LE BRETON, Gilles
(b. ca. 1500, Paris, d. ca. 1552, Paris)
Cour du Cheval Blanc, Fontainebleau (Seine-et-Marne)
In 1528 King Francis I decided to make certain improvements in the medieval castle of Fontainebleau, which had up till then been no more than a hunting lodge. He began with the idea of making small alterations. By the time he had developed a scheme for the total transformation, everything had been confused by attempts to incorporate old parts and to add wings here and there. The result is that, though charming and picturesque, Fontainebleau is one of the most inconsequently designed châteaux in France.
The work was carried out by the master mason Gilles Le Breton. From the uniformity of style in different parts of the building it is reasonable to suppose that he was the designer as well as the executant. The manner is unmistakably French, its classicism is an evolution within a French idiom, and is not due to importing of new Italian motives.
From the contract signed by Le Breton in 1528 we know that the first plan of Francis I included the following modifications and additions: the building of a new entrance, the Porte Dorée, to the court of the old castle, the Cour de l'Ovale; the addition of a gallery stretching behind the keep, and later called the Galerie François I; and the construction of two blocks at an obtuse angle to link the new entrance to the keep. In addition, the north side of the Cour de Cheval Blanc probably dates from this period.
The north side of the Cour de Cheval Blanc is composed of brick pilasters and mouldings against a white plaster wall, an arrangement which was to be widely followed in châteaux. Here again no strict attention is paid to symmetry, for instance in the placing of the windows. The same point might be made about the east side of the court, but in this case the irregularities are due to subsequent alterations. The parts due to Le Breton, and built at various dates between 1528 and the death of Francis I, are in general distinguishable by being constructed in plaster with quoins and pilasters of grès, whereas the later parts are executed in a finer cream-coloured stone.