A.2. Exterior Staircase (Destroyed) and Portico


(reconstructed and rebuilt with new stone), Cour Ovale, Château, Fontainebleau



The attribution to Rosso of the design of the portico and of the exterior staircase, which was once joined to it, in the Cour Ovale at Fontainebleau was suggested by Chastel (1967; 1978, I, 455-468).  He based his attribution upon the reconstruction made by Bray (1940; Fig.Bray Ground Plan and Fig.Bray Elevation) and which the latter derived from the portico as it survives (the so-called Portico of Serlio; Fig.Portico) and from the evidence of the excavation made by him in the Cour Ovale in 1938.1

On 5 August 1531 the master mason Gilles Le Breton was commissioned to make a “grand escallier” for the château at Fontainebleau, the original specifications of which are not known.2  Almost ten years later, on 10 March 1541 (modern style), he was charged with the “rechangement du grand escallier,” involving the demolition of part of it and the re-use of some of the material in the making of the required changes while “le reste il sera tenu serrer et mettre en tas en la court dudit cha(stea)u au proffit du Roy.”  No other specifications for the changing of the original project are known.

Paris, Bibl. nat., ms. fr. 11.179, fols. 188-189 (Laborde, I, 1877, 210-211).3

10 March 1541 (modern style):



Devis, marché, toisé et certifications des ouvrages des Bastimens de Fontainebleau, Boullongne-les-Paris, que nos Seigneurs des Comptes ont ordonné à la closture du dernier compte desdits bastimens rendu par le présent commis m(aîtr)e Nicolas Picart.



Gilles le Breton, m(aistr)e maçon des bastimens du Roy à Fontainebleau, confesse avoir fait marché et convenant à messires Nicolas de Neufville, chevalier, seigneur de Villeroy, conseiller du Roy et secrétaire de ses finances, et Philbert Babou, aussy chevalier, seigneur de la Bourdaizière, conseiller du Roy, secrétaire de ses finances et trésorier de France, commissaires ordonnez et députez par le Roy sur le fait de ses bastimens et édiffices de Fontainebleau, en la présence de Pierre Deshostels, varlet de chambre ordinaire du Roy, et par luy commis au controlle desdits bastimens et édiffices, de faire et parfaire pour le Roy, en son cha(stea)u de Fontainebleau, tour et chacuns les ouvrages de maçonnerie et taille qu’il convient faire pour le rechangement du grand escallier dudit cha(stea)u et autres ouvrages contenus et déclarez au devis cy devant escrit, et ce, outre le contenu et marché fait avec luy pour raison dudit grand escallier et de la chappelle dudit cha(stea)u, datté du samedy 5e d’aoust 1531, et pour ce faire sera tenu ledit Breton faire /188v/ toutes les desmolissions et retablissemens qu’il conviendra pour ce faire, desquelles desmolitions il remettera an ouevre tout ce qui poura servir ausdits ouvrages, et le reste it sera tenu serrer et mettre en tas en la court dudit cha(stea)u au proffit du Roy, et fournir et livrer ledit le Breton les autres matières de pierre de taille de grez et liasis et autres matières qu’il conviendra pour iceux ouvrages, outre ce qui restera desdites desmolitons, tant chaulx, sables, eschaffaux, engins, peines d’ouvriers et d’aydes, at autres choses à ce nécessaires touchant le fait de maçonnerie et rendre place nette, le tout bien et deuement suivant ledit devis devant transcrit et au dit d’ouvriers et gens à ce connoissans, moyennant et parmy le pris et somme de 1,800 liv. qui pour ce faire luy en sera baillée et payée par le commis au payement desdits bastimens et édiffices de Fontainebleau, au feur et ainsy qu’il aura besongné et fait besongner ausdits ouvrages esquels il sera tenu besongner et faire besonger en la plus grande diligence et avec le plus grand nombre d’ouvriers qua faire se poura, promettant et obligeant comme pour les propres besongnes et affaires du Roy, renonçant, fait et passé multiples le jeudy 10e de mars 1540.  Signé: Drouin et Goussart.

