Medieval palace (12th century)
The Oval Courtyard, with the Medieval donjon
, a vestige of the original castle where the King's apartments were located, in the center.
The Gallery of Francis I, connecting the King's apartments with the chapel, decorated between 1533 and 1539. It introduced the Italian Renaissance style to France.
The earliest record of a fortified castle at Fontaineau dates to 1137. It became a favorite residence and hunting lodge of the Kings of France because of the abundant game and many springs in the surrounding forest. it took its name from one of the springs, the fountain de Bliaud, located now in the English garden, next to the wing of Louis XV. It was used by King Louis VII, for whom Thomas Becket consecrated the chapel in 1169; by Philip II; by Louis IX (later canonized as Saint Louis), who built a hospital and a convent, the Couvent des Trinitaires, next to the castle; and by Philip IV, who was born and died in the castle.
Renaissance Château of Francis I (1528–1547)
In the 15th century some modifications and embellishments were made to the castle by Isabeau of Bavaria, the wife of King Charles VI , but the medieval structure remained essentially intact until the reign Francis I (1494–1547). He commissioned the architect Gilles le Breton to build a palace in the new Renaissance style, recently imported from Italy. Le Breton preserved the old medieval donjon, where the King's apartments were located, but incorporated it into the new Renaissance-style Cour Ovale, or oval courtyard, built on the foundations of the old castle. It included monumental Porte Dorée, as its southern entrance. as well as a monumental Renaissance stairway, the portique de Serlio, to give access the royal apartments on the north side.
Beginning in about 1528, Francis constructed the Gallery Francis I, which allowed him to pass directly from his apartments to the chapel of the Trinitaires. He brought the architect Sebastiano Serlio from Italy, and the Florentine painter Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, known as Rosso Fiorentino, to decorate the new gallery. Between 1533 and 1539 Rosso Fiorentino filled the gallery with murals glorifying the King, framed in stucco ornament in high relief, and lambris sculpted by the furniture maker Francesco Scibec da Carpi . Another Italian painter, Francesco Primaticcio from Bologna, ("Primatice" to the French), joined later in the decoration of the palace. Together their style of decoration became known as the first School of Fontainebleau. This was the first great decorated gallery built in France. Broadly speaking, at Fontainebleau the Renaissance was introduced to France.
In about 1540, Francis began another major addition to the chateau. Using land on the east side of the chateau purchased from the order of the Trinitaires, he began to build a new square of buildings around a large courtyard. It was enclosed on the north by the wing of the Ministers, on the east by the wing of Ferrare, and on the south by a wing containing the new gallery of Ulysses. The chateau was surrounded by a new park in the style of the Italian Renaissance garden, with pavilions and the first grotto in France. Primaticcio created more monumental murals for the gallery of Ulysses.
Château of Henry II and Catherine de' Medici (1547–1570)
Following the death of Francis I, King Henry II decided to continue and expand the chateau. The King and his wife chose the architects Philibert de l'Orme and Jean Bullant to do the work. They extended the east wing of the lower court and decorated it with the first famous horseshoe-shaped staircase. In the oval court, they transformed the loggia planned by Francois into a Salle des Fétes or grand ballroom with a coffered ceiling. Facing the courtyard of the fountain and the fish pond, they designed a new building, the Pavillon des Poeles, to contain the new apartments of the King. The decoration of the new ballroom and the gallery of Ulysses with murals by Francesco Primaticcio and sculptured stucco continued, under the direction of the Mannerists painters Primaticcio and Niccolò dell'Abbate. At Henri's orders the Nymphe de Fontainebleau by Benvenuto Cellini was installed at the gateway entrance of Château d'Anet, the primary domain of Henri's primary mistress Diane de Poitiers (the original bronze lunette is now in the Musée du Louvre, with a replica in place).
It was also the birth locale of Francis II of France, King Henry II’s firstborn son.
Following the death of Henry II in a jousting accident, his widow, Catherine de' Medici, continued the construction and decoration of the château. She named Primaticcio as the new superintendent of royal public works. He designed the section known today as the wing of the Belle Cheminée, noted for its elaborate chimneys and its two opposing stairways. In 1565, as a security measure due to the Wars of Religion, she also had moat dug around the château to protect it against attack.
