L.40 Garden Gate


Château, Fontainebleau.

In the small painting of the château at Fontainebleau under the Venus and Minerva fresco in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, I N g) there appears in front of the Porte Dorée and at the right of its large central arch at ground level a white garden gate with a large rounded pediment.  It can be seen on Du Cerceau’s plans (Fig.Du Cerceau Engraving Plan) and in his views from the south, the drawing (Fig.Du Cerceau BM Drawing) and the print (Fig.Du Cerceau Print View; Fig.Du Cerceau Print View, Gate), although it is located more correctly in the better perspective of the drawing.1

From the plans it would seem to have been about five meters wide and to have been set slightly more than five meters from the Porte Dorée.  It was as high as the ground floor of that entrance pavilion.  From the view in the gallery it would have been set within the garden wall on the east side of the causeway.  It was immediately to the right of a passageway supported on two arches and surmounted by crenellations that crossed the causeway.2  The plans show that the garden gate had a stairway behind that descended to the lower level of the large garden that could be seen from the windows of the Small Gallery (later the Salle de Bal).

The garden gate had the form of a triumphal arch with a large arched gateway flanked by pilasters on the inner sides of the arch up to the level of the springing of this arch.  This central area was larger than the side sections where four giant pilasters supported an entablature and cornice.  Between each pair of pilasters at the sides was an upright rectangular niche, its top at the level of the springing of the central arch, with a roundel above it.  The pediment was high, about a third of the height of the gate, and rose with long curves to a large central rounded area with a huge roundel.  In the painting this roundel could be filled with a relief on a blue ground, perhaps of glazed terracotta.  The pediment looks higher in the painting than in Du Cerceau’s view but this may be due to the different perspectives in them.  The gate was visible from the courtyard in front of the Gallery of Francis I (and eventually was on line with the barrel vaulted ground level passageway through the later built wing of the Salle de la Belle Cheminée).

As the garden gate appears in the view in the gallery, it would have been built by 1535 or early 1536 when this part of its decoration was probably done (see P.22).  The style of the gate resembles no architecture that can be attributed to Le Breton, for example the adjoining Porte Dorée planned in 1528 and actually bearing that date.  In discussing the Gallery of Ulysses, Guillaume, 1985, 26 and n. 22, pointed out that circular windows were not possible at Fontainebleau before the arrival of Rosso and Primaticcio, and he mentioned the round painted scenes heavily framed in stucco alongside the Loss of Perpetual Youth fresco in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, II S a), to which can be added the heavily framed stucco tondi at the sides of the Cleobis and Biton (Fig.P.22, V S a).  There were also small round windows over the doors on the south side of the Pavillon des Poêles (L.42) that may have been designed by Rosso around 1537-1538 (Fig.Du Cerceau Print View).  Guillaume’s comments would seem also to have to be true of the use of such a large roundel as appears in the garden gate, either filled with a painting or a relief.  There is no evidence that at this early date Primaticcio was involved with architecture.  As, according to Vasari, Rosso was head of all work at Fontainebleau, it seems likely that the garden gate was his invention.  He could have designed it shortly after he arrived in France and began to work at Fontainebleau.  In 1532 and 1533 he may have designed another garden structure, the Pavilion of Pomona (L.39).  The garden gate would seem to have been done by the time the small view was painted in the gallery, although it is possible that this view has details that still needed to be executed.  It was still in existence in 1579 when Du Cerceau’s plans and views were etched.


1 The drawing in the British Museum (Fig.Du Cerceau BM Drawing) matches Du Cerceau’s printed plans, but his printed view (Fig.Du Cerceau Print View) distorts the spaces around the Porte Dorée and the wing of the Salle de la Belle Cheminée.

2 In the view of the château in the Gallery of Francis I, this wall crossing the causeway is at the level of the north edge of the lake.  But this edge appears here considerably farther north than it does in Du Cerceau’s views and plans.  The right edge of the garden gate seems to have been set against the north side of this wall.  Although this wall does not appear in Du Cerceau’s plans and views, it can be seen from them that it would have been at the level of the north wall of the Pavillon des Poêles (L.42).  If the painted view is correct it would mean that the north edge of the lake was moved south sometime after the picture of the château was painted in 1535 or early 1536, which might have been shortly before the Pavillon des Poêles was built.  Dimier, 1900, showed the wall crossing the causeway in his plan of the château during the reign of Francis I (Fig.Dimier, Plan under Francis I), but he placed it at the level of the edge of the lake as it is seen in Du Cerceau’s plans and views, that is, in line with the south wall of the Galerie Basse of the Pavillon des Poêles.  While the lake in the small painting may be incorrectly shown, this cannot be assumed without other evidence as the rest of the scene seems very accurate.