1548-1550 (uncorrected from Laborde):

De l’ordonnance de noble personne, maistre Philbert de Lorme, abbé d’Ivry, de Saint Barthelemy de Noyon et de Geveton, conseiller, ausmonier ordinaire du Roy, architecte dudit Seigneur, commissaire ordonné et député sur le fait de ses bastimens et édiffices de Fontainebleau, nous, Charles Baillard, maistre maçon de Monseigneur le Connestable, Guillaume Chalou, Jean Chaponnet, maistres maçons à Paris, et Jean François, aussy maçon, demeurant à Meleun, après serment par nous fait par devant ledit commissaire avons en sa présence et en la présence de maistre Pierre Deshostels, notaire et secrétaire du Roy, et par luy commis au contrerolle de sesdits bastimens et édiffices, veu visité les ouvrages de maçonnerie et taille de l’édiffice fait de neuf audit Fontainebleau, auquel il y a deux chappelles, l’une basse et l’autre haulte, et aussy le grand escallier fait de neuf audit chasteau par maistre Gilles le Breton, maistre des oeuvres de maçonnerie du Roy, assavoir si ledit édiffice desdites deux chappelles et ledit grand escalier ont esté et sont bien et deuement faits et parfaits ainsy que ledit Breton est tenu et obligé faire par deux devis et marchez de ce faits.

It was only with the excavation of 1938 and Bray’s article of 1940 that the full meaning of the references in the documents was made clear.  The so-called Portico of Serlio, in its original placement as seen in Du Cerceau’s drawing of the château in the British Museum (Fig.Du Cerceau BM Drawing and Fig.Du Cerceau BM Drawing, Cour Ovale), and in his print of the same view of 1579 (Fig.Du Cerceau BM Print and Fig.Du Cerceau BM Print, Cour Ovale), was built both as the background for, as well as the culminating element of, an exterior staircase of two ramps and a bridge that preceded and led to it.  From the evidence of the foundations of the staircase under the pavement of the Cour Ovale, Bray was able to reconstruct the destroyed staircase and its relationship to the portico as they were situated within the original wide angle on the north side of the courtyard as it turned slightly toward the southwest (Fig.Bray Elevation).  At ground level under the arch that supported the platform that joined the two ramps was a rectangular basin filled with water brought by a conduit from the king’s garden.4  The actual appearance of the architecture of the ramps, arch, platform, and bridge Bray conjectured from that of the surviving portico, and except for the balusters, the medallions on the front faces of the ramps, and the interior of the area containing the pool, his reconstruction appears sound and convincing.5  When, on 10 March 1541, Le Breton was assigned to make changes to this project, these, it can now be determined, were the demolition of the ramps, supporting arches, platform, and bridge, the filling in of the gap in the portico left by the removal of the bridge and its arches, and the minimal finishing off without pilasters, bases, and capitals of the new front surfaces of the central area of the portico.  A new interior staircase was built to which the portico now became the entrance and frontispiece.  Under Henry IV, at the very beginning of the seventeenth century, the alignment of the portico was shifted in accord with the straightening out (and prolongment) of the north side of the Cour Ovale.6  In this place it first appears in Francini’s engraved view of Fontainebleau of 1614 (Fig.Francini; Fig.Francini detail).7  At the end of the nineteenth century the portico was rebuilt and the original capitals were replaced.8

Bray, as well as Blunt and Chastel, related the form of this staircase with its “double flight leading to a single flight bridging an arch to the first floor of the building” to a late French medieval tradition, and specifically to the staircases at Montargis and in the Palais de Justice in Paris.9  But Chastel pointed to two major innovations: the forward element takes on a stricter geometrical form, and second, in its composition as an arch of triumph on two levels, it is a structure “à l’antique” that is totally new in France and seems to have no equivalent in Italy.  He pointed out that the novelty of the portico alone was already recognized by Gebelin in 1927, who questioned Le Breton’s invention of it but stated that it could not be by Serlio, who first arrived in France a decade after its construction.10  Chastel suggested that with the elimination of Le Breton, whose architecture the staircase does not resemble, and Serlio, it is very possible that the architect of this project was Rosso, who had arrived in France in 1530.

