The two larger than life Atlas figures, holding up the lintel over the door, are the first to catch your eye. Then, maybe the head of the dead lion, just below the oval window or perhaps the cornucopia of fruit and vegetables. Look again to the left of the window and you’ll find a panel packed with the ancient tools of farming and gardening, a plough share, a cart wheel, a spade, a rake, a sickle, a flail and a watering can. The panel to the right of the window looks like a celebration of a successful trading voyage. There’s an anchor, a chart, a telescope, bits of ship’s rigging and something that looks suspiciously like a fat purse of coins.
(Click on the photo to enlarge it for a closer look).
This extraordinary facade, on Quai des Celéstins, is part of the Hôtel de Fieubet, bought in 1676 by Gaspard III Fieubet (chancellor to Queen Marie-Therèse) and remodeled for him by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Louis XIV’s chief architect. The building went through many later modifications (including being converted into a sugar refinery after the Revolution) and fell into ruin before being restored as a private school. This corner is the only part surviving from the building as Gaspard Fieubet knew it.
A glance at the list of buildings designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart suggests that the architect won’t have spent much time concerning himself with the details of the stone carving on a house for the queen’s chancellor. Whoever the designer of this facade was, they had an eye for detail and close acquaintance with farming and gardening. The ‘farming’ panel is decorated with ears of wheat and a bunch of grapes. The fruit and veg chosen for the cornucopia are more exotic: pomegranates, artichokes, pineapples, pumpkins and maize among other rather lumpily indistinct vegetables. A different carver, or a different brief?
This carving probably ‘read’ quite clearly to a passerby in the 17th century. Now it hints at old stories but leaves plenty of mysteries too.
A late addition to this week’s Thursday Doors.