Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guard Pavilions

One of the most distinctive elements of the French château are the paired guard pavilions (guérites) that flank the entry to the forecourt and that announce and distill the estate's architectural style. We have become quite fond of these small architectural jewels and have been searching for and painting a number of them in the past few years.

Until well into the 18th century, the rectangular block created by the château and its forecourt, and occasionally the garden parterre also, was often delimited by a wet or dry moat—an esthetic holdover from the middle ages when châteaux were actually châteaux forts, or fortified castles. Even after moats fell out of fashion, the forecourt was still enclosed by high stone walls or ironwork grilles that abutted the guérites for privacy and security.

Even Louis XV's Petit Trianon, safely ensconced in the Great Park of Versailles, held to these traditions, though its architect Gabriel reduced the guard pavilions to dollhouse-like miniatures barely large enough for a sentry to stand in. Others, such as those built at Chanteloup for the king's disgraced First Minister, the duc de Choiseul, are small cubic pavilions set far from the château itself. (Below, top: Petit Trianon, bottom: Chanteloup)

At Blérancourt and Chantilly, both dating from the 17th century and sharing the same distinctive slate roofs, the pavilions border moats, dry and wet respectively. Quite clearly, guérites also lead charmed lives, as many of them—including those at Chanteloup and Blérancourt pictured here—survived the destruction and parceling of their estates after the French Revolution.
(Below, top: Blérancourt, bottom: Chantilly, shown also in the lead photograph)

A personal favorite are the rococco guérites at Champlâtreux, with their overscaled oculus windows set in gracefully sweeping mansard roofs.

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