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East façade of the Louvre in Paris

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Architecture
Wordcount: 3345 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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East façade of the Louvre in Paris, Claude Perrault

The Louvre has been a long-standing architecture that represents the progression of time, a shift of power and politic movements, and the statement of what architecture could represents. For this essay, I would like to explore the details on the East facade of the Louvre and the striking representation of what it entails.

I look closely on East façade of the Louvre at the end seventeen century as well as the beginning of 18th century. It has becomes associated with the origins of modernity in French architecture. Perrault started by being innovated in the most startling aspect of design such as displacing column intervals to create a paired columns pattern. This creates the dynamic visual rhythm (larger space and narrow space). His design is referring to Vitruvius and Renaissance architectural features about how colonnades were and supposed to be designed. In the essay, I want to talk about the relative merits of literary and artistic achievements in the modern age and antiquity through the Louvre façade (Vitruvius and modernism) as well as the incongruity between grandeur of the building and ordinariness of the façade. Traditional architectural ideas at the time were the assertion that beauty was not a natural or universal quality.  However, Perrault believes that beauty did not depend on precise, proportion or on mathematical harmony. He has different aspect of beauty is based on imagination and customary usage which is a modern thought at the time. He is moving away from the idealism from Renaissance as well as Neoclassism, which draw direct design aesthetics from Antiquity and into the 18th century Romanticism which is the former Art and Architecture style to Modernism.

To expand more into how Perrault was able to achieved a modern design to the East façade of the Louvre, which I would like to explore.

The Louvre was to have been enlarged, embellished, and ultimately joins the Palais des Tuileries. The demolition of architectural pieces that was impeding the way began in 1657, and in 1660 Mazarin approved a new design submitted by Louis Le Vau. Le Vau was at the time working as King’s First Architect. Initiating a competition for a new design, although construction of the walls had in places reached the height of three meters. At this current point, Claude Perrault (tr. Zarucchi 54-55), had also submitted a design to Colbert, with the design of provoking colonnade. The design evoked a suitably classical grandeur yet it preserved the existing edifice of the Louvre. In context, most importantly from Colbert’s standpoint, Claude Perrault was an amateur therefore not being part of the artistic power structure to which Colbert found himself in opposition during the times, Perrault was a member of a bourgeois family.

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The project to enlarge the east facade of the Louvre in the early 1660s is a well-known illustration of this form of artistic propaganda. The Louvre was also to become, however, a political symbol on several other levels, reflecting power struggles among individual artists, the rivalry between France and Italy for artistic dominance, and above all, the intent to secure the king’s base of power in the early days of his personal reign. In a sense, the notion of a colonnade may be viewed as a collective invention, generated by the palatial symbolism of the structure. Columns of some sort were featured in most of the French architects’ designs making columns one of the most important feature in architectural design.

Several elements appear, however, to have distinguished Perrault’s design successfully from the others. One is the grandeur of the actual entrance to the central pavilion, in contrast to Le Vau and Bernini, who had both proposed a small door in a large pavilion; the smallness of the entry door in Bernini’s plan had been criticized by Colbert as early as 1665, in a letter to the papal nuncio. Perrault’s colonnade also echoed the design of a temple more closely than that of Le Vau, who had added the distraction of a conventional third story. Most importantly, the triangular-shaped pediment of Perrault’s central pavilion was the only one among the main competitors’ designs to be explicitly classical in inspiration. The final design of the colonnade was formally accepted by the king on 14 May 1667, and when completed, it would stand as perhaps the most celebrate example of seventeenth-century French architecture, described by Anthony Blunt as “the first example in this art of the style of Louis XIV” (6). Ironically, the king had by now developed the fascination for Versailles that was to prove fatal to Colbert’s hopes of transforming the Louvre into a monumental symbol of dynastic kingship.

In the course of the Louvre episode, however, a progression is evident in the political and aesthetic attitudes that influenced its outcome. In the early years, the king and Colbert were willing to defer to the recognized superiority of an Italian architect, believing that by bringing a world-renowned figure to France, the country would bask in his reflected glory. At a later stage, the French would define and carry out their own artistic standard. There was also a progression in the aesthetic perception of art itself, which was initially respected as an autonomous creation.

