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L.41 Rosso? Decoration of The Small Gallery

Around 1533-1534?

Frescoes and stuccoes, Château, Fontainebleau.

The possibility that Rosso designed a scheme of decoration for the destroyed Small Gallery was suggested by Dimier, 1900, 160-161, 284-289, when discussing the Salle de Bal at Fontainebleau.  Dimier’s argument depended upon the following passage in Vasari’s “Life” of Rosso (1568, II, 211; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 170): “Ma una gran parte delle stanze, che il Rosso fece al detto luogo di Fontanableo sono state disfatte dopo la sua morte dal detto Francesco Primaticcio, che in quel luogo ha fatto nuova, e maggior fabrica.”  Documentary evidence does not indicate any such extensive demolition.  The only building that this passage could refer to (other than the destruction of the staircase in the Cour Ovale [A.2], which is not a “stanza”) is the one that contained the Small Gallery and that was destroyed in the 1540s to build the Salle de Bal (see also Dimier, 1904, 83-84, and 1925, 10, 36; Roy, 1929, 240-244; Kusenberg, 1931, 104, 203, ns. 253-256; Béguin, 1960, 42-43, and RdA, 1969, 172, n. 127; Pressouyre, 1974, 31, and n. 31; Carroll, 1987, 30).  Claude Lauriol, in EdF, 1972, 482, and in Fontainebleau, 1973, II, 155, questioned that the building containing the Small Gallery was ever constructed.  But the surviving evidence clearly indicates that it was.  However, there is no documentary evidence indicating that the Small Gallery was decorated by Rosso, or by anyone else for that matter.  Only Vasari’s passage about the destruction of some work by Rosso and its replacement by something larger by Primaticcio leads one to suspect that the information he had was related to the Small Gallery and the larger Salle de Bal.

In 1528 (Laborde, I, 1877, 41-43) there was planned for construction to the right of the entrance to the château (the Porte Dorée) “un corps d’hostel de 15 toises de long ou environ, et de 18 pieds de largeur ou environ, par le rees de chaussée et par dedans oeuvre, dont l’estage du rees de chausée sera appliqué à quatres offices, deux cuisines et un revestière pour servir à ladite chapelle [of the “cour du Donjon” to the east], et l’estage d’au dessus sera appliqué à gallerie,…” (B.N., ms. fr. 11.179, fol. 75v, Laborde, I, 1877, 71).  The “corps d’hostel des offices” and the “gallerie dessus les dits offices” are mentioned as points of reference in a document of 12 May 1535 concerning carpentry work certified as done 2 April 1533, indicating that they had been built by that time.1  In the small view of the château that is under the Venus and Minerva in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, I N h) the exterior of the south wall of the Small Gallery appears at the far right.  It shows four gabled windows with pilasters at the sides set upon the ledge of a horizontal wall that is carried upon the high wall of the ground floor.  The four windows must be those of the Small Gallery (now so-called to distinguish it from the Gallery of Francis I and the destroyed “grande gallerie” or Gallery of Ulysses).2

The dimensions of the “corps d’hostel” as planned were a little more than 29 meters long by almost 6 meters wide.  The length is exactly that of the interior of the Salle de Bal that replaced the Small Gallery (but the Salle de Bal is almost ten meters wide).  In the frescoed view of the château in the Gallery of Francis I, the south façade of the Small Gallery is seen on the first floor of the “corps d’hostel” to the right of the Porte Dorée and the vertical block at its right containing a staircase.  Four windows are shown with pediments and pilasters placed upon a ledge that runs the entire length of the building and even continues across the vertical block to the left.  Dimier’s reconstruction of the plan of the château under Francis I shows the plan of the Small Gallery with five windows (Fig.Dimier, Plan under Francis I).  The Salle de Bal also has five.  As in all other respects the painted view of the château seems to be very accurate, it is possible that the Small Gallery had only four windows.  The four windows of the Small Gallery in the fresco look slightly wider than those of the Gallery of Francis I seen at the left, even taking into account the effect of perspective upon the appearance of these two galleries, which are not on the same plane.  The slightly different axis of the Small Gallery does not seem indicated in the fresco but it is still possible that the projection of the Porte Dorée hides a fifth window.  Their proportions are also different.  The windows of the Small Gallery with only four rows of panes are decidedly shorter than those of the Gallery of Francis I with their five rows of panes and as can be judged by relating the two rows of windows to the higher and lower moldings that follow around the walls of the château to the left.  One interesting detail of the exterior appearance of the Small Gallery in the small fresco is the blue color of the areas around and above the windows, indicating that these areas belong to the roof system of the château.  This means that the windows are actually dormers like those of the story above the Gallery of Francis I.  Whatever their actual size, they were spaced evenly along the length of the gallery of slightly more than 23 meters.  What is difficult to appreciate in the small fresco is that they occupied the same length of wall as the five large windows of the Salle de Bal.  But this would seem to have been the case.  As to the interior of the Small Gallery, the window sills were probably about a meter from the floor.  The ceiling was almost certainly flat (with beams, and with coffering?) as in the larger gallery.  But the height of the Small Gallery would seem to have been less with the ceiling probably at a level just above the tops of the shorter window casements.

