The Landscape Guide



French leadership in baroque garden design

In the second half of the seventeenth century France held the leadership, obtained after long efforts and severe struggles, over the whole of Europe. She was incontestably at the highest summit of political power, but was still more obviously of first-rate importance in her culture, which was fortified by foreign examples and yet flourished independently on her own soil. Italy was compelled to resign the sceptre in many departments of art, but especially in gardening, to this rival in the North, after fulfilling her mission during a century and a half on the other side of the Alps. 

The growth of native art in France was greatly favoured by the fact that there were no outside disturbances to hinder it. At the beginning of the seventeenth century garden art had received a strong impetus everywhere in the North, while in Germany the Thirty Years’ War had left few flowers untrampled, and in England the rule of the Puritans, with their hatred for luxury, had perceptibly interfered with garden tradition. In France, however, progress had not suffered; for the civil disturbances of the Fronde were really only a trial of strength - skirmishing which could be put a stop to by reconciliations and persuasions, not war to the knife and therefore hostile to art. After the death of Henry IV., the king, as such, was in a less commanding position for a time, and the long regencies and the great power of the Church had made it easy for proud nobles to raise their pretensions to an equal height with his. The waves of political life communicated movement even to garden art. After the building of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Henry the Fourth’s stately home, there was no important new royal house, and the old ones like Fontainebleau added few new features to castle and garden. On the other hand the Luxembourg, the residence of the queen regent, grew; and Richelieu’s country house at Ruel attracted foreign visitors. With this a nobleman’s castle like Liancourt might compete, or indeed that of a foreign adventurer, like Saint-Cloud. And if Fontainebleau and Saint-Germain may be included, they are after all only acquired properties, and at best the gardens and castles stand inter pares


Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see

Louis XIV: The Sun King