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The situation in France

Rejecting Italian influence because of national pride, attracted by architectural innovation yet not renouncing its Gothic tradition, fascinated above all by unity and balance: France presented the dual achievement ofboth quantity and diversity. Thus, in response to Protestant vandalism during the Wars of Religion, the cathedrals of Valence and Orleans were reconstructed respectively in Romanesque and Gothic style, following their original designs - with the rebuilding in Orleans continuing until the end of the ancien régime. Indeed, a certain taste for the Gothic was visible in the works of a number of French architects from abbe Martellange through Soufflot, and including the architecture of the Premontre Order - with its preference for large church halls - and such theoreticians as Andre Felibien (1699), Michel de Millin (1702), Jean-Louis de Cordemoy (1706), and abbe Laugier (1753).

A clear transformation appeared with the facade of Saint-Gervais (1616), designed by Salomon de Brosse, where a screen with three superimposed orders was built in front of a vast Gothic nave. From the outset, critics elevated the workto the level of a national model. Amongthe domed churches, no doubt one of the most ambitious was the Val-de-Grâce, begun in 1645 by Francois Mansart at the request of Anne of Austria and continued by Le Mercier, the designer ofthe dome of the Sorbonne Chapel (1635). Mansart, who had already built the dome of the Chapel of the Visitation, rue Saint-Antoine (1632-33), suggested an ambitious plan to Louis XIV for a funeral chapel for the Bourbon family that combined a central plan with a cupola (1665). The chapel would have been erected in the chevet of the great abbey church of Saint-Denis. Although Mansart died in 1666 without being able to execute his project, his innovative idea of a low, open cupola, fitted into a dome to produce indirect daylight, was taken up by his nephew Jules Hardouin-Mansart in the church of the Invalides (1676).

An Italian influence is to be seen in a number of churches from different religious communities. One finds good examples in the Carmelite and Oratory churches in Paris and, slightly later, the church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, the central edifice of the Jesuits in France. Inspired by the plan for Gesii in Rome (finished in 1584), the latter was constructed according to plans by Etienne Martellange (1627-41). In 1662, it was the turn of the Theatines, an order brought to France at Mazarin's request. Their chapel was erected according to Guarino Guarini's plans and combined elliptical spaces and convex and concave curves: compositions based on the diagonal with the taste for 'extravagance' that served to strengthen France's assertion of Classicism.

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