Warriors and Builders


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Jacques Androuet du Cerceau
French, ca. 1515–after 1584
The Château of Fontainebleau in Les Plus Excellents Bastiments de
Paris, 1576
Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library


Of the many residences he occupied during his peripatetic rule, the château of Fontainebleau held a special significance for François I (1494–1547); as Du Cerceau relates, when François traveled to Fontainebleau, “he used to say that he was going home [il disoit qu’il alloit chez soy].” The expense and care that François lavished on Fontainebleau, including the importation of Italian painters and sculptors for its decoration, made it the epitome of splendor at the French court during his reign.


Sufficiently sequestered away from Paris and in the midst of a dense forest, Fontainebleau was designed as a hunting lodge, voluminously expanded from existing medieval buildings beginning in 1528 by master mason Gilles le Breton. Du Cerceau’s etching gives us the view from the south, from “the pond side” as the inscription makes clear.  This pond or “étang,” a large man-made body of water, sometimes provided the stage for mock naval battles and other royal entertainments. To the right, at the end of a tree-lined avenue stands the three-tiered Porte Dorée, or Golden Gate, the official entry to the palace during François’s lifetime.  The central wing connecting the two enclosed courtyards housed the royal baths on the ground level. Above the baths was the king’s sumptuous personal gallery with frescoes and stuccoes designed by Italian artist Rosso Fiorentino; the third story housed François’s library of more than 3,000 volumes.