LE BRETON, Gilles
(b. ca. 1500, Paris, d. ca. 1552, Paris)
French architect. He played a crucial role in the works initiated by Francis I at Fontainebleau from 1527, although the exact nature of his duties is difficult to determine. It is possible that he was the architect responsible for the design as well as the execution of the first phase of works, even though the building accounts imply only that he was active as a master mason; some scholars have suggested instead that the designs for certain parts with which Le Breton's name is associated may have been provided by the Italian Rosso Fiorentino.
Le Breton was the most prominent member of a long line of master masons and probably learnt his trade as apprentice to his father at the Château de Chambord (Loir-et-Cher). He was also involved with repairs to the Trinitarian abbey near the château in Fontainebleau. In 1527 he was named master mason of the Bâtiments du Roi at Fontainebleau, and he worked there until his death c. 1552. In early 1553 Henry II named Philibert Delorme to replace him as general master of the Bâtiments du Roi, a title conferred on Le Breton in 1548.
Le Breton's name appears in three contracts (1528, 1531, 1540) and in building accounts and patent letters at Fontainebleau. He was in charge of the King's scheme to renovate and enlarge the old château, to build the new lower court (later known as the Cour du Cheval Blanc) and the Galerie François I to connect the former with the old wing, the Cour Ovale. In this capacity he was responsible for the three-storey tower known as the Porte Dorée (1528), which was to serve as the new entrance pavilion to the Cour Ovale, a work typical of the early phase of Renaissance architecture in France in its combination of a medieval structural type with Italianate details. The Porte Dorée, no longer a fortified entry, retains elements of the medieval château in the vertical continuity of the windows, the asymmetry of the towers and the attic roofs, but it has open barrel-vaulted loggias, Italian in inspiration though lacking the refinement and symmetry of Renaissance precursors. It is faced simply with plaster walls and grey sandstone (gres) dressings, a combination of materials characteristic of those parts of the château attributed to Le Breton. Documents in 1534 record payments to Le Breton for the great garden, the walls and cloisters, the embankments of the ponds, the canals and foundations. Contracts of 1531 and 1540 allude to building within the Cour Ovale, namely the portico, the grand staircase (which may have been inspired by a design by Rosso Fiorentino), the peristyle and the reconstruction of the Chapelle St-Saturnin. The latter is comprised of two superimposed chapels, the lower chapel of the Cour Ovale and the one above known as the King's Chapel. The staircase (destroyed 1540) provided an impressive access to the royal suites, two flights converging in a central one, culminating in a triumphal arch portico, seemingly appropriate for regal celebrations.
While Le Breton's early work in the Cour Ovale shows his assimilation of style characteristic of the châteaux of Madrid (Neuilly, nr Paris) and Chambord, the portico of the great stairway and the Chapelle St-Saturnin reflect a knowledge of antique sources. His work c. 1540 in the south wing of the Cour du Cheval Blanc bears the influence of Serlio and the contemporary architecture of the Italian Renaissance. In his late years Le Breton worked on town houses in Fontainebleau for the retinue of Henry II, including the Hôtel d'Albon (1547-50) for Jacques d'Albon, the Maréchal de Saint-André, as well as the Hôtel La Guette (1548). For Côme Claussé, he built the Hôtel de Marchamont (1548) and probably worked on the oldest forecourt wings of his châteaux at Courances (Essone) and at Fleury-en-Biere (Essone; 1550-52). Le Breton also built a hôtel for himself on the Rue de la Bauldroirie in Paris (1551). A posthumous inventory dated 1553 shows a well-appointed house replete with works of art, objects of devotion and nine books on architecture, including Serlio's Regole generali, published in Antwerp in 1541.