History of the Palais du Luxembourg Palace
The Palais du Luxembourg was constructed at the start of the 1600s for Marie de Medici and located within the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, this palace is now home to the French Senate, but there is a lot more to its history.
The beginnings of the Palais du Luxembourg
Marie de Medici who was the wife of King Henri IV was not happy with the semi medieval Palais du Louvre and after her husband was assassinated and she became regent for her son, the future King Louis XIII, she decided to have her own palace constructed in Paris.
Also mother to Gaston, Duc d’Orleans, Marie de Medici wanted the modern and imposing residence to remind her of the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens in Florence, which is where she had been brought up, and because she was now the regent for her first son Louis, she could devote more time and resources to her plan.
The site for this royal palace was chosen very quickly, which was a large eight hectare domain with a mansion house belonging to Francois de Luxembourg, Duc de Piney along with the acquisition of adjoining land and houses, close to the Faubourg Saint Germain and the Leonora Galigai residences.
And so, the development of the 25 hectare park for the palace began immediately after purchase in 1612, and it was the architect Salomon de Brosse who was instructed to build the palace, but work did not actually start on the building that she referred to as the Palais Medicis until 1615.
The next stages of the Palais du Luxembourg
Construction began in 1615 with the design being very heavily influenced by Marie de Medici, and in fact there were actually two palaces, one being the new palace and the other being the original mansion of the Duc de Piney, Francois de Luxembourg that was rebuilt at the same time. And the old mansion was named the Petit Luxembourg and the Palais du Luxembourg was the sumptuous palace that Marie nicknamed the Palais Medici.
They both have Tuscan style bossage decoration from her beloved Italian influence, yet the main plan was of French inspiration and they were the precursor to the Chateau Vaux le Vicomte and the Chateau de Versailles, but they also show a transition between the Renaissance and the Classical period of styles in architecture.
Yet it was the influence of Marie de Medici that made this palace sumptuous and majestic, especially with the central main staircase, with the west wing being the apartments for the queen, and the matching suites to the east of the Palais du Luxembourg being reserved for her son, the future King Louis XIII.
Also, Marie de Medici commissioned numerous different sets of paintings and many other requirements for the sumptuous interior design of the Palais du Luxembourg, that were executed by Philippe de Champaigne and Jean Mosnier.
For the French style gallery in the west wing, she ordered 24 canvases by the painter Rubens, which became referred to as the Ruben's Gallery, although these are now able to be viewed within the Musee du Louvre.
Work was slow progress on the Palais du Luxembourg and even though the interior decoration had not yet been completely finished, Marie de Medici installed her complete household into the new palace in 1625, while the work continued.
Then Marie de Medici decided to provide the Hotel du Luxembourg, now known as the Petit Luxembourg, as a gift to Armand de Richelieu, also known as Cardinal de Richelieu. He occupied this mansion house while his own grand palace was being constructed, which is now known as the Palais Royal, as he deeded this place to the Crown.
Work on the Palais du Luxembourg was finally completed in 1631, however, additional decorations were commissioned by the future King Louis XIII, yet in the 1640s, Marie de Medici bequeathed the Luxembourg Palace to her favourite son, Gaston d’Orleans.
When he died, the Palais du Luxembourg was left to his widow, and then it was passed to his eldest daughter from his first marriage, Anne, Duchesse de Montpensier, who subsequently sold the palace to her half sister. The half sister, Elisabeth Marguerite d’Orleans, the Duchesse de Guise then gave the residence to her cousin King Louis XIV shortly before she died in 1696.
The 1700s to the present day
It was in the year 1750, that the Director of Kings Buildings decided to install a public art gallery in Paris within the Palais du Luxembourg, so that French and foreign canvasses from the royal collection could be shown.
This was open to the public a couple of set days each week, however, the future King Louis XVIII, who was residing at the Petit Luxembourg, decided to have the museum closed in 1780, yet he fled the palace in 1791.
The Palais du Luxembourg became empty for the first time in its history, but a new role was found for the palace, and during the French Revolution it was made into a prison, which in French was known as a Maison Nationale de Surete. Housing up to around 1000 prisoners, including famous names such as Danton, many often left here for the guillotine.
Yet with the Thermidorian Revolution of 1795, the palace was assigned to the Directoire Executive and four out of five of the directors were housed within the Petit Luxembourg, and this was the year that the Palais du Luxembourg was declared a National Palace.
The Senators of the Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte succeeded the directors, and this was when the palace became a governmental building, yet Napoleon wanted numerous changes made to the Luxembourg Palace, and it was the architect Jean Chalgrin, who was commissioned with the task of numerous alterations.
Now we mentioned earlier that Marie de Medici had 24 paintings produced by the artist Rubens, and they were installed in what was known as the Rubens Gallery, yet these were subsequently moved to the Louvre Museum, which is where they still are today, and the gallery itself was removed to make way for a monumental staircase.
After the fall of Napoleon and the return of King Louis XVIII, he set up the House of Lords at the Palais du Luxembourg, and it also became a court of justice, yet when King Louis Philippe took over for the second House of Lords, there were 270 parliamentary members, and the palace needed to be extended.
So, the architect Alphonse de Gisors, was commissioned for the additions to the palace, and provided a new Chamber of Sessions, and numerous artists were also commissioned for paintings, including Eugene Delacroix, who decorated the cupola and half dome of the library, which can still be seen today.
More alterations took place during the reign of Napoleon III, yet after the fall of the Empire in 1870, the Palais du Luxembourg took on other roles such as being the home of the War Council. But after the fire that destroyed the Hotel de Ville, or City Hall in Paris, the Prefecture of the Seine was installed in the palace, and then in 1879, it became the seat of the French Senate.
Numerous famous politicians sat within the Palais du Luxembourg, including Victor Hugo, and you can see a bust and statue of him within the palace, but during World War II, it was under German occupation, and got liberated on 25 August 1944.
Then from 1946, the Luxembourg Palace once more became the seat of the French Senate, which is where it still remains today. In more recent years, the palace has been modernised to adapt to the needs of a modern political assembly, however, there has also been much restoration undertaken to preserve the unique and ornate interior decorations and architecture of this historical monument in Paris.
Also today, the Senate is in charge of maintaining not just the Palais du Luxembourg, but also the Petit Luxembourg, which is the residence of the President of the Upper Chamber, and has been since 1825. Plus they oversee the maintenance and care of the Jardins du Luxembourg with its many monuments, statues, buildings, etc, including the famous Medici Fountain.