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Louis Levau

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A contemporary of Jacques Lemercier and the two Mansarts, and the chief architect of the first decade of Louis XIV's independent reign, born 1612; died at Paris, 10 Oct., 1670. Although posterity has refused to consider him a genius, he developed a distinctive style which aimed at classic simplicity of construction and elegance in decoration. It is true, however, that he more often depended on Mansart's or Lenôtre's plans. Of his life, we have few particulars except as regards his works. He had two sons who shared his labours; of these Louis died in 1661, and of Francis we know nothing except that in 1656, in the capacity of royal architect, he received a salary of 600 livres. In 1653 the father became first royal inspector of buildings, and in 1656 received a salary of 3000 livres. In his death certificate, he is called "king's councillor, general inspector, and director of the royal building enterprises, His Majesty's secretary, and the pride of France." Levau won renown by the erection of many handsome buildings in Paris and elsewhere. The oldest are the Hôtel Lambert and the château of Vaux-le-Vicomte. After 1654 he completed the south and north wings of the Louvre as successor to Lescot and Lemercier, and then built the east wing, thereby concluding the square up to the colonnade on the east side. His design for the latter was rejected as being not sufficiently ornate, and that of Claude Perrault substituted. In this work Levau had a faithful assistant in his son-in-law, Dorbay. He next directed some changes in the Tuileries. Another considerable achievement was the Collège des Quatres Nations (now Palais de l'Institut), especially the old church. The latter consisted of a domical structure: a cupola carried out without massive effect over a cylinder which was not perfectly round, and four surrounding spaces, in one of which was the monument of the founder, Mazarin. During the entire course of the next century, Levau's influence was felt in palace-building on account of his work on the extension of Versailles. Begun in 1624 by Lemercier (q.v.), it was finished by Hardouin-Mansart and later architects. But the first rough sketch and the substantial form are due to Levau. Versailles became a standard, not only because of the imposing splendour of the interior and the exterior simplicity, but above all through the fact that the court, instead of being enclosed, lay in front of the façade. Levau extended the so-called marble court of the old palace by the addition of side wings, and, by pushing these back laterally, he gave to the court a greater breadth. He proceeded in the same way with the widely extended wings, which were also pushed back sideways and enclose the present so-called King's Court. Louis XIV caused the long side wings to be extended still further, thereby giving an immense width to the front. Levau seems to be responsible for the monotonous garden façade, while the chapel, among other things, constitutes Mansart's claim to renown. The epoch-making church of St-Sulpice, a counterpart of St-Eustache, was begun on Gamard's design in 1646, but it was really carried on by Levau in his own style until 1660, when Gittard took his place. The church is planned on a large scale, but the effect does not correspond to the vast design.

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