. in 1814. It was once surrounded by buildings on all sides; one was removed in 1810, and replaced by a grille.

The principal facade is composed of five pavilions with high roofs, united by buildings two stories high. The beautiful twisted staircase in front of the central pavilion was executed by Lemercier for Louis XIII., and replaces a staircase by Philbert Delorme. Facing this pavilion, the mass of buildings on the right is the Aile Neuve of Louis XV., built on the site of the Galerie d'Ulysse, to the destruction of the precious works of Primaticcio and Niccolo dell' Abbate, with which it was adorned. Below the last pavilion, near the grille, was the Grotte du Jardin-des-pins, where James V. of Scotland, coming over to marry Magdalen of France, daughter of Francois I., watched her bathing with her ladies, by the aid of a mirror….

To the west of the Cour du Cheval-Blanc, and communicating with it, is the Cour de la Fontaine, the main front of which is formed by the Galerie de Francois I. This faces the great tank, into which Gaston d' Orleans, at eight years old, caused one of the courtiers to be thrown, whom he considered to have spoken to him disrespectfully. One side of the Cour de la Fontaine, that toward the Jardin Anglais, is terminated by a pavilion of the time of Louis XV.; the other, formerly decorated with statues is attributed to Serlio. The fountain from which the court takes its name has been often changed; a poor work by Petitot now replaces the grand designs of the time of Francois I. and Henri IV. Beyond this court we find, on the left, the Porte Doree, which faces the Chaussee de Maintenon, between the Etang and Parterre; it was built under Francois I., and decorated by Primaticcio with paintings, restored in 1835. It was by this entrance that Charles V. arrived at the palace in 1539….

A staircase now leads to the first floor, and we enter the apartments of Napoleon I., all furnished in the style of the First Empire. The cabinet de l'Abdication is the place where he resigned his power. His bedroom (containing the bed of Napoleon I., the cradle of the King of Rome, and a cabinet of Marie Louise) leads to the Salle du Conseil, which was the Salon de Famille under Louis Philippe. Its decorations are by Boucher, and are the best of the period. It was in leaving this room that the Marechal de Biron was arrested under Henri IV., in a cabinet which is now thrown into the adjoining Salle du Trone, (previously the bedroom of the Bourbon kings), dating from Charles IV., but decorated under Louis XIII. A fine portrait by Phillipe de Champaigne represents Louis XIII. It is accompanied by his device in allusion to his vehemence in the extermination of heresy.

The adjoining boudoir de Marie Antoinette is a beautiful little room, painted by Barthelemy. The metal work of the windows is said to have been wrought by Louis XVI. himself, who had his workshop here, as at Versailles. The richly decorated Chambre a Coucher de la Reine was inhabited by Marie de Medici, Marie Therese, Marie Antoinette, Marie Louise, and Marie Amelie. The silk hangings were given by the town of Lyons to Marie Antoinette on her marriage. The Salon de Musique was the Salon du jeu de la Reine, under Marie Antoinette. The ancient Salon de Clorinde, or des Dames d' Honneur, is named from its paintings by Dubois and from the "Gerusalemme Liberata."

The Galerie de Diane, built by Napoleon I. and Louis XVIII., replaces the famous frescoed gallery of Henri IV. It is now turned into a library for the use of the town. In the center is a picture of Henri IV. on horseback, by Mauzaise. The Salles des Chasses contain pictures of hunting scenes under Louis XV. We now reach the glorious Galerie d' Henri II. (or Salle des Fetes), built by Francois I., and decorated by Henri II. The walnut- wood ceiling and the paneling of the walls are of marvelous richness. Over the chimney is a gigantic H, and the initials of Henri II. are constantly seen interlaced with those of Diane de Poitiers…. The sixty paintings on the walls, including eight large compositions, were executed by Niccolo Dell' Abbate, and are probably the finest decorations of the kind existing in France.

The rooms usually shown last are those formerly inhabited by Catherine de Medici and Anne of Austria, and which, under the First Empire, were used by Pius VII., under Louis Philippe, by the Duke and Duchess of Orleans. The most interesting of these are the Chambre a Coucher, which bears the oft-repeated A L (the chiffre of Louis XIII. and Anne of Austria), and in which Pius VII. daily said mass, and the Salon, with its fine tapestry after Giulio Romano. The Galerie des Assiettes, adorned with Sevres china, only dates from Louis Philippe. Hence, by a gallery in the Aile Neuve, hung with indifferent pictures, we may visit the Salle du Theatre, retaining its arrangements for the emperor, empress, and court.

The Gardens, as seen now, are mostly as they were rearranged by Lenotre for Louis XIV. The most frequented garden is the Parterre, entered from the Place du Cheval-Blanc. In the center of the Jardin Anglais (entered through the Cour de la Fontaine) was the Fontaine Bleau, which is supposed by some to have given a name to the palace. The Etang has a pavilion in the center, where the Czar Peter got drunk. The carp in the pool, overfed with bread by visitors, are said to be, some of them, of immense age. John Evelyn mentions the carp of Fontainebleau, "that come familiarly to hand." The Jardin de l' Orangerie, on the north of the palace, called Jardin des Buis under Francois I., contains a good renaissance portal. To the east of the parterre and the town is the park, which has no beauty, but harmonizes well with the chateau.

Visitors should not fail to drive in the Forest, 80 kilometers in circuit, and, if they return late, may look out for its black huntsman--"le grand veneur." … The forest was a favorite hunting-ground of the kings of France to a late period. It was here that the Marquis de Tourzel, Grand Provost of France, husband of the governess of the royal children, fractured his skull, his horse bolting against a tree, when hunting with Louis XVI., in November, 1786. The forest is the especial land of French artists, who overrun and possess it in the summer. There are innumerable direction-posts, in which all the red marks--put up by Napoleon III., because so few peasants could read--point to town.

[18] From "Days Near Paris."