Like the Gallery of Francis I, the Small Gallery joined two parts of the château; it also had kitchens beneath it.  Its function, therefore, must have been in some respects similar to that of the larger gallery.  Decoration was almost certainly intended for it similar to, although less grand probably than, that of the undoubtedly more important and larger Gallery of Francis I.  It is not possible to calculate what precisely were the wall     areas that would receive the decoration.  There would have been those alongside the four dormer windows as well as the areas of the short east and west walls.  It is probable that the Small Gallery had wood wainscoting on the lower part of the walls at least up to the level of the window sills, and possibly higher elsewhere.  The doors in the end walls may have been set within this paneling.  Above it Rosso’s decoration would have been placed, and it probably would have been composed of stucco work and painting.  Almost certainly it would have been different from the decoration in the Gallery of Francis I, not only for the sake of variety but also because of the room’s smaller size and its dormer windows.

Unfortunately it is not possible to know the shape of the wall areas along the north and south sides of the gallery, nor of the ends.  If they were vertical, and the view of the exterior of the gallery suggests that they might have been if the wood paneling was not higher than the sills of the dormers, which is very possible, then it can be proposed that one etching by Fantuzzi may be related to the decoration of the Small Gallery.  This cartouche (Fig.E.82) deserves special attention because it shows at the top two salamanders with their necks entwined and at the bottom the Royal F encircled with a crown.  Its style can be associated with Rosso’s design of 1532 or 1533 for the stucco frames planned for the lost Pavilion of Pomona (Fig.E.63, and L.39), with his Petrarch drawing at Christ Church of around 1534 (Fig.D.47a), and with those parts of the Gallery of Francis I designed before April 1534, such as the Loss of Perpetual Youth and its flanking frescoes and stuccoes (Fig.P.22, II S a).

It is just within the period in which these works were invented that the decoration of the Small Gallery would most probably have been done.  The building of which it was a part (on which, see below) may have been constructed at the same time as the staircase and portico that Rosso seems to have designed for the Cour Ovale (A.2; Fig.Bray Elevation) and onto which the north windows of the Small Gallery looked.  The staircase and portico were commissioned 5 August 1531 and may have been completed by the end of the following year.  The decoration of the Pavilion of Pomona was probably done in 1532 but almost surely before mid-1533.  In the spring of 1534 the execution of the decoration of the Gallery of Francis I was started after a period of preparatory work.  It is, therefore, very possible that the Small Gallery was decorated in 1533-1534, at the same time that Primaticcio was at work in the Chambre du Roi.  It may have been in the Pavilion of Pomona and in the Small Gallery, for both of which no documents of payment exist, that Rosso trained his assistants to execute his designs in stucco and fresco before they were faced with the much more elaborate and extensive decoration of the Gallery of Francis I.  Later, when the decoration of that gallery was on its way to being completed, Rosso’s activity seems to have been centered on the decoration of several parts of the Pavillon des Poêles.

The etching by Fantuzzi would have been made from a drawing by Rosso, the design of which probably was meant to be executed in stucco in the Small Gallery, although the winged figures at the top and their garlands could have been painted.  This composition could have been repeated throughout the Small Gallery, at least on the long walls; the end walls might have received panels of another design.  The blank oval and two small rectangles would have been filled with frescoes, differing from one wall area to another but thematically related.  On a much smaller scale this presumably was the arrangement in the Pavilion of Pomona, where the two narrative frescoes had the same frames.  Otherwise, of course, one has to suppose some other arrangement of a variety of frames, probably with related forms and compositions.

With this in mind, there are three other vertical cartouches by Fantuzzi that should be mentioned as just possibly related to the decoration of the Small Gallery.  One, showing two sleeping putti at the top (Fig.E.83), frames an empty circle that is set slightly above the center of the composition.  This cartouche may well go back, at least in good part, to a drawing by Rosso.  The other cartouches (Fig.E.84 and Fig.E.85), showing a child playing two horns and with circular centers, are variants of each other and are less surely relatable to Rosso, although they could reflect some lost model or models by him.  What all of these cartouches share is a vertical format with a small central area.  They also have somewhat small forms, suggesting that they may go back to designs made by Rosso about the same time, around 1533 or 1534.  Therefore, they could be related to a single project, and hence perhaps to the decoration of the Small Gallery, if Rosso did actually decorate it.

