LE BRETON, Gilles
(b. ca. 1500, Paris, d. ca. 1552, Paris)
La Porte Dorée, 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.
Of these buildings, the most interesting is the Porte Dorée, in which the new style of Le Breton appears clearly. Fundamentally it is the fortified gate to a castle flanked by two towers, translated into a partly Renaissance idiom. The decoration is limited to the application of flat pilasters on each floor and to the windows, which are topped with straight pediments. The most striking feature is the series of three open bays one above the other in the middle. The design is asymmetrical: the right tower is slightly broader than the left, and the middle peak of the roof is arbitrarily placed.
The photo shows the Porte Dorée and the Allée de Maintenon.