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Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme

Retour The Hôtel de Saint-Aignan

The hôtel d'Avaux (1644-1650)

The pediment The pediment

The mansion was built from 1644 to 1650 for Claude de Mesmes, Count of Avaux, who aided Richelieu and Mazarin in the negotiation of the treaties of Westphalia (1648). It was designed by the architect Pierre le Muet (1591–1669), known for his treatise entitled Manière de bâtir pour toutes sortes de personnes (‘How to Build for All Kinds of People’) (1623) and the quality of his châteaux (Chavigny, Pont and Tanlay 1638–45).

The mansion was built on a large, irregularly-shaped plot formerly occupied by the townhouse Claude d’Avaux inherited in 1642. Le Muet demolished the old building and adopted the usual ground plan for large aristocratic mansions, with the residence itself set back from the street, at the rear of a large, slightly rectangular courtyard so that one has the impression it is square on entering. The single wing on the right housed the kitchen, servants’ room and dining room on the ground floor, and a large gallery above (like the Hôtel de Sully at the outset). An archway led through to a second, smaller courtyard, where the outhouses and stables had their own street entrance. To create a symmetrical effect, Le Muet decorated the blank wall of the adjoining property on the left (corresponding to the Philippe Auguste’s city wall) with pilasters and false windows imitating the right wing.

Paul de Beauvilliers, Duke of Saint-Aignan, who bought the mansion in 1688, divided the gallery into separate rooms, which were reached from the second courtyard by a partially suspended staircase. He used a small adjoining plot, acquired from a neighbour, to enlarge the right wing with rooms on the garden side. He had the garden redesigned by André Le Nôtre, who installed flowerbeds, a pond and latticework.

The facade The facade

After its confiscation in 1792, the mansion became the seat of the Seventh Municipality in 1795, then of the Seventh Arrondissement until 1823. It was subsequently divided up into commercial premises of all kinds, which were heightened and extended by their occupants. After the mansion’s acquisition by the City of Paris and its classification as a historic monument (1963), restoration work was carried out over the next twenty-five years with lengthy interruptions. Discounting the additions made in 1690 and several errors (skylights on the courtyard side, first-floor ceiling lower than the window arches), the restoration and partial rebuilding (roofs, staircase), completed in 1998, restored the mansion to its original state. It is one of the finest Parisian examples of the serenely classical style known as Atticism built during Anne of Austria’s regency.

The main staircase

The cupola The cupola

The Italian architect Vincenzo Scamozzi, travelling in France in the early 17th century, was surprised that one entered even the great mansions via a staircase. Around 1640, however, entry halls, until then rare, became increasingly frequent, and at the Hôtel de Sully, like the Château de Maisons, an entrance hall in the antique style, with niches and pilasters, was created in front of the staircase.

Although the hall survived the 19th-century alterations intact, the staircase was demolished completely. The only traces were the hollows left in the walls by the steps and landing vaults, and fragments of the balustrades and string-board. These elements and Le Muet’s original plans were enough to reconstruct it.

Le Muet’s design was a variation on the new type of staircase invented by François Mansart: spectacular but unfinished at Blois, more modest but complete at Maisons. The staircase proper leads up to the first floor. The second floor is reached via a small lateral flight of steps. An upper landing rings the stairwell, creating an oval opening onto the calotte above.

The trompe-l’oeil view of the calotte is a modern creation inspired by a sketch (in fact only of the quadratura and not of the scene above) originally proposed for the Hôtel d’Avaux, but explicitly annotated ‘not done’. It therefore probably does not comply with Claude d’Avaux’s decision and Le Muet’s final choice to leave the calotte blank – Le Muet was the foremost Parisian exponent of Atticism.

The dining room

The dining room The dining room, now part of the bookshop
©MAHJ, all rights reserved

Around 1640, the dining room became more widespread in Parisian mansions, and here the architect Le Muet skilfully incorporated it into the right wing, near the kitchens but separated from the service rooms by a corridor leading to the second courtyard.

The room’s original grisaille decoration dates from before 1650. This decoration, mentioned in none of the ancient guides to Paris, was eventually covered over. Further damaged during the initial restoration work, it was finally rediscovered during the second, more thorough restoration programme. It has been left in its present fragmentary state because its complete restoration would detract from the authentic parts.

No documents concerning its execution have been found, but its Roman style is reminiscent of the grisaille decoration in the gallery of the Château de Tanlay, painted in 1646 by Rémy Vuibert (1600–52) under Le Muet’s supervision. Like the decoration at Tanlay, it is one of the jewels of Atticism. The taste for antique figures and ornaments, light colours, monochrome, balanced compositions and figures with clinging drapery, triumphed in Paris in the 1640s in the wake of Poussin. Rémy Vuibert was one of its finest exponents.

Claude Mignot


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