FRENCH GARDENS OF THE RENAISSANCE
For nearly hundred years Renaissance gardens of Italy
dominated in France. France developed it’s own style of gardens
during early seventeenth century. The main difference between
Italian gardens and French gardens of the Renaissance is that
while the Italians built on the lower slopes of hills near cities, the
French built on an agricultural plain. There was more opportunity
for expansive designs, but less for using changes of level and
gushing water. They represent an adaptation of Italian
Renaissance ideals to a new terrain. The word most usually
associated with French gardens is grandeur. They were gardens
made by nobles, princes and kings to impress. They are primarily
ostentatious displays of wealth and power.
•Climate and landscape of Northern France played a role in determining the basic
characteristic of the French Gardens and also accounted for some difference between
the prototypical French and Italian Gardens.
•Northern France is comparatively flat and wooded, the gardens thus tended to appear
as clearing in a forest and gentle topography had to be treated to create distinct
differentiation of levels or terraces.
•Slow moving rivers and low lying marshland lent themselves to the development of
canals, moats and expanses of still water. The use of fountains and cascades is thus
less typical in French Gardens.
KEY FEATURES OF THE FRENCH STYLE:
PARTERRES: literally these are 'along-the-grounds' - huge and elaborate patterns demonstrating
human control, and displaying wealth, because they were expensive to create and maintain. They
are a development of herb garden and knot garden. The most elaborate were known as 'parterres
de broderie' - embroidered on-the-grounds. Parterres were usually not filled with plants, but with
coloured earths and dusts. Terraces were needed from which to view them.
CANALS AND LARGE POOLS: because the topography didn't allow the kinds of water theatre
enjoyed by the Italians, the French used large sheets of water, sometimes referred to as water
parterres. Actually they enjoyed fountains just as much as the Italians, but the topography did not
provide the head of water to run them. At Versailles there were fourteen hundred jets, but the
engineers could never get them to run properly.
AXES AND RIDES: The term allée refers to a walk bordered
by trees or clipped hedges. They formed the framework of the
French garden style, often extending out into the surrounding
countryside. Many of the great estates, including Versailles,
were developed out of hunting forests.
GOOSE – FOOT : a circular feature at the junction of
ORANGERY : Consisted of thouands of trees of orange and lime
17th C E N T U R Y FRENCH GARDENS
In the 17th century French gardens were constructed in a style that emphasized the control
and manipulation of nature. Garden architects attempted to create large gardens with many
sections, that overall possessed a geometrical design.
Vue perspective du chateau et
des jardins de Versailles, Pierre
Patel, 17th century
subordination of nature
that garden architects
used to construct gardens
in the 17th century. This is
an artist's view of
Versailles, as constructed
by Le Notre, a famous
The control of nature was apparent in three very popular aspects of
French gardens: aviaries, menageries and fountains.
The inclusion of these aspects in private gardens was a statement of
wealth, as well as an easy way to entertain guests.
In the garden of Tuileries, Marie de Medici kept an aviary near the
Here the bird's cages were covered with branches so that visitors could
be entertained by the bird concert while enjoying the illusion of being in a
Since zoos were not yet a formal institution in 17th century France,
many menageries contained wild and exotic animals.
In the 17th century Versailles contained a menagerie so large that it
included apartments and a salon in the middle where nobles could enjoy
the solitude of the countryside
This painting shows an example of the exorbitant fountains that were constructed
in the gardens of nobles during the 17th century.
Another very important aspect of French gardens was water.
The theory of the French garden was the formal subordination of nature to
reason and order with a simultaneous romantic awareness of nature's
freedom. Water was the perfect metaphor for this practice.
Architects could alter the flow of water and could manipulate it in the form
of fountains and pools, however, water always maintained a certain level of
freedom with the light and images it reflected.
These reflections also played into the idea of French gardens as a step out
of reality and into an almost dream-like atmosphere.
Water was also important because it was another display of wealth, as
pumping devices and construction of fountains were costly endeavors.
However, in the next century, the style of French gardens began to change
towards a freer, more natural view.
