Palace of Fontainebleau

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Palace and Park of Fontainebleau
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
The central range of Fontainebleau: patterned parterres have been replaced with lawn.
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, vi
Reference 160
UNESCO region Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1981 (5th Session)
Palace of Fontainebleau is located in France
Palace of Fontainebleau
Location of Palace of Fontainebleau in France.

The Palace of Fontainebleau (/fɒntɪnˌbl/;[1] French pronunciation: ​[fɔ̃tɛnblo][1]) located 55 kilometres from the centre of Paris, is one of the largest French royal châteaux. The palace as it is today is the work of many French monarchs, building on an early 16th-century structure of Francis I. The building is arranged around a series of courtyards. The commune of Fontainebleau has grown up around the remainder of the Forest of Fontainebleau, a former royal hunting park. This forest is now home to many endangered species of Europe.


The Medieval Castle (12th century)[edit]

The Oval Courtyard, with the Medieval donjon, a vestige of the original castle where the King's apartments were located, in the center.
The Gallery of Francis I, connecting the King's apartments with the chapel, decorated between 1533 and 1539. It introduced the Italian Renaissance style to France.

The earliest record of a fortified castle at Fontainebleau dates to 1137.[2] It became a favorite residence and hunting lodge of the Kings of France because of the abundant game and many springs in the surrounding forest. It was used by King Louis VII, for whom Thomas Becket consecrated the chapel; by Philip Augustus; by Louis IX, or Saint Louis, who built a hospital and a convent, the Couvent des Trinitaires, next to the castle; and by Philippe le Bel, who was born and died in the castle.[3]

The Renaissance Château of Francis I (1528-1547)[edit]

In the 15th century some modifications and embellishments were made to the castle by Isabeau of Bavaria, the wife of King Charles VI , but the medieval structure remained essentially intact until the reign Francis I (1494-1547). He commissioned the architect Gilles le Breton to build a palace in the new Renaissance style, recently imported from Italy. Le Breton preserved the old medieval donjon, where the King's apartments were located, but incorporated it into the new Renaissance-style Cour Ovale, or oval courtyard, built on the foundations of the old castle. It included monumental Porte Dorée, as its southern entrance. as well as a monumental Renaissance stairway, the portique de Serlio, to give access the royal apartments on the north side.

Beginning in about 1528, Francis constructed the Gallery Francis I, which allowed him to to directly from his apartments to the chapel of the of the Trinitaires. He brought the architect Sebastiano Serlio from Italy, and the Florentine painter Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, known as Rosso Fiorentino, to decorate the new gallery. Between 1533 and 1539 Rosso Fiorentino filled the gallery with murals glorifying the King, framed in stucco ornament in high relief, and lambris sculpted by the furniture maker Francesco Scibec da Carpi . Another Italian painter, Francesco Primaticcio from Bologna, known as Primatice, joined later in the decoration of the palace. Together their style of decoration became known as the first School of Fontainebleau. This was the first great decorated gallery built in France. Broadly speaking, at Fontainebleau the Renaissance was introduced to France. [4]

In about 1540, Francis began another major addition to the chateau. Using land on the east side of the chateau purchased from the order of the Trinitaires, he began to build a new square of buildings around a large courtyard. It was enclosed on the north by the wing of the Ministers, on the east by the wing of the wing of Ferrare, and on the south by a wing containing the new gallery of Ulysees. The chateau was surrounded by a new park in the style of the Italian Renaissance garden, with pavilions and the first grotto in France. The painter Primatrice created more monumental murals for the gallery of Ulysses. [5]

The Château of Henry II and Catherine de' Medici (1547-1570)[edit]

Following the death of Francis I, King Henry II decided to continue and expand the chateau. The King and his wife chose the architects Philibert Delorme and [[Jean Bullant] to do the work. They extended the east wing of the lower court, and decorated it with the first famous horseshoe-shaped staircase. In the oval court, they transformed the loggia planned by Francois into a Salle des Fétes or grand ballroom with a coffered ceiling. Facing the courtyard of the fountain and the fish pond, they designed a new building, the Pavillon des Poeles, to contain the new apartments of the King. The decoration of the new ballroom and the gallery of Ulysses with murals by Primatice and sculptured stucco continued, under the direction of the Mannerist painters Primatice and Niccolò dell'Abbate. [6] Many works of art were commissioned for the château, including Benvenuto Cellini's "Nymph of Fontainebleau", now in the Louvre.

