Whew! It has been a little while since we’ve had a French Friday, hasn’t it? Here’s a fun one! (As usual, all photos are mine).
Every king needs a healthy dose of megalomania, right? The French kings weren’t lacking, that’s for sure. They were awfully fond of their building projects, and wanted to be certain that everyone knew who was behind it. What better way than to carve your name in stone? Names can get long, though, so initials or symbols serve the same purpose.
Under the relief carvings of the book of Genesis on the upper porch of Sainte Chappelle, you see this castle and fleur-de-lis motif repeated. The castle represents Blanche de Castile, who served as regent for her son Louis IX (St. Louis), represented by the fleur-de-lis. These same images are also used on the floor tiles in the lower level of the church.
François 1st really kicked off the building party during the Renaissance. He was tired of living in drafty fortresses and decided that a king of his ilk needed something more magnificent. So he had the entire Louvre razed to the ground and built himself a new one. But that wasn’t enough, so he also commissioned the château at Fontainebleau. And Chambord. And several others. The man liked the good life. His personal symbol was the salamander, which hardly seems very kingly. But back in François’ time, the salamander was believed to be akin to dragons. Now we’re talking! That explains why you will see fire-breathing salamanders wherever François spent any time. François’ monogram was a double F, one often mirroring the other for symmetry. He also made sure that it graced all of his new construction.
After Francois, came Henri II. He has one of the most recognizable monograms and one of the best stories behind it.
On the chandelier, there are blue medallions with an H and three interlocking C’s alternating around. The H is obviously for Henri and the C’s are for his wife, Catherine de’ Medici. But the most famous of Henri’s monograms is the one just over the window at the left. The DHC.
Inexplicably, this is the only photo I have of this particular monogram, even though it was repeated with abandon throughout Fontainebleau and the Louvre, among several other châteaux. The H is visible in the center, flanked by forward and backward-facing C’s. Well, that’s what Henri told his wife. But if you look more closely, you’ll see that the “backward C” is, in fact, a D, which stood for Diane. That’s right — the other woman. Diane de Poitiers was Henri’s mistress, and there was no secret about it. She enjoyed such an important distinction at court that Henri had no qualms in incorporating her into his monogram all over France.
The next few kings also had monograms which are visible in the royal palaces, but no one was quite so full of himself as Louis XIV. Besides all the old places where he could build on additions and new wings, he also built Versailles, possibly for the sole purpose of putting his name everywhere. Ok, not really, but Louis XIV wanted to be in everyone’s head all the time. His monogram is the mirrored script L and his symbol is the sun, because he likened himself to Apollo.
Of course, history’s biggest megalomaniac left plenty of evidence of himself. Would you expect anything less? You’ll find N’s everywhere in Paris. Napoleon definitely left his mark. The subsequent revolutions and reinstatement of the monarchy erased a few and replaced them with their own symbols. Once again, I remember taking photos of at least a few of these N’s, but can’t seem to find them in my photo folder. You’ll have to take my word for it. Or better yet, take a trip to Paris, and snap a few shots yourself! I should start making lists of things I need to photograph whenever I do get to go back… But I digress.
So here’s a French-inspired craft project for all of you: Go brand your own house. Don’t they say, “a man’s home is his castle”? Well, that makes you king (or queen). And don’t let anyone forget it.