Philibert de l'Orme

The French architect Philibert de l'Orme (1510/15-1570), or Delorme, established on French soil true classical standards in architecture.

Philibert de l'Orme was born in Lyons, the son of a master mason. He went to Rome about 1533 to measure and excavate ancient Roman about buildings. In the humanist circle he frequented, he met Cardinal Jean du Bellay and François Rabelais, the cardinal's secretary, who became his friend. l'Orme returned to Lyons in 1536, where he built the house of Antoine Bullioud.

Du Bellay called l'Orme to Paris in 1540 to design his château at St-Maur-lès-Foussés, of which l'Orme boasted that it was the first building in France "to show how the proportions and measures of architecture should be observed." This single-story structure, reminiscent of Giulio Romano's Palazzo del Tè in Mantua, was the first building in France to have a horseshoe staircase and to use a single columnar order, the Corinthian, in all elements of its decoration.

Henry II in 1547 appointed l'Orme superintendent of buildings. For Henry II the architect built the tomb of Francis I at St-Denis (1547-1557).

Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry II, commissioned l'Orme to build her château at Anet (1547-1552), which was remarkable not only for its new monumentality and correct classicism but also for its brilliant originality. Only the chapel, entrance gate, and avant-corps (frontispiece at the house entrance) remain, the last element, however, now standing in the courtyard of the école des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The chapel was unique in France for the use of the circle as the figure of design; the entrance for the interaction of block forms discreetly ornamented with Doric columns; and the avant-corps, l'Orme's adaptation of the medieval château entrance bay, for the massive proportions of its orders.

When Henry II died in 1559, his widow, Catherine de Médicis, immediately dismissed l'Orme and replaced him with her countryman Primaticcio. During his period of disgrace l'Orme wrote two treatises: Nouvelles inventions pour bien bastir et à petits frais (1561), on the practical engineering of vaults and roofs, and Architecture (1567). The latter work, though exceedingly entertaining reading because of its many anecdotes, is very sound in practical advice to patrons and builders. About 1563 Catherine recalled l'Orme to enlarge St-Maur for her son, Charles IX, and to build her new palace of the Tuileries in Paris. Only the lower section of the central pavilion of the Tuileries was complete at the time of l'Orme's death.


Further Reading on Philibert de l'Orme

There are two excellent works in English that provide information on Philibert De l'Orme, both by Anthony Blunt: Philibert de l'Orme (1958) is a lucid monograph deficient only in the wasted opportunity to make vivid both the artist and his times by developing the rich personalities of l'Orme and his contemporary associates. Blunt wisely avoids the issue of latent mannerism in the architect's style in order to establish positively his classical contributions. Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700 (1953; 2nd rearranged impression 1957) includes an incisive summary of l'Orme works and is especially instructive because of the clarity of Blunt's stylistic analyses.