European Architecture Series
Louis Le Vau

Biography of French Baroque Architect.

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The Palace of Versailles (1624-98)
One of the greatest architectural
projects of 17th century France.
Of the many French designers who
contributed to the Palace, leading
figures included Louis Le Vau,
Jules Hardouin Mansart, Charles
Le Brun and Andre Le Notre.

Louis Le Vau (1612-70)


Louis Le Vau's Architecture
Palace of Versailles
Buildings Designed by Louis Le Vau
Other Leading Baroque Architects

For a short guide to terminology
see: Architecture Glossary.

Louis Le Vau's Architecture

One of the greatest architects in 17th century France, Louis Le Vau was part of a trio of Baroque architects - the others being Jules Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708) and Andre Le Notre (1613-1700) - who, along with the decorator Charles Le Brun (1619-90), helped to create the Louis Quatorze (XIV) style of architecture at the Palace of Versailles, where he set out for the King the main designs which transformed a hunting lodge into the most celebrated royal palace in the world. Among his other contributions to Baroque architecture are the Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte (1656-61); the Palais du Louvre (with Claude Perrault); the Church of Saint-Sulpice, Paris (1646); and the Hotel Lambert for the Ile Saint-Louis, Paris (1642-44), a previously marshy area for which he was the main architect. He also worked on the College des Quatre-Nations (now the Institut de France), the Chateau of Meudon, Vincennes Castle and many other buildings. He was born and died in Paris.


Trained by his father, a stone mason, Le Vau was influenced by Italian architecture, including the designs of Bernini (1598-1680) and Pietro da Cortona (1596-69). He began his career with the design of the Hotel de Bautru (1634), followed by the elegant Hotel Lambert, and others, as well as a number of townhouses on the Ile Saint-Louis, which he designed using a combination of classical French and Baroque styles. In 1654 he designed new wings and a colonnade for the Louvre; in the same year he was appointed first architect to King Louis XIV (reigned 1643-1715). In 1656, he began his architectural masterpiece, the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, owned by France's wealthy finance minister Nicolas Fouquet (1615–80). Probably the most important French Chateau of the Baroque period, it possesses all the archetypal Classical characteristics of order, balance and symmetry, while its monumental form conveys a sense of enduring power. Its facade is dominated by a large pediment and oval dome, accompanied by alternating patterns of windows and pilasters. The building, whose interiors were decorated by Charles Lebrun and others, stands in formal gardens designed by Andre le Notre. In 1661, in Paris, Le Vau and Lebrun began the redesign of the Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre, after which, in 1665, Le Vau collaborated with Perrault to design the famous east facade of the Louvre (1665–74) in a style which anticipated 18th century Neoclassical architecture and which was so highly regarded by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723).

At the same time, Le Vau (assisted by Francois d' Orbay) was involved in the design of the College des Quatre Nations, Paris (1661-74) now the Institut de France. By employing a pedimented facade (with a tall cupola behind) flanked by two quadrants ending in pavilions facing the River Seine (thus giving the structure a concave facade bordered by the wings), he showed a strong affinity with Italian Baroque art, and with the work of both Bernini and Francesco Borromini (1599-1667).

Palace of Versailles

From 1667-70, Louis Le Vau, along with Jules Hardouin Mansart, was the main structural architect for phase one of the palace. They were assisted by landscape architect Andre Le Notre, decorator Charles Le Brun, architect Francois d' Orbay, and a huge team of French Baroque artists, including painters, sculptors, gardeners, and other master craftsmen. Le Vau was involved in the renovation of Marble Court (1669) which was the first phase in the transformation of a hunting lodge into a great palace. He also remodelled the garden facade of the building, including the elegant Escalier des Ambassadeurs. In so doing, he helped to initiate the magnificent Louis Quatorze style, combining the glory of ancient Rome with that of 17th century France.

Note: The design and decoration of Versailles Palace stimulated a mini-renaissance of decorative art. The greatest of all the 17th century French decorative arts is undoubtedly French Furniture (Louis Quatorze, Louis Quinze, Louis Seize).

Buildings Designed by Louis Le Vau

- Hotel de Bautru (1634)
- Hotel Lambert, Ile Saint-Louis (1642-44)
- Chateau of Livry, Raincy (1645)
- Church of Saint-Sulpice (1646)
- Palais du Louvre (1654, Wings & Colonnade)
- Hotel de Fonteney (1656)
- Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte (1656-61)
- Vincennes Castle (1654)
- College des Quatre-Nations (Institut de France) (1661-74)
- Palais du Louvre (1661, Galerie d'Apollon)
- Palace of Versailles (1667-70, first stage)

Other Leading Baroque Architects

In addition to those mentioned above, the best known architects of the Baroque era included:

Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726)

Andreas Schluter (1664-1714)
Johann Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753)
Hans Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff (1699-1753)
See also: German Baroque Art (1550-1750)

Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-73)
Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709).
See also: Italian Baroque Artists.

Alonso Cano (1601-1667)
Pedro de Ribera (1681-1742)
See also: Spanish Baroque Art and Spanish Baroque Artists.

Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-1771)
See also: Petrine Art.


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