(Later on, however, art became viewed as the servant of practical function. Ingenuity of design was less important than accommodating the ceremonial activities of Louis’ court. The king also exerted greater authority over artistic production)

Classical Column

In classical building, the entire columns of each order are made up of three main parts, which are the entablature, the column, and the pedestal. In each parts is also made up into three parts. Firstly for the entablature is including the architrave, the frieze, and the cornice. Secondly for the column is including a base, shaft, and capital. Lastly for the pedestal is including a base, dado, and cornice. The height of the three main part of the entire column is imposed by a fixed number of our small modules. These make the entablatures of all the orders equal. The height of the pedestal and the column is different in each order and also increases proportionally as the orders become slighter and less massive. The ratio is always by one module for the pedestals and by two for the columns. “The Tuscan pedestal, which is equal to its entablature, has six modules, the Doric seven, the Ionic eight, the Corinthian nine, and the Composite ten.” (1) The height of the columns including their base and capital increases by two modules. Therefore the proportions of the three main parts make the pedestals are the same in all the orders. The plinth of the base is always two thirds of the base.  The height of the dado depends on what is left of the overall height of the pedestal. The base of the column is always the same height in all the orders. Capitals in the Tuscan and Doric Orders are also the same height, which is equal to their base. However, in the Composite and Corinthian orders, capitals have the same height of three and one-half modules. Except for the Ionic capital has a proportion particular to itself. The heights of the parts of entablatures have less regular proportions. They do have in common in all the orders except for the Doric order; the proportions of the entablature are necessarily different, since they are regulated by the triqlyphs and the metopes.

There are five types of the intercolumnation in ancient bulidings. First is called Pycnostyle; the columns are very close together with intercolumniations of only one and one-half column diameters. Second, it is called Systyle, columns ere a little less close with an intercolumniation of two diameters. Third it is called Eustyle has an average spacing of two and one-quarter diameters. Fourth, it is called Diastyle has a three diameters, which is little wider. Lastly, Araeostyle has a very wide space with four diameters. Vitruvius attributed the eustyle system to the Greek architect Hermogenes, who invented the pseudodipteral octastyle temple plan.

Eustyle is a term of an ideal intercolumniation where the spacing between the columns of the colonnade is measured.

Modernism Column

In modern architecture, some architects are contrary to reason and the rules of the ancients. The first abuse is the enlargement of columns and the placing of modillions in pediments so that they are perpendicular to the horizon. Also there is no slope of the tympanum.  The modillions should appear only at the sides where the walls support the rafters. Therefore they should not appear in the cornice under the pediment itself, where they represent the ends of purlins.

In the modern building in order to provide a pair of columns, the space of the triglyphs and metopes have to enlarge more widely. The reason is that the space between the middles of a triglyph and the middle of the next triglyph is much smaller than the space between each columns. For example, in Palladio’s design, he has to increase the size of the metopes in the central intercolumniation, in order to make the wider gap than the other intercolumniations, which has two triglyphs. In contrast to the rule of Vitruvius that in the Doric porticoes, where it is shown three triglyphs on the central intercolumnniations and only one triglyph for the other intercolunniations.

The modern Iconic capital removed the lower part of the abacus, which produces the volute in the ancient Ionic capital and also constitutes the lower part of the abacus in the Composite capital. However the upper part of the abacus still remained, so that the abacus becomes thinner. However, the thinness of the abucus would not be a problem on fragility as it has uniform support its entire surface. Even though, there us a huge gap between the abacus and the bell of the capital. Palladio also applied this method towards his design in the Temple of Concord. In his design, he also keeps the abacus solid like in the ancient Composite capital.

The overlapping and interpenetrating columns or pilasters appear on the courtyard of the Louvre. The architect placed two columns at the corner, which create a re-entrant angle. Whereas, in the classical building there is only one single column supporting at the corner. However, these two systems have a same ability to supports the architraves. Palladio also used this method to produce double columns through his design, which is Count Valerio Chiericato in Vicenza.

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The pairing of columns also appears on the east façade of the Louvre, however in that period there was no examples of it exist in antiquity. This is one innovation that also considering about beauty and convenience of the usage. The ancients particularly appreciated buildings with the closer space between the columns. The Moderns introduced this new way of placing columns. These give more clearance to porticoes and more grandeur to the orders. Perrault replacing the columns two by two, this will give wider intercolumniations. Therefore, the windows and doors that overlook the porticoes are not obscured, as they were occurred in the ancient buildings, where the openings were wider that the intercolumniations. Usually the columns have diameters of three or four feet in order to obtain intercolumniations of eight feet. But Perrault kept the diameter only two or two and one half feet, where the openings were wider than the intercolumniations. However as a result a single column seem to have a weak support on their entablature. This new arrangement of intercolumniations is considered as a sixth type of spacing added to the five types of intercolumniations by Vitruvius.

The large order repetition is appeared on the east façade of the Louvre. The large order extended over two stories, which located on the lower story. The height of this order has been increased due to the large porticoes that dominate the principal façade at the entrance of the palace. The height and size of the order could be increased, as the porticoes are like the entrance for all the apartments of the first story.  ­­

Perrault seems to have been the first to claim Gothic style as an expression of a national taste for open, perforated structure. Gothic style of architecture tend to explore the ideas of perforation to heavy masonry.

