Neoclassicism and Beyond, Paris

Moving along now so we can get back to St. Louis, here is a smorgasbord of Paris buildings that have broader implications on world architectural history, including here in the Gateway City. First up is the Madeleine, which was originally built by Napoleon to glorify his reign, but was then converted into a church. It’s a spectacular example of Neo-Classicism, or Neoclassicism (both are correct spellings), which is a revival of Renaissance and early modern classicism, partially spurred by the discovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii, as well as the Enlightenment.

The Madeleine shows how Neo-Classicism is perhaps a more scientific examination and emulation of the ancient Greeks and Romans, as opposed to the Renaissance where more artistic license was allowed.

The end result in the mid to late Nineteenth Century would be the Beaux-Arts style, named after the school only a mile or so away from the Madeleine right here in Paris.

Next up is the Arc de Triomphe, also constructed on the orders of Napoleon, and was a supersized improvement on the smaller triumphal arch built in the courtyard of the Louvre.

It’s really big, that is what I can say about it.

There’s a whole bunch of battles listed on it that Napoleon won.

It was not finished by the time Napoleon was defeated.

Compare it to the Arch of Titus in Rome, after which most triumphal arches are based.

All the major decorative elements are there: the double winged victories, the volute keystone, the rosette bosses, etc.

Lots of big angry people, too. Anyway…

Louis XIV had already constructed triumphal arches during his reign; below is the Port St. Denis, which is the location of the gate into the city coming down from the Abbey of St. Denis, and kings would triumphantly enter Paris after being crowned down the ancient road.

Then there’s the Opera Garnier, named after its architect.

It’s eluded easy categorization; I will call it Renaissance Revival though that is certainly inadequate. It is emblematic of how Nineteenth Century revival styles were incredibly eclectic.

Finally, there is the masterful transformation of the Orsay Train Station into the Orsay Museum, where the masterworks of the Nineteenth Century are on display.

The Tate Modern in London is another example of reusing a massive open space in Europe where an abandoned building is reused, though of course the Orsay beat them to it.

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