Pierre de Montreuil

The French architect Pierre de Montreuil (active ca. 1231-1266/1267) was a great exponent of the Rayonnant Gothic style of architecture.

The exact relationship of Pierre de Montreuil, or Montereau, with Eudes de Montreuil, Gerbert de Montreuil, and other notable figures of the 13th century bearing the name of Montreuil is not certain, especially as references to Pierre de Montereau seem to apply to this same architect. He was a pupil of Jean de Chelles, a leading Parisian master of Rayonnant Gothic architecture.

Montreuil and his nephew, Raoul de Montreuil, probably attracted the attention of King Louis IX through their rebuilding of the upper choir (1231-1239), the transept, and the nave (completed in 1281 after Montreuil's death) of the Basilica at Saint-Denis near Paris. The King must then have commissioned Montreuil to build his private and splendid Cistercian abbey at Royaumont (Oise), founded in 1228 and consecrated in 1238. Here Louis, inclined to ancestor worship nearly as ardently as to Christian piety, had set up under Montreuil's direction a magnificent series of funerary statues representing his royal predecessors, most of which are now at Saint-Denis. All these sculptured works reveal the royal, beatific ideal of serenely smiling countenances and simply draped figures.

The King paid a signal tribute to Montreuil by assigning the construction of the Ste-Chapelle in Paris to him; it was begun in January 1246 and consecrated on April 25, 1248. In 1239 Louis had purchased, at an enormous price, from Baldwin II, the last Latin emperor of Constantinople, the precious relic of the Crown of Thorns and in 1241 several other relics of the Passion. Louis was ready to lavish on a private chapel to house these sacred relics all the splendor that he, as an ascetic, denied himself. Ste-Chapelle was built, like most royal castle chapels, on two floors; its upper level is a veritable casket of jewel-like light passing through great lancet windows, each set with medallions illustrating Bible stories; the window of Moses is composed of 121 parts. All the supporting graceful stonework is brightly polychromed.

Louis was fond of bestowing some of the sacred relics he collected as gifts to stimulate the propagation of the Catholic faith, and the Benedictine abbey at Saint-Germer, attributed to Montreuil, inspired by the Ste-Chapelle and built soon after it, was erected to house such a gift. The Ste-Chapelle is also thought to have inspired the Chapel of the Virgin at the Parisian abbey of St-Germain-des-Près, which Montreuil built between 1245 and 1255 and where he is buried. The last work he is known to have executed was the completion about 1260 of the south transept of Notre Dame in Paris, begun by Jean de Chelles on Feb. 12, 1258.

Further Reading on Pierre de Montreuil

Other than Erwin Panofsky's Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (1951), in which he treats with brilliance a vastly complex subject, little exists to elucidate the life of Louis's architect, Montreuil.

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