In support of this attribution, Chastel compared part of Bray’s reconstruction with the arch preceded by a staircase in the background of Rosso’s Unity of the State, in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, VI S, staircase), and in the matching tapestry (Fig.P.22, VI S,Tapestry, staircase), where he found a similar “fort entablement, sèchement découpé.”  He also referred to the arrangement of a staircase and an arch in Rosso’s Allegory of Deceit at the right of the Loss of Perpetual Youth in the gallery (Fig.P.22, II S f).11  However, the similarities that can be found between the architecture in these paintings by Rosso and the architecture of the staircase and portico at Fontainebleau are far too few and too general to support alone an attribution of this project to the Italian artist.  But Chastel also brought to bear upon his argument several comments by Vasari on Rosso’s activity as an architect.  Vasari stated (1568, II, 209; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 165) that Rosso “fece molti disegni in Arezzo e fuori, per pitture, e fabriche” and he mentioned one of a chapel for the Fraternita in Arezzo (L.33).  Very early in his account of Rosso’s career in France, Vasari said (1568, II, 210; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 167) that the king “lo fece capo generale sopra tutte le fabriche, pitture, ed altri ornamenti” at Fontainebleau, and then later (1568, II, 211; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 170) mentioned all the decorations that he made for Charles V’s visit to Fontainebleau, singling out the arches of triumph (see L.47).  Chastel also recalled that in October and November 1531 Rosso was paid for the “model d’une sépulture” (L.37).  He might also have quoted the passage early in the “Life” of Rosso (1568, II, 205; Vasari-Milanesi, V, 156) where Vasari said that “Nell’Architetture fu eccellentissimo, e straordinario,” and have mentioned the triumphal arch that Rosso designed for the entry of Leo X into Florence in 1515 (L.12).  It is this information about Rosso’s activity as an architect, together with the incompatibility of the style of the staircase and portico with what is known of Le Breton’s architecture, that make it very likely that this project for the Cour Ovale, commissioned in August 1531, was designed by Rosso.

This suggestion has, however, to be reconciled with the indication in the documents that the project was in fact commissioned to Le Breton.  Le Breton, referred to in 1528 as “maçon, tailleur de pierre,”12 was, in 1541, the “maistre maçon des batimens du Roy à Fontainebleau.”  From the very beginning of work on the enlargement of the château in 1528, Le Breton seems to have been responsible for all construction there.  It is also generally thought that he was the architect and designer of the additions to the château specified at that time and later.  But his style, represented by the Port Dorée commissioned in 1528, cannot be specifically identified with that of the portico and staircase in the Cour Ovale.  In spite of its imposing size and the dramatic effectiveness of its three open bays rising in the middle, the general planarity and asymmetry of the design of the Porte Dorée are very unlike the symmetrical and very plastic portico and staircase commissioned three years later.  Nor are they related to any other work attributed to Le Breton.13  It has to be concluded that someone else designed them.  The attribution to Rosso is a very reasonable one, not merely because no one else can at the moment be suggested, but because he was, if Vasari is to be believed, head of all building at Fontainebleau, and, in this capacity, the superior to Le Breton.  But as Rosso had never, so far as we know, supervised any real construction in stone, he would have needed Le Breton, “maçon, tailleur de pierre,” to get the portico and staircase actually built.14

Given the probability based on circumstantial evidence that Rosso, in 1531, designed this portico and staircase at Fontainebleau, it is possible, in addition to the two comparisons that Chastel made, to relate their style to that of the architecture of three of his drawings.  In his Annunciation of 1531 or 1532 in the Albertina (Fig.D.43a; but known more completely from an engraving after it, Fig.E.133), the architectural setting is very plastically conceived, both through the definition of its unfluted columns – like those of the staircase and portico – raised on high bases, and by the complex spatial arrangement of them.15  Rosso’s Narcissus of the same date (Fig.D.44) has also richly plastic architecture with an unfluted column on a high base set in the foreground, and in the background unfluted pilasters with richly carved figured capitals – similar to those of the staircase and portico – carrying an entablature with a balustrade above it, and at the side an arch, this whole arrangement with a curved ruined wall of arches and oculi behind it.  Of a slightly earlier date is Rosso’s Design for an Altar of 1529, in the British Museum (Fig.D.38a), which also has unfluted columns and pilasters and a bold two-level composition of various projecting and receding parts “à l’antique.”  This architecture in Rosso’s drawings is entirely unlike Le Breton’s and differs from it quite as the architecture of the staircase and portico at Fontainebleau differs from that of the Port Dorée.  Again, this visual evidence is not all that one would wish it to be in support of the attribution of the portico and staircase to Rosso.16  But it should be borne in mind that the portico and staircase are built architecture while that of the drawings, and of the paintings mentioned by Chastel, serves as settings in pictures or, in the case of the structurally somewhat unconvincing Design for an Altar, as the frame and setting originally of a venerated statue.  The project at Fontainebleau was real architecture in the sense that it had to be substantial and had to create spaces that could be actually occupied and actively used.  For these reasons it would need to be and look different from the architecture of the drawings and the paintings.

