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PÉRAU, Abbé Gabriel-Louis Calabre

Description historique de l'hôtel royal des Invalides.

Paris, Guillaume Desprez, 1756




Folio (434 x 284mm)
Title printed in red and black, fleurons, vignettes, decorated tail pieces and letters, engraved by Cochin
ILLUSTRATION : frontispiece with a portrait of Louis XIV after Cazes engraved by Cochin and 107 PLATES INCLUDING 31 PRINTED ON DOUBLE PAGE. They are engraved by Cochin, Lucas and Herissent and others after drawings by Mansart, Pierre Dulin, Robert de Cotte, Maler, Charles de La Fosse, B. Boulogne, Louis de Boullongne, Jean Jouvenet, Nicolas Coypel and various other artists

BINDING SIGNED BY BRADEL THE YOUNGER (etiquette). Green morocco, gilt inlaid décor, gilt inlaid spine, gilt edges, endpapers in pink paper
PROVENANCE : Marquis Hubert de Ganay (ex-libris)

Small piece of marginal paper missing on page 53

In 1670, Louis XIV appointed Louvois (1641-1691) who had been Secretary of State for War since 1656, to carry out one of his greatest projects : the construction of a hospital for the war wounded. With this one act, the King reconciled France, the destitute, the many wounded and the army, thus paving the way for projects of grandiose conquests by a unified nation-state.

Louvois had reorganized the armies and controlled them with an iron fist. The chief architect of the project, Libéral Bruant (1635-1697), chosen by Louis XIV and Colbert among eight projects, proposed for the Hôtel des Invalides a grid plan based on the Escurial, a design on which he had already worked on another construction : the Salpêtrière hospital. The vocations of these two institutions came together. They had. to offer charity to the abandoned, abolish begging and conceal the mutilated soldiers of the gruesome War of Thirty Years that were seen hanging around in Paris. While Cardinal Mazarin had wished to gather the destitute at the Salpêtrière, veterans previously left to their own fate, would henceforth be fed and lodged at the Invalides.

From the main entrance in the north, you access the royal court. The buildings with border this large square house the refectories on the ground level, while the third floor houses the factories and workshops occupied by the residents : a cobbler, an upholsterer, but also a workshop for calligraphy and illumination which would soon become famous. Order was imposed : all the patients had to participate in the life of the institution. The soldiers’, officers’ and monks’ rooms were in different buildings. The weakest found some care and rest in the infirmaries located at the east of the royal chapel and were organized in a cross plan. Gardens were planted on the other side, the west. Symbolically, the soldiers’ church and the royal chapel are located in the center of the composition.

In 1674, this gigantic group of buildings on the Grenelle plain, occupied an area of more than thirteen hectares. It comprised a barracks, a convent, a hospital, a factory, a hospice, a church, a chapel, and even a bakery. At the end of the 17th century, around four thousand people lived at the Hôtel des Invalides.

Colbert’s death allowed Louvois to dismiss Libéral Bruant and give the construction to his protégé Jules Hardouin-Mansart. He created the famous royal chapel and its famous dome. It makes one of the most complex and richly decorated buildings of the French 17th century and which today houses the tomb of Napoleon. Originally reserved exclusively for the royal family, it communicated with the soldiers’ church in the north near the choir where the services were celebrated. Louis XIV ordered a decorative program entirely turned towards the glory of the nation, the army, the Catholic Church and himself. The north entrance for example, was treated like an arch of triumph, where the figure of the Sun King is found with Louis XIV taking the features of an emperor on his mount. The plan of the chapel is centered : a Greek cross is inscribed in an almost perfect square. All these elements draw the eye towards the top to admire the cupola – or dome – which crowns the crisscross (point of convergence of the span). It was the tallest building in Paris before the erection of the Eiffel tower in 1889.

Towards the end of his life, Louis XIV wrote in his will that the Hôtel des Invalides was the most useful work of his reign. He was proud to have brought together under the same roof, charity, assistance, glory to the armies and the Nation : “Between the various establishments that we have build in the course of our reign, there is none more useful than our Hôtel royal des Invalides.

The Invalides were rented out all over the country and even beyond. Tsar Peter the Great made sure to visit the building in 1717 and even lingered at a table with the soldiers. The whole of Europe built similar projects such as at Chelsea in 1682 (commissioned by Charles II), Pest in 1724, Vienna in 1727, Prague in 1728, Berlin in 1748, Ulriksdal in 1822, Runa in 1827, or even Madrid in 1837.

The huge decorative program of the Invalides was not finished until the middle of the 18th century. The hospital and its church were indeed decorated with paintings and sculptures executed by the greatest artists of the time. It is this splendor of art that the talented engraver Cochin wished to reproduce here.

Gabriel-Louis Calabre Pérau (1700-1767) in fact completes with his Description historique de l’hôtel royal des Invalides (1756) the editing work previously undertaken by Le Jeune de Boulencourt (Description générale de l’Hostel Royal des Invalides, 1683), Jean-François Félibien des Arvaux (Description de la nouvelle église de l'hostel royal des Invalides, 1706) and Jean-Joseph Granet (Histoire de l'hôtel royal des Invalides, 1736). Pérau wrote in his Avant-propos :

“We had the historical truth of the establishment, the description and the plans both general and specific. But when Painting and Sculpture had decorated the church of the dome with all its richness, amateurs appeared to wish that with the help of Engraving the Curious could browse and examine in the silence of the cabinet the different masterpieces that the united Arts have spread all over this sumptuous Monument”

The main quality of this copy, other than the remarkable freshness of its binding in morocco comes from the size of its margins that bypass by nearly two centimeters those of the Jacques Bemberg copy. Copies in morocco are particularly rare since RBH, ABPC, the Gazette de Drouot and the Berès file mention only the Jacques Bemberg copy in morocco.

“This definitive account incorporates the additions made after 1747 and gives an account of the visit of the Dauphin in 1743 and the text of a royal decree of 1749 relating top the inmates, especially the additions made after 1747” (cat. B. Quaritch, 1993).

REFERENCES : Katalog der Ornamentstichsammlung 2513 -- Millard I 385-387 -- Cohen-de Ricci 788 (fausse collation)