LEGEAY, Jean-Laurent
(b. ca. 1710, Paris, d. after 1788)

Biography

French architect and draughtsman. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and won the Prix de Rome in 1732. His residence in Rome (1737-42) coincided with the arrival from Venice (1740) of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, who was considerably influenced by Legeay's dramatic engravings of the monuments of Roman antiquity. Legeay worked with Piranesi and other engravers on illustrations for guide books on Rome, and he was an important figure in the cross-currents of influence and ideas between Piranesi and the French scholars in Rome.

Legeay returned to Paris in 1742, and he was appointed professor at the Académie Royale d'Architecture, where his drawing methods and his teaching were enormously influential on such pupils as Charles de Wailly and Étienne-Louis Boullée. In 1745 Legeay went to Berlin, where he worked on plans for the Catholic church of St Hedwig, a circular design derived from the Pantheon in Rome, which was illustrated in six engravings published in 1747. The building was completed to a modified design in 1773, finally receiving the lantern and cross that he had intended in 1886-87.

Legeay obtained appointments at the court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin from 1748 to the mid-1750s; he laid out the Schlossgarten at Schwerin in the style of André Le Nôtre in the early 1750s and designed the Saalanbau of the palace at Rostock. In 1756 he went to Potsdam, where he worked for Frederick II, King of Prussia, on the Neues Palais at Sanssouci, together with Johann Gottfried Buring, Karl Philipp Christian von Gontard (1731-1791) and Heinrich Ludwig Manger (1728-89). His individual contribution is difficult to determine, and he fell out with the king and left in 1763 when construction work began. He is certainly responsible, however, for the Communs in Potsdam, a pair of Neo-classical palaces - the first in this style in Prussia - built to accommodate courtiers. These buildings face the Neues Palais across a broad square; they are fronted by imposing double-curved staircases and linked by a semicircular colonnade designed by von Gontard.

Legeay then travelled to England, where his presence is noted in 1766 and 1767. He was in contact with William Chambers, and he made a perspective drawing of Chambers's Casino at Marino, Dublin. He returned to France c. 1767 and worked on the publication of his various collections of engravings, including Fontane (1767), Rovine (1768), Vasi and Tombeaux (both published in Paris, 1770), all in the heavily monumental style that had so impressed Piranesi.

Legeay is last recorded seeking a pension from the Duke of Mecklenburg in 1786 to enable him to spend his old age in Rome. His reputation is derived less from built works than from his drawings and projects, which inspired his French contemporaries in Rome (including Robert Le Lorrain, Nicolas-Marie Potain and Jacques-Edmé Dumont) as well as his pupils at the Académie Royale with an enthusiasm for Neo-classical forms and ambitious scale that spelt the end of the Rococo and anticipated the era of French Revolutionary architecture.