Although it seems very likely that Rosso designed the portico and staircase in the Cour Ovale, it may be necessary to recognize that his conception of this project owed something to Le Breton.  As pointed out by Bray, Blunt, and Chastel, the form of the staircase proper had its origins in medieval French architecture and its use at Fontainebleau could well have been due to Le Breton.  Furthermore, the composition of the project as a scheme extending from the ground to the roof, including the double dormer rather than the single dormer used everywhere else in the courtyard, could just possibly be at the insistence of Le Breton or inspired by the design of the Porte Dorée.17  The translation of these premises into the geometry and antique manner of what was built would be due to Rosso.  Already in Arezzo in 1529 he had begun to design architecture in this manner dependent upon what he had learned in Florence and Rome and also very possibly from what he had learned from Vitruvius, a copy of whose book on architecture he owned before he left for France (see DOC.13).  It might be recalled here that Rosso, probably just about the same time as the project of the staircase and portico, seems to have had a hand in the modification of the original plans associated with Le Breton for the architecture of the Gallery of Francis I (A.1 and P.22 and text).

Chastel suggested that the making of this grand staircase with its portico may be related to a monumental scheme by Rosso that included the chapel, also commissioned from Le Breton on 5 August 1531, on the other side of the Cour Ovale, the exterior of the apse of which on two levels (but not visible in the courtyard) repeats the architectural motifs of the portico, including its capitals (A.4),18 and the building containing a gallery – the Small Gallery (L.41) – that linked the chapel to the Porte Dorée.  Ten years later this “puissante composition” was already modified by the demolition of the staircase (and possibly, one might add, by the destruction of the Small Gallery and its replacement by the larger Salle du Bal).  Chastel thought that this took place before Rosso died, and the “rechangement du grand escallier” was due to the wish to clear the courtyard in order to provide better conditions for the visit of Charles V, which Vasari thought took place in 1540.

Charles V actually visited Fontainebleau during the last week of December 1539 (see L.48).  Rosso died on 14 November 1540.  The document charging Gilles Le Breton with the “rechangement du grand escallier” is dated 10 March 1540, but because Easter fell on 17 April in 1541 this date must be, modern style, 10 March 1541, as indicated by Gebelin, 1927, 102, n. 16.  The reasons for the demolition of the staircase and the person who ordered it are unknown.  It is possible that the removal of the staircase was part of a plan to give greater unity to the disparate elements that formed the perimeter of the Cour Ovale.  In Du Cerceau’s plans and views of this courtyard, a colonnade runs around all but one side of the Cour Ovale – the side with the entrance to the chapel and the north wall of the Salle du Bal – and the portico appears as a focal point of the unity achieved by the continuous effect of these columns, which can still be appreciated.  The arrangement without the staircase clarifies the space of the courtyard and gives the Cour Ovale an almost classic appearance. Bray thought this colonnade was added at the time of the “rechangement” of the staircase and portico, and this seems likely.19  According to the document of 1541, Le Breton was to make necessary demolition and changes to the project of 1531, but there is no way of being sure that this was at his instigation.  If the colonnade was part of the scheme of alteration involving the staircase, then it may be difficult to recognize Le Breton as the inventor of this plan.  In March of 1541 Primaticcio was still away from France so the plan could not have been his.  However, just around this time Serlio is known to have arrived and been appointed architect in charge of building operations at Fontainebleau.20  It is just possible that, as earlier Le Breton had to work under Rosso, in 1541 he was subordinated to Serlio.  Simple as the project of the removal of the staircase and the addition of the colonnade to the courtyard was, it gave the Cour Ovale the modern aspect that Francis I wanted for his château and it did this more systematically than Rosso’s staircase and portico could do by their imposing effect alone.  The new arrangement seems to be the kind that Serlio might well have handled upon arriving at his new position.  But it should be added that between 1548 and 1550, after the death of Francis I and after the dismissal of Serlio, the staircase and the chapel (actually two superimposed chapels) were inspected on the order of Serlio’s successor, Philibert DeLorme, and at that time they were still referred to as by “Maitre Gilles Lebreton, maitre des oeuvres de maçonnerie du Roy” (see Document above).  But Le Breton had not achieved the professional rank of architect as Serlio and DeLorme had.  He was still a mason.  It was in this capacity that he would have served under Rosso when, it seems, the latter designed the staircase and portico for the Cour Ovale.21