Following the death of Henry II in a jousting accident, his widow, Catherine de' Medici, continued the construction and decoration of the château. She named Primatice as the new superintendent of royal public works. He designed the section known today as the wing of the Belle Cheminée, noted for its elaborate chimneys and its two opposing stairways. In 1565, as a security measure due to the Wars of Religion, she also had moat dug around the château to protect it against attack.[7]

The Château of Henry IV (1570-1610)[edit]

King Henry IV added the court that carries his name, the Cour des Princes, with the adjoining Galerie de Diane de Poitiers and the Galerie des Cerfs, used as a library. A "second school of Fontainebleau" decorators, less ambitious and original than the first, evolved from these additional projects. Henry IV pierced the wooded park with a 1200m canal (which can be fished today) and ordered the planting of pines, elms and fruit trees. The park stretches of an area more than 80 hectares, enclosed by walls and pierced rectilinear paths. Henry IV's gardener, Claude Mollet, trained at Château d'Anet, laid out patterned parterres. Preserved on the grounds is Henry IV's jeu de paume (real tennis court). It is the largest such court in the world, and one of the few publicly owned.[8][9]

King Louis XIV hunting near the Palace of Fontainebleau

Philip the Fair (Philip IV), Henry III and Louis XIII were all born in the palace, and Philip died there. Christina of Sweden lived there for years, following her abdication in 1654. In 1685 Fontainebleau saw the signing of the Edict of Fontainebleau, which revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598). Royal guests of the Bourbon kings were housed at Fontainebleau, including Peter the Great of Russia and Christian VII of Denmark.

Revolution and Empire[edit]

Napoleon saying goodbye to his troops outside the Palace of Fontainebleau (1814)
Napoleon III receiving the Siamese embassy at Fontainebleau (1864)
The famous library at Fontainebleau

Second Empire court of his nephew Napoleon III.[10]

The Abdication room where Emperor Napoleon I resigned from power before his exile to Elba in 1814

By the late 18th century, the château had fallen into disrepair; during the French Revolution many of the original furnishings were sold, in the long Revolutionary sales of the contents of all the royal châteaux, intended as a way of raising money for the nation and ensuring that the Bourbons could not return to their comforts. Nevertheless, within a decade Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte began to transform the Château de Fontainebleau into a symbol of his grandeur, as an alternative to the empty Palace of Versailles, with its Bourbon connotations. Napoleon hosted Pope Pius VII there in 1804, when he came to consecrate the emperor, and again in 1812–1814, when he was Napoleon's prisoner.[11] With modifications of the château's structure, including the cobblestone entrance wide enough for his carriage, Napoleon helped make the château the place that visitors see today. At Fontainebleau Napoleon abdicated for the first time, bade farewell to his Old Guard and went into exile in 1814.[11] Fontainebleau was also the setting of the

The throne room, formerly the King’s bedroom from Henry IV to Louis XVI, it was converted into the throne room by Napoleon


The château is now home to the Écoles d'Art Américaines, a school of art, architecture, and music for students from the United States. The school was founded by General Pershing when his men were stationed there during the First World War.

Cour d'Honneur of the palace


Fontainebleau from the lake

The palace introduced to France the Italian Mannerist style in interior decoration and in gardens, and transformed them in the translation. The French Mannerist style of interior decoration of the 16th century is known as the "Fontainebleau style": it combined sculpture, metalwork, painting, stucco and woodwork, and outdoors introduced the patterned garden parterre. The Fontainebleau style combined allegorical paintings in moulded plasterwork where the framing was treated as if it were leather or paper, slashed and rolled into scrolls and combined with arabesques and grotesques. Fontainebleau ideals of female beauty are Mannerist: a small neat head on a long neck, exaggeratedly long torso and limbs, small high breasts—almost a return to Late Gothic beauties. The new works at Fontainebleau were recorded in refined and detailed engravings that circulated among connoisseurs and artists. Through the engravings by the "School of Fontainebleau" this new style was transmitted to other northern European centres, Antwerp especially, and Germany, and eventually London.


See also[edit]



  • Salmon, Xavier (2011). Fontainebleau- Vrai demeure des rois, maison des siècles. Versailles: Artlys. ISBN 978-2-85495-442-5. 

Notes and citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Fontainebleau". Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 24 September 2014. 
  2. ^ Salmon, Xavier, Fontainebleau - Vraie demure des rois, maison des siécles, p. 7.
  3. ^ Salmon, Xavier, Fontainebleau - Vraie demure des rois, maison des siécles, p. 7.
  4. ^ Salmon, p. 8
  5. ^ Salmon, p 8.
  6. ^ Salmon, p 9.
  7. ^ Salmon, p 9.
  8. ^ "Histoire de la salle de jeu de paume de Fontainebleau". Retrieved March 19, 2007. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Walter Bruyère-Ostells, Napoléon III et le Second Empire, Vuibert, 2004, page 184
  11. ^ a b The First Empire (Château de Fontainebleau)

External links[edit]

Media related to Palace of Fontainebleau at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 48°24′08″N 2°42′02″E / 48.40222°N 2.70056°E / 48.40222; 2.70056