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HÔTEL DES INVALIDES
Built from 1676 to 1706 at the direction of Louis XIV as a veterans’ hospital, the Hôtel des Invalides boasts an elegant classical façade and impressive dome. The complex is a fine example of French Baroque architecture by Libéral Bruant, who was assisted and then succeeded by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. Hardouin-Mansart is responsible for the dome of the chapel, the most iconic feature of the building, using designs for a Bourbon Chapel at Saint Denis drafted by his great-uncle as the inspiration for the structure. The exterior of the dome is decorated with gilded military trophies meant to symbolize the martial prowess and victories of the French army. This subject matter is echoed in the allegorical paintings lining the interior of the dome and its rotunda. The tombs of several of the country’s most illustrious military leaders are located in tombs in the chapel. Napoleon Bonaparte’s porphyry sarcophagus is located beneath the dome.
Though the building was dedicated in 1691, its decoration extended throughout the eighteenth century and involved the work of leading painters and sculptors of the day including Chares de la Fosse, Antoine Coypel, Louis de Boullonge, Jean Jouvenet, and Antoine Coysevox. Today, the Hôtel des Invalides houses a museum, hospital, and church, and remains one of the most visited monuments of Paris.
HOW WE HELPED
WMF became involved in the restoration of Hôtel des Invalides in 1988. WMF’s project focused on the paintings in the cupola, attributed to Charles de la Fosse, which had deteriorated over time and had also been subject to earlier repairs and repainting that had not aged well.These multiple layers of paint caused the pictorial layers to detach from their mortar bases. Similarly, Jean Jouvenet’s paintings of the Apostles adorning the drum of the dome had suffered the same ill effects of excessive repainting. The cupola received thorough surface cleaning, consolidation of the disrupted layers, and minimal repainting of the necessary areas. The wall paintings of the drum received the same treatments; however, the reintegration of the deteriorated painted areas was more extensive. After cleaning and consolidation, the figures were fully repainted to restore them to their prior vigor, which had been lost in the poorly executed 19th-century restoration. The neoclassical frames of the paintings were replaced with replicas of the original Baroque high-relief moldings, which had been dismantled in 1789. The completed conservation project was unveiled in July of 1989, the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.
WHY IT MATTERS
As one of the most beautiful landmarks of the Paris skyline, the gilded dome of Les Invalides is an elegant and bold symbol of the French spirit universally admired for its beauty and bold conception. Despite its inception as a fully Baroque structure, the Hôtel des Invalides experienced numerous neoclassical alterations over time. The dome’s restoration has enabled visitors to appreciate its magnificence in a state that is closer to original character.