He uses a diagram to demonstrate how the coupled columns of the Louvre Colonnade were derived from a style range of columns, leaving a wide span between each group.  This according to Perrault imitates Hermogenes’s eustyle, with its wider central intercolumniation. Perrault also developed in his translation of Vitruvius’s Ten Books becomes the conceptual basis not only for his inventory of the classical orders but also for his invention of a modern way of ordering.  “the differences between the orders…are the only well-established matters in architecture”(4) Perrault proceeds to assert that the new ranges of coupled columns of the Colonnade, which have a more open composition.He named this sixth type of columns as “ Pseudosystyle”, which is not authorized by the antiquity believes. “Pseudosystyle” combines all the advantages found separately in the Vitruvian systems: asprete and serrement of the columns and degagement, the quality sought by the moderns and structural solidity. Furthermore, he placed the architraves, which made from stones entirely on top of the capital. In contrast to the ancients that put an architrave on only half of the top of the capital.

As a careful interpretation of Perrault’s own Treatise of the Five Orders in Architecture can show, he wrote within the classical tradition while exposing it as just that—a convention of inherited standards of beauty, and not a science based on natural law. Perrault’s method was based not only on empirical observation. His inclination to read treatises against each other has much in common with theological criticism. Perrault sets himself over the different versions of Vitruvian classicism, while at the same time turning one against the other. “Neither the Imitation of Nature, nor Reason, nor good Sense, are then the Foundations of those Beauties, which we see in the Proportion, Order and Disposition of the Part of a Column; and it is impossible to assign any other Cause of their Agreeableness, than Custom.”(5) The force of his argument arises from his clear articulation of the contradictions between treatises. At points, Perrault approaches the ideal that Kant and Descartes admired in architectural thinking: that of an engineer who tests a proposition based on empirical knowledge rather than traditional authority. Likewise, his arguments test the assertions of architectural theory against experience, as when, in order to dispute the musicological understanding of architectural harmony, he invokes Vitruvius’s famous rule that a beautiful house is organized with the same sense of proportions as the human body. “The Beauty of a Building is so far like that of a human Body, that it consists not so much in the exactness of one certain Proportion, or Conformity of Size, which the Parts have one with the other, as in the Grace of the Form, which is nothing else but its agreeable Modification, upon which, an excellent and perfect Beauty may be found, without strictly observing this very kind of proportion.”(1) A human face can be beautiful, Perrault argues, not because it has particular proportions, but because its features embody grace, their smooth modifications are gentle even when the person expresses very different emotions. If the human body, and by implication the face, are the standard for architectural beauty, Perrault implies that beauty can vary significantly as to its exact shape and dimensions, but it is their relation to each other, as well as over time and in differing circumstances, that constitutes beauty. His arguments test the assertions of architectural theory against experience, as when, in order to dispute the musicological understanding of architectural harmony, he invokes Vitruvius’s famous rule that a beautiful house is organized with the same sense of proportions as the human body.

Furthermore, on Perrault ‘s treatise, He was concerning on Vitruvius’s definition that is composed of two unrelated requirements, which are  proportion and shape. He argues that they are conjoined by nothing more than his simultaneous enunciation of them as constitutive of “ordering”. To clarify the Vitruvian approach, Perrault doubles this definition into two separate operations: On the other hand, proportion determines the parts of a column; on the other hand, shape determines its use. He called Real architectural order. Perrault writes  that although “shape might be more fitting to determining use … nevertheless… the most essential difference between the orders …according to Vitruvius… is that of proportions.”(4) This is how the Perrault’s invention occurs by locating order in an enigmatic.  Perrault concludes, “the architectural order is what is regulated by the ordonnance when it prescribes the proportions for entire columns and determines the shape of certain parts in accordance with their different proportions.”(4)  He believed with Vitruvius that proportion was more essential for distinguishing the orders that the shape of the parts that determine their characters.

From my point of view, the ancients prefer to have a close spaced between the columns, which based on the five type of classical intercolumniation by Vitruvius. The reason is due to the structure limited of the stone. Whereas, Perrault introduces a sixth type of classical intercolumniations, which provides a wider space between the columns. He is not too much concerned on the structure, but also more on the aesthetic and custom usage. Even though, he has difference perception of the Ideal of beauty and proportion. However, he still believed that the classical orders are the first primary elements in architecture design. “ Perrault’s concern is not to abolish the concept of proportion but to make it less absolute”(2). He had no intention to insult the authority of classical architecture or the primary of the orders as the embodiment of highest standards of the beauty and artistic expression. His aim to subject them to new rule of assessment. Perrault was concerned with nothing less than the definition and implementation of a new kind of architectural theory.


1) Ordonnance for the five kinds of columns after the method of the ancient by Claude Perrault

2) On the ruins of Babel/ Architectural Metaphor in German though by Daniel L. Purdy

3) Symbolism and Politics: The Construction of the Louvre, 1660-1667, by Jeanne Morgan Zarucchi

4) Ordering the Orders: Claude Perrault’s “Ordonnance” and the Eastern Colonnade of the Louvre by Lucia Allais, Published by: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

5) Architects and Intellectual Culture in Post-Restoration England

By Matthew Walker

6) Blunt, Anthony. Art and Architecture in France, 1500 to 1700


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