Chastel, 1967, 76-78, thought that the building of the block containing the Small Gallery may have been part of a larger plan involving other structures around and within the Cour Ovale.  The portico and now destroyed staircase in this courtyard were commissioned 5 August 1531 (A.2) from Gilles Le Breton.  However, Chastel attributed their design to Rosso, very probably correctly.  The chapel (A.4), next to the Small Gallery and with its façade facing the Cour Ovale, was commissioned at the same time, also from Le Breton.  The exterior of its apse (Fig.St. Saturnin Apse, Exterior) is articulated like that of the staircase and portico and therefore it is possible that Rosso was responsible for its design, or part of it.  The exterior of the block containing the Small Gallery as it appears in the small view of the château in the Gallery of Francis I shows no architectural features that can be related to those parts of the other structures with which Rosso’s name has been associated.  Its simple windows look very much like those by Le Breton in the Cour Ovale.  Hence, Rosso’s supposed work on this block would have to have been inside, in the Small Gallery, and perhaps in the sacristy of the ground floor that is mentioned in the specifications of 1528.  (The four offices would probably not have had any special architectural character or decoration, nor the two kitchens, and there is no indication that there were “apartements” as Chastel thought.)  Nothing is known of the sacristy.  Given the plan of the Small Gallery with its dormer windows, it is unlikely that its interior was richly articulated architecturally (as was the Galerie Basse, for example; see L.44).  It is more probable that if Rosso had something to do with this block between the Porte Dorée and the chapel he was not concerned with its architecture but with the decoration only of the Small Gallery.

The whole block was torn down to build the Salle de Bal between 1541 and 1550 (Dimier, 1900, 284-285).  This change may be related to the demolition of the staircase in the Cour Ovale in 1541 and the building of the colonnade in that courtyard (see A.2).3

 


1 Paris, Bibl. nat., ms. fr. 11.179, folios 92-92v (Laborde, I, 1877, 70-71):

“Audit Maillard, la somme de 1,240 livres qui luy a esté ordonné par le dit sieur de Neufville, pour les ouvrages de charpenterie qu’il a faits de neuf pour le Roy, tant au grand jeu de paulme édiffé de neuf joignant le chasteau du dit Fontainebleau, que au corps d’hostel de la despoille dudit jeu et à une grande montée de charpenterie faitte au grand jardin du dit lieu, entre et joignant le corps d’hostel des offices du dit chasteau par où descendoit feue Madame, de la gallerie estant dessus les dits offices audit grand jardin, lesquels ouvrages de charpenterie ont éste faits de l’ordonnance dudit commissaire, suivant le vouloir et commandement verbal du Roy, qui ont éste veus et visitez par Jean Montinier et Guillaume le Peuple, charpentiers jurez, en la présence de Pierre Paule dit l’Italian, et Pierre Deshostels, varlets de chambre ordinaires du Roy, et par luy commis à la conduitte et contrerolles desdits bastimens et édiffices de Fontainebleau, /921v/ et iceux ouvrages trouvez avoir esté bien et deuement faits et parfaits comme il appert par les parties escriptes par le menu, en un cayer de papier certiffié des dits jurez, signéy de leurs mains et aussy des contrerolleurs, le mecredy 2e d’apvril 1532, avant Pasques, cy devant transcript attaché aux lettres de mandement dudit de Neufville, données à Paris soubs son signet le 28 d’apvril 1535, par vertu desquelles et du contenu au dit cayer, m(aistr)e Nicolas Picart a fait compte et payement comptant au dit Maillard de la somme de 1,240 livres, comme par sa quittance faitte à sa requeste par deux notaires royaux au Chastellet l’an 1535, le mecredy 12e de may, attachée avec les lettres de mandement et cayer susdit.”

2 Herbet, 1937, 326-327, believed that the Small Gallery was never built, as what appears in the view in the Gallery of Francis I does not match what was set out in the specifications of 1528.  Furthermore, he believed that the reference to a gallery in the document of 12 May 1535 was to the Gallery of Francis I.  But the gallery mentioned in 1535 was above “offices,” which was not the case with the Gallery of Francis I.  From the view in the Gallery of Francis I it does appear that the Small Gallery was not built as planned, which may be one reason that it was soon replaced by the larger Salle de Bal.

3 Babelon, 1989, 200, would seem to indicate the Small Gallery in his reference to a salle des fêtes planned for the south side of the Cour Ovale next to a planned new chapel dedicated to Saint Saturnin.  Babelon, 1989, 203-204, gave the plan of the Salle de Bal to Rosso.  But later (431) he referred to it as by Gilles Le Breton, designed as a loggia with large vaulted bays and then closed in and given a flat ceiling by Philibert de L’Orme.  But the present Salle de Bal seems to have been begun in 1541 after Rosso’s death at the end of the previous year.  It is, of course, possible, that Rosso had left plans of some kind for the building that replaced the Small Gallery.  The vaulted loggia that Le Breton began would have been an extraordinary structure, perhaps beyond the abilities of the master mason’s imagination.  Dan, 1642, 219, stated that when Charles V visited Fontainebleau in late 1539, “Le soupé estant preparé en la Salle du Bal….”  At that time the present Salle de Bal did not exist, its site then occupied, it would seem, by the Small Gallery, where the supper could have been served.  However, it is possible that the meal was served in the Gallery of Francis I, beneath the terrace walkway of which were kitchens and larders.