As to the date of the original project, it might be assumed that, commissioned on 5 August 1531, it was designed shortly thereafter and actually built within a twelve-month period or so.  By the end of 1532 it may well have been completed, just a short while before Rosso became most seriously involved in the decoration of the Gallery of Francis I.  On the Small Gallery and the chapels to which the staircase and portico may be related, see P.22 and A.4.


1 Photographs of Bray’s excavation and his excavation drawing appear in Bray, 1940, 191, 195, and in Chastel, 1967, Figs. 2-4 (1978, I, 455-460, Figs. 187-189); see also Bray, n.d. [1956], 4-5, 8, Fig., 9, Fig.; Blunt, 1973, 56, 57, Fig. 33, 408, n. 9, who thought it may have been partly inspired by Rosso; and Guillaume, 1985, 36, 37-38, Fig. 71, who thought the staircase was probably designed by Rosso.  Chastel’s attribution is mentioned in Knecht, 1994, 410.

2 This commission is known only second-hand from the brief reference to it in the document of 10 March 1541 (modern style, see Document below) concerned with alterations to be made to the staircase.  The significance of the documents related to this project had already been discussed by Dimier, 1900, 246-251, and mentioned by Blomfield, 1911, 51.  Herbet, 1937, 236, 292-296, believed the document of 1541 was not related to the Cour Ovale and that the portico was by Serlio, and designed in 1541-1543, but he wrote before Bray’s excavation of 1938.

3 Mentioned by Dimier, 1900, 248.  Partially transcribed in Laborde, Renaissance, I, 1850, 434-435, and fully in Chastel, 1967, 78-79, with a discussion of why the two documents of 1541 and 1548-1550 appear together.

4 See the Tour du Jardin (A.3) that Rosso may have designed about the same time and that overlooked the king’s garden.

5 The lions’ heads resting on the cornice above the central arch were copied by Bray from the portico where they could not originally have been (see also n. 15).  The double F motif of the large medallions he copied from the pediment of the windows above the portico, although it cannot be known that the fronts of the ramps had decoration.  The reconstruction of the space under the platform is not quite understandable from Bray’s excavation drawing.  But neither is, for that matter, the architecture of the central arch, which, nevertheless, must have corresponded to that of the portico.  It is possible that the full evidence of the excavation is not indicated in this drawing by him.  Unfortunately, Bray’s file on this project has not been found (see Chastel, 1967, 78, n. 35; 1978, I, 465, n. 35).  On the balusters of his reconstruction, see n. 16.  Pressouyre, 1974, 32-33, believed that it was difficult to know the original appearance of the stairway from the excavations and “soundings” of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Nevertheless, it seems to me, as it did to Chastel, that Bray’s reconstruction is plausible.  Blunt also accepted it (see below).

6 Bray, 1940, 193-194.

7 Chastel, 1967, 80 (1978, I, 467).

8 Bray, 1940, 200; Dimier, 1925, 13-14.  Chastel, 1967, 80 (1978, I, 468), pointed out that the capitals were replaced at this time and that their original appearance can be found in the illustrations of the portico in Pfnor and Champollion-Figeac, 1863, I, 8, and Pls. V-VII; Chastel’s Fig. 7 (1978, I, 469, Fig. 191) of Pl. V is too unclear to make out the design of the capitals.  Palustre, I, 1879, 194-198, 195, Fig.  Pfnor, 1889, 123, Fig. of one capital.  Gebelin, 1927, Pl. XXXV, Fig. 56, from the Archives photographiques, appears to be of the portico before its reconstruction.  The history of the portico and staircase is also discussed by Pressouyre, 1974, 32-36.  It is possible that the new alignment took place around the same time that the north wall of the Salle du Bal was extended across the façade of the chapels beginning at the end of 1603 (Pressouyre, 1974, 37).  Pressouyre stated that the rebuilding by Boitte took place in 1882, as did Herbet, 1937, 292, 295; Chastel gave 1894.  The interior staircase had been removed in 1748, according to Pressouyre, in 1767, according to Chastel.  Babelon, 1989, 201, Figs., 203, 206, mentioned the remodeling of 1541, and its reconstruction under Henry IV that he thought might have been done by Serlio in 1545.  He said this reconstruction was destroyed in 1748 and replaced in 1882 with the present flat portico.