Château of Henry IV (1570–1610)
The Gallerie des Cerfs
(Gallery of the Stags), built by Henry IV
between 1601 and 1606.
King Henry IV made more additions to the château than any King since Francis I. He extended the oval court toward the west by building two pavilions, called Tiber and Luxembourg. Between 1601 and 1606, he remade all the façades around the courtyard, including that of the chapel of Saint-Saturnin, to give the architecture greater harmony. On the east side, he built a new monumental gateway with a dome, called the porte du Baptistère. Between 1606 and 1609, he built a new courtyard, called the Cour des Offices or the Quartier Henry IV, to provide a place for the kitchens and residences for court officials. Two new galleries, the Galerie de Diane de Poitiers and the Galerie des Cerfs, were built to enclose the old garden of Diane. He also added a large Jeu de paume, or indoor tennis court, the largest such court existing in the world.
A "second school of Fontainebleau" of painters and decorators went to work on the interiors. The architect Martin Fréminet created the ornate chapel of the Trinity, while the painters Ambroise Dubois and Toussaint Dubreuil created a series of heroic paintings for the salons. A new wing, named for its central building, 'La Belle Cheminée, was built next to the large fish pond.
Henry IV also devoted great attention to the park and gardens around the Chateau. The garden of the Queen or garden of Diane, created by Catherine de' Medici, with the fountain of Diane in the center, was located on the north side of the palace. Henry IV's gardener, Claude Mollet, trained at Château d'Anet, created a large parterre of flower beds, decorated with ancient statues and separated by paths into large squares. The fountain of Diana and the grotto were made by Tommaso Francini, who may also have designed the Medici Fountain in the Luxembourg Garden for Marie de Medici. On the south side, Henry created a park, planted with pines, elms and fruit trees, and laid out a grand canal 1200 meters long, sixty years before Louis XIV built his own grand canal at Versailles.
Château from Louis XIII through Louis XVI
The Château and gardens early in the 17th century, drawn by Tommaso Francini
, the fountain-designer
The Gros Pavilion
in the center, built by Louis XV
for the new royal apartments between 1750 and 1754.
King Louis XIII was born and baptized in the Château, and continued the works begun by his father. He completed the decoration of the chapel of the Trinity, and assigned the court architect Jean Androuet du Cerceau to reconstruct the horseshoe stairway earlier designed by Philibert Delorme on the courtyard that had become known as the Cour de Cheval Blanc. After his death, his widow, Anne of Austria, redecorated the apartments within the Wing of the Queen Mothers (Aile des Reines Mères) next to the Court of the Fountain, designed by Primatrice.
King Louis XIV spent more days at Fontainebleau than any other monarch; he liked to hunt there every year at the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. He made few changes to the exterior of the château, but did build a new apartment for his companion Madame de Maintenon, furnished it with some major works of André-Charles Boulle and demolished the old apartments of the baths under the Gallery of Francis I to create new apartments for the royal princes, and he made some modifications to the apartments of the King. The architect Jules Hardouin-Mansard built a new wing alongside the Gallerie des Cerfs and the Gallerie de Diane to provide more living space for the Court. He did make major changes in the park and gardens; he commissioned André Le Nôtre and Louis Le Vau to redesign the large parterre into a French formal garden. He destroyed the hanging garden which Henry IV had built next to the large fish pond, and instead built a pavilion, designed by Le Vau, on a small island in the center of the pond.
Louis XIV signed the Edict of Fontainebleau at the Château on 22 October 1685, revoking the policy of tolerance towards Protestants begun by Henry IV. Louis welcomed many foreign guests there, including the former Queen Christina of Sweden, who had just abdicated her crown. While a guest in the Château on 10 November 1657, Christina suspected her Master of the Horse and reputed lover, the Marchese Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi, of betraying her secrets to her enemies. Her servants chased him through the halls of the Château and stabbed him to death. Louis XIV came to see her at the Château, did not mention the murder, and allowed her to continue her travels.
