I first became interested in buildings with domes when we toured Italy in 2009 and saw such magnificent churches as the Duomo of Florence and St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. We also got to visit the first great domed building of western Europe: Rome’s Pantheon and learned how Filippo Brunelleschi and Michelangelo studied this edifice before going off and designing their own domes.
Then we traveled to England in 2013 and examined St Paul’s cathedral and researched how Sir Christopher Wren visited Paris in 1665 and was inspired by the domes he saw there. My first two postings on the Domes of Paris covered the two buildngs that most inspired Wren: The Chapel of the Sorbonne in Part One, and the Eglise du Val-de-Grace in Part Two. Part Three in my series featured the dome of the Institute of France across from the Louvre. Today’s posting will be about the Dome of Les Invalides. These last two buildings were designed around the same time Wren was building his St Paul’s Cathedral back in London.
Francois Mansart was one of the greatest French architects of the first half of the 17th century. Anne of Austria hired him to build Val de Grace but fired him after he constantly changed his mind and knocked down walls to start over again, causing tremendous budget overruns. This behavior soon became a habit and Mansart’s reputation suffered by mid-century. One of his biggest projects in his old age was when he was commissioned by Colbert in 1665 to build a mausoleum for the Kings of Bourbon next door to Saint-Denis. But the project never got off the ground and he died a year later in 1666. His grandnephew Jules Hardouin inherited all of his papers including his drawings of the Bourbon mausoleum. Hardouin studied under his granduncle and was so grateful to him that he changed his own name to Mansart.
Jules Hardouin Mansart was one of the greatest French architects of the second half of the 17th century. He was a favorite of Louis XIV and the king appointed him Royal Architect in 1685 and Superintendent of Royal Buildings in 1699. Mansart supervised construction of the king’s grand palace at Versailles and personally designed the new Hall of Mirrors, the Grand Trianon, and the Orangerie, as well as the new north and south wings of the palace. He also was involved in some of the many restoration projects of the Louvre. But his greatest achievement was the Dome of Les Invalides.
In 1670 Libéral Bruant began designing the complex of buildings that would include a hospital and retirement home for old soldiers and would be soon known as Les Invalides (The full name is L’Hôtel national des Invalides — The National Residence of the Invalids). By 1676 he was not able to complete the last project on his own: the building of the chapel of St Louis and so Jules Hardouin Mansart was hired to assist him and the church was completed by 1679. Then King Louis XIV asked Mansart to build another chapel with a dome that would be reserved for royalty while the first chapel would be for the soldiers. Work began on the chapel in 1679 and was completed in 1691. The painting inside the dome by Charles de La Fosse was completed by 1705. Mansart died in 1708 but improvements were made by others throughout the early years of the 18th century. Then in the middle of the 19th century King Louis-Philippe decided that Napoleon I should be interred under the dome. So the church turned into a military version of the Pantheon. Louis Visconti was hired in 1840 to modify the construction to make room for Napoleon’s Tomb. Napoleon was interred there in 1861.
And so Jules Hardouin Mansart built his dome. Officially, his design is based on Michelangelo’s dome at St Peter’s in Rome. Unofficially, his design is based on his granduncle’s drawings of the proposed Bourbon mausoleum at St Denis. The dome is considered one of the most grandiose examples of Baroque architecture.