9 Blunt, 1953, 31 (whom I quote), also related the staircase to the one at Bury, with which Chastel, 1967, 75, n. 16, was not inclined to agree.  However, Blunt, 1973, 56, 408, n. 9, found persuasive Chastel’s theory that the staircase and portico were designed by Rosso.

10 But Gebelin, 1927, 98, did not actually deny Le Breton’s authorship, even as he saw the extraordinary change in his style here.

11 Chastel, 1967, 77 (1978, I, 463), referred to “une gravure postérieure” of this scene, probably meaning the copy of a lost drawing by Rosso in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (Fig.D.56).

12 This is his title in the specifications of 1528 for the work to be done at Fontainebleau (see P.22).

13 On Le Breton, see Blunt, 1973, 54-57.

14 Pressouyre, 1974, 34, and n. 46, believed that “Le Breton fut surtout un exécutant…” but while she mentioned Chastel’s article of 1967, she did not discuss his attribution of the portico and stairway to Rosso.

15 It should be noted that the base of the front column in this Annunciation is decorated with a lion’s head and that lions’ heads appear on the portico at Fontainebleau, although in a location they could not originally have had.  Bray placed them above the central arch of the staircase.

16 The balusters that Bray invented for his reconstruction do not correspond to any architectural detail in Rosso’s works.  It might be more appropriate to substitute the round shaped balusters that appear at the top of Rosso’s Design for an Altar of 1529 and in the background of his Narcissus.

17 The double dormer, which can be seen in Du Cerceau’s views, has basically the same design as the single dormer to the left with pilasters and the double F in the pediment.  These windows and the ones at the right of the same design (like those of the later extension at the right, the first two of which may be re-used original dormers from the former block that was set at a different angle) are probably by Le Breton.  On the site of the portico there had been, according to Bray, a spiral staircase in a round turret (see its placement in Bray’s excavation drawing, Chastel, 1967, Fig. 2 [1978, I, 459, Fig. 188 (Fig.Bray Ground Plan)]; there were two other round staircase turrets in two other corners of the Cour Ovale; see Du Cerceau’s view from the south, Fig.Du Cerceau BM Print, Cour Ovale; see also Pressouyre, 1974, 30).  This staircase and turret probably rose into the area of the double dormer, which would have been built only after the demolition of the turret.  All the other dormers in this courtyard are single and consequently the double dormer, which is also higher than the single ones, makes a special climactic effect.  As its very existence seems to be dependent upon the removal of the spiral staircase, its special appearance must have been related to whatever would replace the turret and staircase on the first and ground floors.  This could only have been another entranceway that, one might assume, Le Breton planned in some kind of correspondence to that double dormer.  There had to be a staircase planned for this location, which would probably have been an external one if only because the one enclosed in a turret was destroyed and the staircase that was built was outside, and it could also have been a double flight with a bridge like the one that was constructed.  This would have led to an entranceway on the first floor.  The composition of this ensemble could have been quite simple compared to what was actually built, but it would, nevertheless, also have formed a special focal point in the Cour Ovale.  When the staircase and portico “à l’antique” were built, the planned double dormer was maintained because its style matched that of the single dormers.  But given its size and placement it was still seen, and can still be seen, as bearing some relationship to the portico and staircase of a different style beneath it.

Blunt, 1973, 56-57, said of Bray’s reconstruction that the “middle arch has exactly the form which we see on the outer side of the Porte Dorée, and the mouldings and capitals are similar.”  The central arches of the portico are slightly flattened and Bray repeated this form in the central arch of the stairway.  The bottom arch of the Porte Dorée is only very slightly flattened and this is barely perceptible compared to the very visible flattening of arches of the portico in the Cour Ovale.  (Only in Pfnor’s drawing of the Porte Dorée does the lower arch really look flat; see Pfnor and Champollion-Figeac, 1863, I, Pl. XV; and Chastel, 1967, Fig. 9 [1978, I, 469, Fig. 191]).