Apollo, Pan, and a putto blowing a horn, from a series of eight compositions after Francesco Primaticcio
's designs for the ceiling of the Ulysses Gallery (destroyed 1738-39).
On May 19–20, 1717, during the Regency following the death of Louis XIV, the Russian Czar Peter the Great was a guest at Fontainebleau. A hunt for stags was organized for him, and a banquet. Officially the visit was a great success. but in the memoirs published later by members of the delegation, it appears that Peter disliked the French style of hunting, and that he found the Château too small, compared with the other royal French residences. The routine of Fontainebleau also did not suit his tastes; he preferred beer to wine (and brought his own supply with him) and he liked to get up early, unlike the French Court.
The renovation projects of Louis XV were more ambitious than those of Louis XIV. To create more lodging for his enormous number of courtiers In 1737–38 the King built a new courtyard, called the Cour de la Conciergerie or the Cour des Princes, to the east of the Gallerie des Cerfs. On the Cour du Cheval Blanc, the wing of the Gallery of Ulysees was torn down and gradually replaced by a new brick and stone building, built in stages in 1738–1741 and 1773–74, extending west toward the Pavilion and grotto of the pines.
Between 1750 and 1754, the King commissioned the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel to build a new wing along the Cour de la Fontaine and the fish pond. The old Pavilion des Poeles was demolished and replaced by the Gros Pavilion, built of cream-colored stone. Lavish new apartments were created inside this building for the King and the Queen. The new meeting room for the Royal Council was decorated by the leading painters of the day, including François Boucher, Carle Vanloo, Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre and Alexis Peyrotte. A magnificent small theater was created on the first floor of the wing of the Belle Cheminée.
King Louis XVI also made additions to the château to create more space for his courtiers. A new building was constructed alongside the Gallery of Francis I; it created a large new apartment on the first floor, and a number of small apartments on the ground floor, but also blocked the windows on the north side of the Gallery of Francis I. The apartments of Queen Marie-Antoinette were redone, a Turkish-style salon was created for her in 1777, a room for games in 1786–1787, and a boudoir in the arabesque style. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette made their last visit to Fontainebleau in 1786, on the eve of the French Revolution.
Château during the Revolution and the First Empire
Napoleon saying farewell to his Old Guard in the Courtyard of Honor (20 April 1814)
The table where Napoleon
signed his abdication on 4 April 1814, before his exile to Elba
During the French Revolution the Château did not suffer any significant damage, but all the furniture was sold at auction. The buildings were occupied by the Central School of the Department of Seine-et-Marne, until 1803, when Napoleon I installed a military school there. As he prepared to become Emperor, Napoleon wanted to preserve as much as possible the palaces and protocol of the Old Regime. He chose Fontainebleau as the site of his historic 1804 meeting with Pope Pius VII, who had travelled from Rome to crown Napoleon Emperor. Napoleon had a suite of rooms decorated for the Pope, and had the entire chateau refurnished and decorated. The bedroom of the Kings was transformed into a throne room for Napoleon. Apartments were refurnished and decorated for the Emperor and Empress in the new Empire style. The Cour du Cheval Blanc was renamed the Cour d'Honneur, or Courtyard of Honor. One wing facing the courtyard, the Aile de Ferrare, was torn down and replaced with an ornamental iron fence and gate, making the façade of the Palace visible. The gardens of Diane and the gardens of the Pines were replanted and turned into an English landscape garden by the landscape designer Maximillien-Joseph Hurtault.
Napoleon's visits to Fontainebleau were not frequent, because he was occupied so much of the time with military campaigns. Between 1812 and 1814, the château served as a very elegant prison for Pope Pius VII. On 5 November 1810, the chapel of the Chateau was used for the baptism of Napoleon's nephew, the future Napoleon III, with Napoleon serving as his godfather, and the Empress Marie-Louise as his godmother.
Napoleon spent the last days of his reign at Fontainebleau, before abdicating there on 4 April 1814, under pressure from his marechals, Ney, Berthier, and Lefebvre. On 20 April, after failing in an attempt to commit suicide, he gave an emotional farewell to the soldiers of the Old Guard, assembled in the Court of Honor. Later, during the One Hundred Days, he stopped there on 20 March 1815.
