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Claude Perrault

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Born at Paris, 1613; died there, 1688. He built the main eastern façade of the Louvre, known as the "Colonnade". His extraordinary talent and versatility brought up on him much enmity and detraction, especially in his architectural work. He achieved success as physician and anatomist, as architect and author. As physician and physicist, he received the degree of doctor from the University of Paris, became one of the first members of the Academy of Sciences founded in 1666, and repeatedly won prizes for his thorough knowledge of physics and chemistry. He was the author of a series of treatises on physics and zoology, as well as on certain interesting machines of his own invention.

Colbert induced him to translate Vitruvius, and this work inspired him with enthusiasm for architecture. Like his contemporary, Blondel, he contributed to revive the feeling for the rules and principles in architecture. His Vitruvius with a good commentary and tables appeared in 1673, and an epitome of it in 1674. The same aims were pursued in his "Ordonnance des cinq espèces des colonnes selon la méthode des anciens" (1683). Perrault's architectural drawings are regarded as excellent pieces of work; before the burning of the Louvre in 1871 there were preserved there, besides his drawings for the Vitruvius, two folio volumes containing among other things the designs for the Louvre, which had been published by the master's brother, Charles Perrault.

In his completed buildings, much fault is found, e.g. in the Observatoire, the astronomical observatory of Paris, although in certain parts we find traces of his later mastery. Perrault's design for a triumphal arch on Rue St-Antoine was preferred to the designs of Lebrun and Leveau, but was only partly executed in stone. When the arch was taken down, it was found that the ingenious master had devised a means of so uniting the stones without the use of mortar that it had become an inseparable mass. In the competition for the colonnade of the Louvre he was successful over all rivals, even Bernini, who had been summoned from Italy expressly for that purpose. This work claimed his attention from 1665 to 1680, and established his reputation. He was required to demonstrate the feasibility of his plans by constructing a model. Perrault is reproached with lacking in consideration for the work of his predecessors, and with positively depreciating the same. The whole palace could not be completed at the time, but the colonnade became widely celebrated. The simple character of the ground floor sets off the Corinthian columns, modelled strictly according to Vitruvius, and coupled on a plan which Perrault himself devised. Perrault built the church of St-Benoît-le-Bétourné, designed a new church of Ste-Geneviève, and erected an altar in the Church of the Little Fathers, all in Paris.

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