18 Pressouyre, 1974, 32, n. 37, thought that two plans of the eighteenth century, Morgan Library, New York, 1956.31, and Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Est. Va 340 (Chastel, 1967, Fig. 10), show engaged columns at the ground level of the portico.  But in the Morgan plan I see piers with an indication of bases.

19 Although this colonnade or peristyle is not mentioned in the specifications of 1528, Dimier, 1900, 250, thought that it was built at the time that the Porte Dorée was constructed.  Gebelin, 1927, 98, considered it an early work of Le Breton.  But it first appears in the documents between 1540 and 1550 in regard to a payment to a painter who had “étoffé à huile” the railings of the terrace (Laborde, I, 1877, 190; Dimier, 1898, 93; Gebelin, 1927, 102, n. 13; Bray, 1940, 201; Pressouyre, 1974, 30-31).  However, Dimier, 1900, 250, pointed out that the specifications of 1528 (Laborde, I, 1877, 38-39; Dimier, 1900, 246-247) indicate that “un perron en forme d’une terrasse” was to be built to cover an awkward triangle of space at the west end of the courtyard just to the right of where the portico and staircase would be built.  In the sixteenth century, according to Dimier, “perron” meant a “massif de pierre” and not a kind of staircase as it does today. For Dimier, the “perron” in the form of a terrace was part of the extensive colonnade that surrounds much of the Cour Ovale.  But there is no certainty that this was the case.  It could have been a terrace that was demolished when the full colonnade was built, or if a colonnade, an isolated one in the courtyard that was extended in 1541 or shortly thereafter.  But as it now exists, after some rebuilding, it is true, it looks as though the colonnade was built after the portico which it abuts on two sides, for one would expect that the sides of the portico would have been designed somewhat differently if the portico was built in relationship to an already existing colonnade supporting a terrace carried by beams rather than arches.

20 See Adhémar, 1954, 316; and Blunt, 1973, 73.  The earliest mention of Serlio in France is found in letters of 27 December 1541 (Laborde, I, 1877, 172; and Gebelin, 1927, 103, n. 17) that granted him a pension of 400 livres in regard to “peintre et architecture ordinaire du roi au fait de ses dits édifices et bâtiments à Fontainebleau.”  But this does not necessarily mean that he was not there somewhat earlier.  Blunt stated that Serlio’s “position in relation to the royal palaces is not altogether clear, but he seems to have acted primarily in an advisory capacity, and none of the executed buildings can be attributed to him.”  Dimier, 1900, 148-149, said that Serlio is the author of nothing at Fontainebleau, although earlier authors thought the Cour Ovale was by him.  Hence, for several reasons, the re-introduction of this attribution has to be made with much reservation.  Recalling DeLorme’s later criticisms of the construction of various parts of the château under Le Breton’s direction (see Dimier, 1900, 147-148), one might wonder if the staircase was ordered demolished because it was badly built and was about to collapse.  If so, this could have prompted a reconsideration of the appearance of the whole Cour Ovale and the decision not to rebuild the external staircase and to add the colonnade.  Serlio could have advised this without actually having designed the colonnade.  Gebelin, 1927, 98, attributed the colonnade to Le Breton.  See also Medea, 1932, 72-73, who accepted the attribution to Le Breton and believed that the Cour Ovale was probably built between 1528 and 1534.

21 Béguin, “Maître Roux,” 1972, 102, suggested her acceptance of Chastel’s attribution.  Vanaise, 1973, 176, n. 53, did not accept it because it does not fit his chronology of events at Fontainebleau, but he did not argue his case.  Orazi, 1982, 133-141, Figs. 219-231, thought the stairway of 1531 was strictly functional, implying no architectural character, and that the staircase of 1540 [sic] was a totally new project by Vignola, who wished to create a new Roman Capitoline in the modest space of the Cour Ovale.  For Orazi, the destruction and rebuilding in a changed form took place in 1548-1550.  Prinz and Kecks, 1985, 287-289, Fig. 323, 356, n. 20, 426, did not discuss the attribution of the original staircase to Rosso, but brought up Serlio’s name in relation to its rebuilding in 1541.  It still seems to me that Chastel gives the clearest and most acceptable interpretation of the facts and that his attribution to Rosso is more likely than those to Serlio and Vignola.