In his memoires, written while in exile on Saint Helena, he recalled his time at Fontainebleau; “…the true residence of Kings, the house of the centuries. Perhaps it was not a rigorously architectural palace, but it was certainly a place of residence well thought out and perfectly suitable. It was certainly the most comfortable and happily situated palace in Europe.”
Château during the Restoration and the reign of Louis-Philippe (1815–1848)
Following the restoration of the Monarchy, Kings Louis XVIII and Charles X each stayed at Fontainebleau, but neither made any major changes to the palace. Louis-Philippe was more active, both restoring some rooms and redecorating others in the style of his period. The Hall of the Guards and Gallery of Plates were redecorated in a Neo-Renaissance style, while the Hall of Columns, under the ballroom, was remade in a neoclassical style. He added new stained glass windows, made by the royal manufactory of Sèvres.
Château during the Second Empire
Napoleon III receiving a delegation from the King of Siam
in the ballroom in (1864)
Emperor Napoleon III, who had been baptized at Fountainebleau, resumed the custom of long stays at Fontainebleau, particularly during the summer. Many of the historic rooms, such as the Gallerie des Cerfs, were restored to something like their original appearance, while the private apartments were redecorated to suit the tastes of the Emperor and Empress. Numerous guest apartments were squeezed into unused spaces of the buildings. The old theater of the palace, built in the 18th century, was destroyed by a fire in the wing of the Belle Cheminée 1856. Between 1854 and 1857 the architect Hector Lefuel built a new theater in the style of Louis XVI.
On the ground floor of the Gros Pavilion, The Empress Eugénie built a small but rich museum, containing gifts from the King of Siam in 1861, and works of art taken during the pillage of the Summer Palace in Beijing. It also featured paintings by contemporary artists, including Franz Xaver Winterhalter, and the sculptor Charles Henri Joseph Cordier. Close by, in the Lous XV wing, the Emperor established his office, and the Empress made her Salon of Lacquer. These were the last rooms created by the royal residents of Fontainebleau. In 1870, during the Franco-German War, the Empire fell, and the Château was closed.
Château from the Third Republic to the present day
During the Franco-Prussian War, the palace was occupied by the Prussians on 17 September 1870, and briefly used as an army headquarters by Frederic Charles of Prussia from March 1871. Following the war, two of the buildings became the home of the advanced school of artillery and engineering of the French Army, which had been forced to leave Alsace when the province was annexed by Germany. It was occasionally used as a residence by the Presidents of the Third Republic, and to welcome state guests including King Alexander I of Serbia (1891), King George I of Greece (1892) Leopold II of Belgium (1895) and King Alphonse XIII of Spain (1913). It also received a visit by the last survivor of its royal residents, the Empress Eugenie, on 26 June 1920.
The façades the major buildings received their first protection by classification as historic monuments on 20 August 1913. In 1923, following the First World War, it became home of the Écoles d'Art Américaines, schools of art and music, which still exist today. In 1927 it became a national museum. Between the wars the upper floors of the wing of the Belle Cheminée, burned in 1856, were rebuilt by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
During World War II, it was occupied by the Germans on 16 June 1940, and occupied until 10 November, and again from 15 May to the end of October 1941. Following the war, part of the Chateau became a headquarters of the Western Union and later NATO's Allied Forces Central Europe/Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, until 1966.
The general restoration of the Chateau took place between 1964 and 1968 under President Charles DeGaulle and his Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux. It was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. In 2006, the Ministry of Culture purchased the royal stables, and began their restoration.
Beginning in 2007, restoration began of the theater of the Chateau, created by Napoleon III during the Second Empire. The project was funded by the government of Abu-Dhabi, and in exchange the theater was renamed for Sheik Khalifa Bin Zayed al Nahyan. It was inaugurated on 30 April 2014.
On 1 March 2015, the Chinese Museum of the Chateau was robbed by professional thieves. They broke in at about six in the morning, and, despite alarms and video cameras, in seven minutes stole about fifteen of the most valuable objects in the collection, including the replica of the crown of Siam given by the Siamese government to Napoleon III, a Tibetan mandala, and an enamel chimera from the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736–1795).