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Louis Le Vau:
Mazarin's Collège, Colbert's Revenge
Hilary Ballon

Winner of the 2000 Prix D'Académie of the Académie Française

Paperback | 2000 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691048956


From Vaux-le-Vicomte to Versailles, the buildings of Louis Le Vau shaped the image of French court society. None, however, has had as dramatic an effect as Mazarin's Collège (1661-70), the Parisian landmark that now houses the Institut de France. In this first English-language book on Louis XIV's celebrated architect, Hilary Ballon deftly portrays the brilliance and controversy of Le Vau's late career through an exploration of this masterpiece, a hybrid of baroque and classical styles. She tracks the design and construction of the Collège on the basis of splendid drawings, fully illustrated here, integrating into this account previously unknown dimensions of Le Vau's creative personality, his financial entanglements, and his feuds with government leaders.

The story of the Collège begins in 1661 with the death of Cardinal Mazarin, who left an extravagant sum of money for a school to be built in his memory. Le Vau responded with an ambitious architectural tribute intended to launch the development of Paris in a new artistic direction. As Ballon shows, many personal factors figured into the final product, including Le Vau's activities as a real estate developer and entrepreneur, and his explosive response to the Italian baroque master Gianlorenzo Bernini, who visited Paris in 1665. The project ended up significantly over budget, and officials charged Le Vau shortly after his death with embezzling funds. The chief minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, led the attack on Le Vau, turning the ethical scandal into an aesthetic crusade to maintain a "classical" look for central Paris.

By relating the intriguing context in which the Collège was created, Ballon explains why traditional definitions of the baroque and classical styles have failed to offer a cohesive understanding of the building. Her examination of the elements informing Le Vau's personal style and his relationship with Colbert brings into sharper focus the phenomenon of royal patronage and opens a new perspective on the development of French classicism at a turning point in Parisian architectural history.


"It is a great strength of Hilary Ballon's book that, as sensitive as she is to minutiae of architectural style, she is constantly ready to relate Le Vau's buildings to their murky political and commercial context."--Keith Miller, Times Literary Supplement

"Less than a monograph on Le Vau, and more than one on the Collége des Quatre Nations (1661-1670), Ballon's book is an essay in the form of an open inquiry on the art and career of the architect."--Claude Mignot, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

"Ballon's probing questions, broad interests, and careful research should stimulate new reflection on many issues. In lucid and refreshingly jargon-free prose, Ballon has made a significant contribution that is also enjoyable to read."--Rochelle Ziskin, Journal of Modern History


"Hilary Ballon demonstrates with impressive skill that a purely stylistic approach to the architectural history of this period is inadequate for describing the precise ambitions, achievements, and oeuvre of a major architect. Her book enriches our understanding of Mazarin, Colbert, the early reign of Louis XIV, the extent and limits of Louis Quatorzian absolutism, and how buildings got built in the mid-seventeenth century."--Philip Benedict, Brown University

"Hilary Ballon does a superb job in identifying story lines, giving texture to her characters, and in presenting her findings in clear and interesting language and humor. Her challenges to the prevailing views of Mazarin and Colbert are invigorating and convincing. This is a book I would want to own."--Richard Cleary, University of Texas at Austin

File created: 2/24/2017

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