L.44 Fresco and Stucco Decoration of The Galerie Basse


Pavillon des Poêles, Château, Fontainebleau.

When Dan, 1642, 131, described the Galerie Basse of the now destroyed Pavillon des Poêles, its central arches on the south side had already been fitted with windows, and hence he called it the Salle Basse:

“…il ne faute pas oublier de parler de la Salle basse qui est au dessous de la terrasse, par laquelle l’on entre en la grande Galerie [of Ulysses], puis qu’elle fait partie de ce Pavillon [des Poêles], & departement.  Elle ne sert plue maintenant que de passage pour entrer de la Cour de la Fontaine au Jardin des Pins.  L’on l’appelloit autrefois la Salle du Conseil, parce que c’estoit là où la Cour estant icy, l’on le tenoit pour les parties.  Ce qui reste de sa beauté fait bien paroistre qu’elle a esté en grande consideration, estant composée de vingt colomnes canelées avec leurs bases & chapiteaux; le tout qui porte les arcades, & cintres de ladite terrasse, laquelle est par parquets: ouvrages des mieux entendu qui se voyent point pour de la gresserie.  Là est un lambry avec les Chiffres & Devise de François I. Mais ce qui s’y voyait de plus remarquable, c’estoient plusieurs Tableaux à frais, les uns du sieur Rousse, & les autres du sieur de saint Martin [Primaticcio]; ensemble leurs bordures de stuc, & quelques figures de relief qui servoient d’ornemens, que les iniures du temps ont presque entierement ruinées.”1

There is no mention of the Galerie Basse in Vasari’s “Life” of Rosso.  Béguin suggested that it may well be the “lunga galleria” referred to in the “Life” of Primaticcio, and the “bassa galleria” that appears in the short account of the career of Nicolò dell’Abate.2  In the first (Vasari, 1568, III, 798-799; Vasari-Milanesi, VII, 408), Vasari writes: “In tanto essendo in Francia morto il Rosso, e per cio rimasta imperfetta una lunga Galleria, stata cominciata con suoi disegni, ed in grande parte ornata di stucchi e di pitture, fu richiamato da Roma il Primaticcio.”  Then, after telling of the casts of the ancients statues that Primaticcio made for Fontainebleau, Vasari continues: “Ciò fatto, fu commesso al Primaticcio, che desse fine alla Galleria, che il Rosso aveva lasciata imperfetta; onde, messovi mano, la diede in poco tempo finita con tanti stucchi, e pitture, quante in altro siano state fatte gia mai.”  Subsequently, after speaking of the execution by Nicolò dell’Abate of Primaticcio’s designs in the Salle de Bal, and in the Gallery of Ulysses by Nicolò and others, Vasari (Vasari, 1568, III, 800; Vasari-Milanesi, VII, 411) added: “si come è ancho la sala vecchia e una bassa Galleria, che è sopra lo stagno, la quale è bellissima, e meglio, e di piu bell’opere ornata, che tutto il rimanente di quel luogo. del quale troppo lunga cosa sarebbe voler pienamente ragionare.”

As Béguin pointed out, Vasari’s “lunga galleria” cannot be the Gallery of Francis I, not only because the documents clearly indicate that the latter was finished before Rosso died, but also because that gallery, in Vasari’s “Life” of Rosso, is referred to as “una galleria sopra la bassa corte.”3  Béguin thought that because the Galerie Basse was narrower (see below), Vasari’s use of the word “lunga” to describe it would be appropriate.  Furthermore, the Galerie Basse was the only gallery at Fontainebleau for which some evidence exists affirming Vasari’s report that its decoration was begun by Rosso and completed after his death by Primaticcio.  In fact, aside from the Gallery of Ulysses, the Galerie Basse was the only other gallery at Fontainebleau to which Primaticcio’s name can be attached.  Vasari’s later reference to a “bassa galleria” can be nothing other than the “Galerie Basse,” for only that gallery was situated above a lake.  Although Vasari’s passage might be interpreted to mean that Nicolò dell’Abate executed the frescoes in the Galerie Basse, this is not what Vasari actually said, for Vasari’s previous statement, contained within the same sentence, speaks of the execution of the vault of the Gallery of Ulysses “dai sopradetti, e altri pittori giovani, ma però con i disegni dell’Abate [Primaticcio, “Abate di San Martino”].  The “sopradetti e altri pittori” are artists referred to earlier, and not necessarily including Nicolò dell’Abate, who arrived at Fontainebleau in 1552, about a decade after the decoration of the Galerie Basse seems to have been completed (see below).

