Mansart and Guarini: The Concave Church Façade Illustrated

DeCotte_961v_detailMessina facade detail

Gallica has recently released a huge batch of newly digitized documents from the extraordinary collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and its partner institutions. Among the many treasures now available are a number of François Mansart’s architectural drawings, all dense with ideas and some of the most fascinating records ever made of an architect’s creative process.

These new releases allow me to redress an annoying omission in two of my previous publications on Guarino Guarini and Paris.* Both essays reported on the evidence for a lively exchange of architectural ideas between Guarini and French architects during his years in Paris from 1662-1666. The most convincing witness to Guarini’s effect on French architects is the comparison illustrated above: the façade of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, the church facing the east front of the Louvre on one of Mansart’s drawings for the royal palace prepared in 1664 while Guarini was in Paris (BNF, De Cotte 961v), juxtaposed with Guarini’s Theatine church façade in Messina of c. 1660. When my essays were published, external constraints (space, budget, and deadlines) prevented me from including an image of this telling detail to illustrate my arguments.

Thanks to the wonders of open-access digitization, I can now provide the missing illustration for both articles. Here, an excerpt from the 2006 article in the original English version:

“…François Mansart was the most important French architect for Guarini during these years in Paris. The open vault of Mansart’s stairway at Blois is often cited as an influence on Guarini, and Mansart’s designs for the Bourbon chapel at Saint-Denis explored the possibilities of a double-shelled cupola with open lower vault and hidden lighting effects, effects which Guarini had begun to experiment with at Sainte-Anne, and later developed fully in his design for San Gaetano in Vicenza. This dialogue between Guarini and Mansart seems to have been a two-way street, with Mansart borrowing from Guarini’s Santissima Annunziata in Messina of just a few years earlier in his Louvre designs, where he regularizes the skew façade of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois with a curved façade pivoted away from the axis of the church at one end, similar to that in Messina.”

– from my “La formazione di Guarini,” in G. Dardanello, S. Klaiber, H. A. Millon, eds., Guarino Guarini, Turin: Allemandi, 2006: 26.

DeCotte_961vMessina facadeFrançois Mansart, first project for the Louvre, 1664 (left) and Guarino Guarini, façade of Santissima Annunziata, Messina, c. 1660, from Architettura civile, 1737 (right)
Images: / Bibliothèque nationale de France (left and right)


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*“Guarini e Parigi: interscambi culturali e critici,” in Giuseppe Dardanello, editor, Sperimentare l’architettura (Turin: Fondazione CRT, 2001): 15-36; “La formazione di Guarini,” in G. Dardanello, S. Klaiber, H. A. Millon, eds., Guarino Guarini, Turin: Allemandi, 2006: 22-27. Both articles include additional bibliography and context for the interactions between Guarini and French architects.