Pierre Lescot

The French architect Pierre Lescot (c. 1500-1578) was one of the creators of the French classical style of architecture.

Pierre Lescot was probably born in Paris of a family sufficiently prosperous to provide him with an education in the liberal arts, for the poet Pierre de Ronsard, a fellow courtier, recorded that Lescot had a natural talent for painting and that he had studied mathematics and architecture. There are no records of Lescot's activity before 1544 and after 1559. Though less a practitioner of architecture and more a theorist and decorator than Philibert de l'Orme, Lescot emerged as a talented amateur whose esthetic influence at court in the last years of the reign of Francis I (1515-1547) and throughout the reign of Henry II (1547-1559) was greatly enhanced through his collaboration in implementing new classical concepts with the sculptor architect Jean Goujon.

Lescot's major surviving monument is the Cour Carrée (Square Court, 1546-1551) of the Louvre Palace in Paris. Works attributed to Lescot, in collaboration with Goujon, are the Hôtel Carnavalet (c. 1545-1550) in Paris, subsequently altered three times; the Fountain of the Innocents (1547-1549) in Paris, now totally reconstructed; and the fragmentary château of Vallery.

In the south facade of the Cour Carrée, Lescot employed classical elements entirely new to France at the time. Since Lescot is known to have gone on an official mission to Rome only in 1556, after the completion of all works associated with his name, and since there is no sign of his having absorbed the fundamental monumentality of Roman architecture of the High Renaissance by Donato Bramante or Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, one may deduce that Lescot's awareness of classical architecture came rather from studying the writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius (1st century B.C.) and from Roman ruins on French soil. One is confronted in the Louvre facade by a screen of inherent, lingering Gothic verticality, though symmetrical and sagely balanced horizontally, instead of the fundamentally three-dimensional or blocklike Roman esthetic. The even placement of the three pavilion bays like towers and the pitched roof contribute to the soaring height reminiscent of French medieval fortresses. The variety of fenestration, the flickering surface animation resulting from Goujon's relief sculpture, and the use of the most elaborate orders, the Corinthian and Composite, are decidely un-Roman applications of classical precepts.

Nothing is known of Lescot after the death of Henry II in 1559, though the architect lived another 19 years.

Further Reading on Pierre Lescot

Among the many scholars who have attempted to resuscitate the corpus of Lescot's life and works, Anthony Blunt renders the most succinct and reasonable account of Lescot in his Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700 (1954; 2d ed. 1970).