It does seem possible and likely that the incompletely decorated gallery discussed in Vasari’s “Life” of Rosso is the Galerie Basse, but it is not easy to accept the suggestion that this gallery, so richly architecturally articulated inside, could have been called a “lunga galleria,” no matter how narrow it was compared to the Gallery of Francis I.  I am inclined to think that the designation “lunga galleria” was wrongly applied here in confusion with another gallery that Rosso seems to have planned, and that Vasari had heard mentioned, the Long Gallery (L.46).  This, too, would have been begun by Rosso, and then long after his death transformed by Primaticcio into the Gallery of Ulysses.

The Galerie Basse was first identified and discussed by Dimier.4  It was set on the edge of the lake on the south side of the Pavillon des Poêles (Fig.Du Cerceau Print, Cour de la Fontaine; Fig.Du Cerceau Print, Gallery; Fig.Barberini Tapestry Cartoon reversed).  Its construction was begun around 1537 probably from Rosso’s designs (see L.42).  The long south front of the gallery was divided into five equal bays, separated by pilasters set on plinths, with the center three bays containing arches.  These were open except at the bottom where there was a low enclosing wall of the same height as the plinths.  The end bays had no arches and were walled, and each had a door surmounted by a small round window.

The interior of the Galerie Basse was about 19.3 meters long and about 4.8 wide; its height seems to have been approximately 6.5 meters.5  As the Du Cerceau and Morgan plans, along with Dan’s description, indicate, the gallery contained twenty fluted columns (Fig.Du Cerceau, Galerie Basse, Plan).  A pair was set before each pier of the south side and before each of an equal number of shallow piers across from them that were attached to the north wall.  There was also a column in each corner, those on the north side also set before attached piers, but narrower than the others.  The columns were probably as high as the piers to the level of the springing of the arches.  On the north wall the piers must have carried a blind arcade, probably the whole length of the wall.  Dan indicated that the columns carried an arcade and vaults.  One broad arch crossed from the south to the north side for each set of paired columns.  An arch half as wide spanned the ends of the gallery between the single columns in the corners.  The arches (somewhat flattened?) and spandrels, which supported a terrace above, carried a flat ceiling, and this arrangement allowed for the figures by Primaticcio that Dimier assigned to this room (see below).  There was a door in the center of the east and west walls the same size as those in the end bays of the south side.6

The figures of the goddesses Juno, Venus, and Minerva, and of the nine Muses by Primaticcio are known from his own drawings and from twelve etchings, in reverse, by Léon Davent (Master L.D.).7  Each figure is set within a spandrel in a semi-recumbent pose along the curve of an arch.  The shape of the spandrels with the broad area at the figures’ feet almost surely indicates that the figures were to be frescoed upon the spandrels above the crossing arches of the Galerie Basse and not above those of the arcades.  The crossing arches had twenty spandrels in the Galerie Basse.  One might assume that the designs of eight figures by Primaticcio are lost, except for the fact that the known images form what seems to be a complete set.  Iconographically, the nine Muses with the three goddesses who were judged by Paris make an understandable group.  Furthermore, there are designs for an equal number of right and left spandrels.  A logical disposition of these figures together would be on the twelve spandrels of the three center bays.

