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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of the Palais du Luxembourg

What is the Palais du Luxembourg?

Palais du Luxembourg, or The Luxembourg Palace in English, is an Italian Baroque-style palace redesigned by Marie de’ Medici in the 17th century to reflect her native Florence, which now houses the French Senate.

Palais du Luxembourg History

After the assassination of her husband, Henry IV, in 1610, Marie de’ Medici decided that she no longer wanted to live in her royal residence. To her the Louvre Palace seemed gloomy and she yearned to return to a home that felt more familiar to her. She had purchased the mansion and garden of the Duke of Piney-Luxembourg in 1612, and just three years later she commissioned the most distinguished architect of the time, Salomon de Brosse, to design her a new estate that would be reminiscent of her childhood home in Tuscany.

Although the building is unmistakeably French, it bears considerable resemblance to the palaces of Florence, particularly the Pitti Palace, Marie’s ancestral home and place of birth. Circumscribed by his brief, de Brosse nevertheless managed to produce a rare work of architectural genius. With the exception of the additions on the garden side, his grand palace, with its pavilions, terraces, and arcaded corridors, remains just as it was when completed in the 17th century.

For the decoration of her new palace, Marie spared no expense. She commissioned painters and sculptors to transform the interior, lining its rooms with lavish sculpture and elaborate frescoes. Peter Paul Rubens, the celebrated Flemish Baroque artist, played a central role in their creation, and the general projection of an aura of costly magnificence. Rubens, then court painter to a northern Italian nobleman, had first met Marie at her wedding in Florence. Clearly impressed with the Flemish master, the queen commissioned him to produce a series of large paintings (now found in the Louvre Museum) depicting the story of her life, which would adorn the ground floor wings of her new palace.

However, scarcely had the queen settled in her grand new residence when the machinations of her enemy Cardinal Richelieu drove her into exile. After the death of her husband, and their son and heir Louis only eight years old, Marie had ruled as regent. She continued to rule in his stead even as Louis reached his early teens. When, inevitably, the young king decided to exercise his regal power, the queen was exiled from Paris. Marie returned to court after several years with Richelieu, a newly minted cardinal, as her chief political adviser. However, Richelieu did not intend to be dominated by the queen, and by 1628 the two were sworn enemies. Richelieu had ascended through the political ranks to become Chief Minister to her son, now King Louis XIII. Marie believed the cardinal had blunted her political influence and demanded that her son dismiss Richelieu from his position as de facto prime minister. The persuasive statesman secured the king’s favour, and Queen Marie, once the most powerful figure in the country, was exiled yet again.

In stark contrast to its royal beginnings, de Brosse’s building was used as a prison during the French Revolution, and in the 19th century it was altered, enlarged, and transformed into a stately governmental palace. Despite its use as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe (the German air force) during the Second World War, the building has since predominantly functioned as the seat of the French Senate.

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