(b. 1613, Paris, d. 1688, Paris)

Exterior view

Louvre, Paris

Jean-Baptiste Colbert was the driving force behind the statesmanship of Louis XIV, whose reign became an example of uninhibited royal power. Colbert was the minister of finance and, with Charles Le Brun, president of the Royal Academy for Painting and Sculpture, founded in 1648. He was appointed Surintendant des Bâtiments in 1664, a position which essentially gave him responsibility for all royal building projects.

Colbert's main concern was the conversion of the Louvre, a fortress-like four-wing structure which had been continually extended and modernized since the sixteenth century, more recently with the clock pavilion by Lemercier and conversion of the eastern half of the Cour Carré, for which Le Vau claimed responsibility. However, an imposing façade towards the city was still lacking. Colbert invited the most renowned Italian architects, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Pietro da Cortona, Carlo Rainaldi and Francesco Borromini, to submit plans. However, their proposals were rejected.

The east façade finally built in 1667-68, for which Claude Perrault claimed responsibility, was an improvement on earlier designs as a monument to the French monarchy. Perrault used the motif of the colonnade as an appropriate structure for what was essentially a late-medieval palace complex, but his version demonstrated a new classical rigor. Over an escarpment and an unobtrusively structured ground floor lay an elongated columned hall, the corners of which were given added emphasis by pavilions resembling triumphal arches. The central axis is accentuated by a projecting temple frontage. The palace structure is thus enhanced by the religious motif. The extended alignment of double Corinthian columns was the most distinctive and frequently quoted feature here; their impressive weight was further stressed by the ridge line traversing the entire breadth of the building.

It is not immediately obvious why the eastern facade of the Louvre Museum, originally a royal palace, was considered among the most important architectural works in France at the end of the seventeenth century. There is an incongruity today between the grandeur of the building and the ordinariness - and smallness - of the space in front of it, the Place du Louvre. Originally designed to be the main, ceremonial entrance to the palace, the façade repays close attention, despite its unexalted position today. It is a premier example of the rigorous design tradition in French classicism, a revered model for subsequent palace design, and a monument associated with the origins of modernity in architecture.

The picture shows the east façade, the so-called Colonnade, or Perrault's Colonnade.