What has to be considered is where the other decoration in fresco and stucco would have been placed in this room.  There were the other eight spandrels of the crossing arches in the end bays.  Twenty smaller spandrels were above the arches on the north and south sides.  Then there were the two large lunettes at the east and west ends, the smaller five across the north wall, and the two of the same size in the outer bays of the south side.  There was a door in the center of the end walls and a door in the end bays of the south side with a round window above each just under the lunette.  The major expanses of wall were beneath the lunettes of the north wall, and beneath those of the end walls on either side of their doors.  Some wall area also existed at the sides of the doors at the south and around the oculi above them.  Decoration would have covered all of the available surfaces set above wood paneling by Francisque Scibec as in the Gallery of Francis I.  The specification for the oak woodwork in the agreement of 25 February 1542 calls for five sections of wainscoting between the columns of the north wall and two sections at the east and west ends.8  Each section was to have three sunken panels carved with the arms and devices of the kings and surrounded by moldings in the antique style, and between the panels of each section was to be placed a half column with base and capital.  The doorways were to have a design to match the other woodwork.  There was also to be paneling against the piers of the south side and against the reveals of the arches.  Each section of paneling was to have a seat with four legs in the form of balusters or of some other rich antique design, but the number of these seats is not given.  Nor is any mention made of the ceiling or the floor.  Because this gallery was open and at ground level it is possible that the floor was of stone.

Unfortunately, no source gives the subjects of Rosso’s decoration.  Primaticcio’s twelve figures indicate that the room probably would have had other mythological subjects and ones that according to some iconographical scheme would have borne a relationship to Juno, Minerva, Venus, and the nine Muses.  There is one late drawing by Rosso of a mythological subject that could just possibly have been made for the decorative program of the Galerie Basse.  The drawing of around 1539-1540 seems to represent Pandora Adorned by Aphrodite and the Hours (Fig.D.77).  If this scene was intended for the Galerie Basse, as a fresco or a stucco relief, it could have been one of a series illustrating the story of Pandora.  But it could also have been part of a program on some other larger theme.

As the decoration of this room was incomplete when Rosso died, the planning and execution of it must have occupied him in 1540.  But unlike the decoration of the Salle Haute of the Pavillon des Poêles, which seems entirely to have been designed by him, that of the Galerie Basse was not.  Part of it was designed by Primaticcio upon his return from Italy shortly after the end of October 1541.9  This seems to indicate that Rosso’s designs for the gallery were made after those for the Salle Haute.  The agreement with Scibec of February 1542 that mentions that the stuccoes and frescoes in the Salle Haute were completed makes no mention of the decoration of the Galerie Basse, although it is likely that some of them were done by this time. Rosso could have begun working on the designs for the decoration of the Galerie Basse in 1538 even as he was still working on those for the Salle Haute.  Then as the latter were being executed in stucco and fresco he would have continued making drawings for the Galerie Basse until his death in November 1540.  Some might even have been executed by his assistants in the gallery itself by that time.10


1 Reiset, 1859, 205, quotes part of this passage under his mention of the Salle Ancienne du Conseil.

2 Béguin, “Galerie,” RdA, 1972, 122, n. 55, 172, n. 127.

3 Dimier, 1900, 300-302, believed that the reference to an incomplete gallery was to the Gallery of Francis I, which was then completed by Primaticcio, although the only work by him in this room that Dimier could identify is the Danaë.  Kusenberg, 1931, 53-58, 199, n. 182, thought, on the basis of the information supplied by the documents, that the Gallery of Francis I was finished by the time of Rosso’s death, and hence that Vasari’s reference to work done later by Primaticcio could refer only to the Danaë or to some later restoration.  Barocchi, 1950, 170, also concluded that the Gallery of Francis I was completed before Rosso died but she did not comment upon just when Primaticcio executed his Danaë.  It should be noted that there is no reference in Vasari’s “Life” of Rosso that the Gallery of Francis I was not finished at the time of Rosso’s death.