18th C E N T U R Y FRENCH GARDENS
In the 18th century England gave birth to a style of gardens that focused on the
rediscovery of nature. This type of garden gained popularity in France for its connection
to Rousseau's ideals of natural escapes within the city. In France, this style became
known as "le jardin paysager" or the landscape garden. (Van Zuylen, 81)
Jardins de la Reine, Richard Micque, 1783
This picture shows the plan for Petit Trianon during the 18th century. The plans obviously differ
from the previous geometrical trends, as seen in Versailles. Here the paths wind around numerous
Gardens such as the one seen below began the trend of gardens as an area for bourgeois
strolling. Although strolling would not become a institute of bourgeois life until the 19th
century, it is easy to see how "le jardins paysager" opened itself to this practice. The
long, winding pathways surrounded by gardens and acres of natural lands, seen in the
plan above, allowed visitors to escape into the peacefulness of the countryside
Le Jardin anglais de Caserte, Philip Hackert1 ,
Although this is a painting of an English
garden, it clearly shows the style known as
"jardin paysager" that became popular in
France around the 18th century.
By examining the two images below one can see how drastically garden styles changed
between the 17th and 18th centuries. All sense of geometry and organization is gone, and
is replaced with a very relaxed, natural setting.
Chateau Change en Manoir Chateau change en Manoir
Romantique (avant) Alexandre de Romantique (apres) Alexandre de
Laborde, 1808 Laborde, 1808
This drawing shows an artist's
interpretation of the a mansion during This drawing shows an artist’s
the 17th century. This clearly shows interpretation of the same mansion
the traditional geometric ridigity of the having undergone a makeover to suit
the freer style of the 18th century.
The beauty and simplicity of "le jardin paysager," coupled with gardens'
increasingly touted health benefits, founded the French garden as an
ideal place for bourgeois socializing.
The overall appeal of the French garden to the bourgeoisie was the goal
of a Rousseau-inspired escape to nature, while one remained in Paris.
In Nicholas Green's article he quotes Jules Simon as having reminisced
on how "in certain corners of the Luxembourg garden you could almost
believe yourself in the countryside.
There was nothing more delicious, after a wearying day, than to find
yourself hidden among these great trees, to forget Paris in the center of
Paris, to smell the invigorating scents of earth and vegetation."
The attempts to achieve this sense of escape from the city into the
countryside can be seen in the many aspects that constitute a French
19th C E N T U R Y STROLLING GARDENS : THE
GARDENS OF THE BOURGEOISIE
In the 19th century gardens had reached their peak in the daily life of the bourgeoisie.
All the aspects of the 17th and 18th century gardens had ultimately led to a garden of
the following structure: carefully laid out to provide visitors an interesting path on
which to walk, the appearance of free-formed nature and the addition of flowers.
Until the 19th century flowers were not the main focus of the garden. Flowering trees
and bushes would be present, but there was no emphasis on flowerbeds. This
provided the final touch needed to make strolling through a garden the ultimate
relaxation and enjoyment within a bourgeoisie's daily routine.
Parterres de fleurs
des jardins Wilton, E.
Adveno Brook, 1857
This painting shows a
standard 19th century
The idea of
until this time
Within these gardens the bourgeoisie practiced their social skills by
displaying their clothes and their etiquette.
They also took great pleasure in having the luxury to stroll in
gardens, for it was a sure sign of the wealth, and therefore lack of
responsibility, that separated them from the lower classes and
placed them near the level of aristocracy.
It is easy to see how the French strolling gardens became a prime
arena in which members of the bourgeoisie could continue their
struggle to attain aristocratic status.
In Paris, around the 19th century, gardens were constructed for public use in
an effort to create escapes in the countryside within Paris.
There were three distinct types of gardens; private gardens such as
•the Jardin des Versailles,
• public gardens of the bourgeoisie such as the Jardin du Luxembourg, and
•commercial gardens such as Tivoli and Beaujon.
French Gardens and the Bourgeoisie
The rise of the French garden as a bourgeois pastime came about slowly,
starting in the early-17th century and gaining popularity throughout the 19th
and 20th centuries.
The various styles and themes that dominated gardens in the 17th and 18th
centuries gave rise to the French garden as an ideal place for the
Bourgeoisie to stroll and socialize.
This picture shows the garden style
carried over from the 18th century
This can be seen in the forest-like
surroundings which give a very free-
form, natural feeling.
However, the statue in the
foreground and the greek, gazebo-
like structure in the background are
components of 17th century gardens.
Thus, through this painting, one can
see how 19th century french gardens
compiled many of its previous styles
into a garden perfect for bourgeois
In addition to the social benefits of gardens, doctors began to realize and
praise the health benefits of daily strolls in the fresh air.
Compared to the lives of the working classes who worked and lived in dirty,
cramped quarters, the freedom to spend an afternoon walking in a Parisian
garden was a decidedly bourgeois and aristocratic pastime.