4 Dimier, 1900, 51-52, 254, 305, 319, 431-432, 470, 489-490; see also Dimier, 1904, 89; Dimier, 1925, 26; Dimier, 1928, 8; Kusenberg, 1931, 104, 202, n. 250, 203, n. 251; Dimier, 1942, 23-24; Barocchi, 1950, 252; Claude Lauriol, in EdF, 1972, 480, and in Fontainebleau, 1973, II, 154; and Carroll, 1987, 31, 35, n. 94.

5 All of these views show the cabinet built at the east end of the terrace above the Galerie Basse.

6 When the Long Gallery, known as the Gallery of Ulysses, was built (see L.46), the door in the west wall would have led to the area under that gallery, and so it appears in Du Cerceau’s plans.  It is assumed here that this door existed before the construction of the Gallery of Ulysses to allow entrance from the Basse Cour as the east door provided an entrance from the Cour de la Fontaine.  The Morgan plan shows a small flight of semi-circular steps descending from the east door to the Cour de la Fontaine.

7 In addition to Dimier, see Barocchi, 1951, 211, 213, Pl. LXI, 253; Zerner, 1969, L.D. 25-36; Zerner, in EdF, 1972, 301, no. 376 and in Fontainebleau, 1973, I, 55, Fig. 21, II, 92, no. 376; Bacou, in EdF, 1972, 139, nos. 147, 148, with ills. on 138, and in Fontainebleau, 1973, I, 54, Fig. 20, II, 57, no. 147; Béguin, 1982, 36, 38, Figs. 18-19, 49-50, ns. 43-48; Scailliérez, 1992, 135, no. 59, with Fig.; and Béguin, 1992 (1987), 90, 93, Figs. 4-5.

8 Paris, National Archives, where it should be among the papers of J. Trouvé, XIX, 154-157.

February 25, 1542 (modern style).

(For the first part of this document referring to the Salle Haute, see L.43.)

Item de faire en la gallerie voultée de pierre de taille qui est entre led. pavillon et l’estang sept pans de lambruys de menuyserie, dont en sera mis les cinq entre les collonnes rondes de pierre de taille qui sont contre la muraille dudict pavillon, et les deux aultres seront mises aux deux boutz de lad. gallerie, dont chacun pan portera trois penneaulx enfoncez garniz de mousleures tout à l’entour enrichiz de taille antique avec les armoiries et devises du Roy, et entre chacun panneau faire ung pillier à demy rond enrichy de taille et aultre façon antique portant basse et chappiteau qui seront aussi enrichiz de mousleures et aultres ouvraiges faictz à l’anticque, et ce en faisant faire et ériger les huys des entrées de pariel et semblable lambruys que dessus, ensemble les lambruys contre les pilliers au pan de lad. gallerie du costé de l’estang et soubz les apuyes et revestements des jouées des arceaulx dud. pan d’icelle gallerie de lad. façon et ordonnance que dessus, ainsi qu’il appartient, et à l’endroit de chacus desd. pans faire et ériger ung siège de la longueur des pans qui aura de saillye et haulteur telle qu’il appartiendra, porté ert soustenu de quatre piedz tournez en façon de balustre ou de telle aultre façon et anticaille qu’il sera advisé pour le plus riche,… Fait passé double l’an mil Vc quarente et ung le samedy vingt cinquiesme jour de février.

J. Trouvé (Registre)

[Copied from Roy, 1929, 261, but not checked against the original document.]

9 On Primaticcio’s departure for Italy in February 1540 and his return to France, see Pressouyre, 1969, 224-225.

10 For the payment to Scibec for the finished woodwork, see L.43.  It is possible that payments to painters and others recorded in a document related to the decoration of the Salle Haute (L.43) may also refer to work in the Galerie Basse if it can be identified as the “pavillon estant au coing du clos dudit estang.”