The Jardin du Luxembourg is in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. It was created by and for Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France, for a new residence she constructed, the Luxembourg Palace. The complex was begun in 1612.
The palace: the Queen wanted it to resemble the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Does it? Yes and no.
Today the garden is owned by the French Senate, which meets in the Palace. It covers 23 hectares and is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin, and picturesque Medici Fountain, built in 1620. The name Luxembourg comes from the Latin Mons Lucotitius, the name of the hill where the garden is located.
In 1611, Marie de’ Medici, the widow of Henry IV and the regent for the King Louis XIII decided to build a palace in imitation of the Pitti Palace in her native Florence. She purchased the hotel du Luxembourg (today the Petit-Luxembourg palace) and began construction of the new palace. She commissioned Salomon de Brosse to build the palace and a fountain, which still exists.
In 1612 she planted 2,000 elm trees, and directed a series of gardeners, most notably Tommaso Francini, to build a park in the style she had known as a child in Florence.
Francini planned two terraces with balustrades and parterres laid out along the axis of the chateau, aligned around a circular basin. He also built the Medici Fountain to the east of the palace as a nympheum, an artificial grotto and fountain, without its present pond and statuary.
The original garden was just eight hectares in size. In 1630, the Queen bought additional land and enlarged the garden to thirty hectares, entrusting the work to Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie, the independent designer of the royal gardens of Tuileries and the early garden of Versailles. He was one of the early theorists of the new and more formal garden à la française, and he laid out a series of squares along an east-west alley closed at the east end by the Medici Fountain, and a rectangle of parterres with broderies of flowers and hedges in front of the palace. In the center he placed an octagonal basin with a fountain, with a perspective toward what is now the Paris observatory.
Later monarchs largely neglected the garden. In 1780, the Comte de Provence, the future Louis XVIII, sold the eastern part of the garden for real estate development. Following the French Revolution, however, the leaders of the French Directory expanded the garden to forty hectares by confiscating the land of the neighboring religious order of the Carthusian monks.
The architect Jean Chalgrin, the architect of the Arc de Triomphe, took on the task of restoring the garden. He remade the Medici Fountain and laid out a long perspective from the palace to the observatory. He preserved the famous pepiniere, or nursery garden of the Carthusian order, and the old vineyards, and kept the garden in a formal French style.
During and after the July Monarchy of 1848, the park became the home of a large population of statues; first the Queens and famous women of France lined the terraces; then, in 1880s & 90s, monuments to writers and artists were added. A small-scale model by Bartholdi of his Liberty Enlightening the World (commonly known as the Statue of Liberty) and one modern sculpture by Zadkine.
In 1865, during the reconstruction of Paris by Louis Napoleon, the rue de l’Abbé de l’Épée, (now rue Auguste-Comte) was extended into the park, cutting off about seven hectares, including a large part of the old nursery garden. The building of new streets next to the park also required moving and rebuilding the Medici Fountain to its present location. The long basin of the fountain was added at this time, along with the statues at the foot of the fountain.
During this reconstruction, the director of parks and promenades of Paris, Gabriel Davioud, built new ornamental gates and fences around the park, and polychromed brick garden houses. He also transformed what remained of the old Chartreux nursery garden, at the south end of the park, into an English garden with winding paths, and planted a fruit orchard in the southwest corner. He kept the regular geometric pattern of the paths and alleys, but did create one diagonal alley near the Medici fountain which opened a view of the Pantheon.
In the late 19th century the Jardin was also home to: a marionette theater, a music kiosk, greenhouses, an apiary or bee-house, an orangerie also used for displaying sculpture and modern art, a rose garden, the fruit orchard, and about seventy works of sculpture.
The garden is largely devoted to a green parterre of gravel and lawn populated with statues and centred on a large octagonal basin of water, with a central jet of water; in it children sail model boats. The garden is famed for its calm atmosphere. Surrounding the bassin on the raised balustraded terraces are a series of statues of former French queens, saints and copies after the antique. In the southwest corner, there is an orchard of apple and pear trees and the théâtre des marionnettes (puppet theatre).
The gardens include a large fenced-in playground for young children and their parents and a vintage carousel. In addition, free musical performances are presented in a gazebo on the grounds and there is a small cafe restaurant nearby, under the trees, with both indoor and outdoor seating from which many people enjoy the music over a glass of wine. The orangerie displays art, photography and sculptures.
The central axis of the garden is extended, beyond its wrought iron grill and gates opening to rue Auguste Comte, by the central esplanade of the rue de l’Observatoire, officially the Jardin Marco Polo, where sculptures of the four Times of Day alternate with columns and culminate at the southern end with the 1874 “Fountain of the Observatory,” also known as the Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde or the Carpeaux Fountain, for its sculptures by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. It was installed as part of the development of the avenue de l’Observatoire by Gabriel Davioud in 1867.
The central axis of the garden is extended, beyond its wrought iron grill and gates opening to rue Auguste Comte, by the central esplanade of the rue de l’Observatoire, officially the Jardin Marco Polo, where sculptures of the four Times of Day alternate with columns and culminate at the southern end with the 1874 “Fountain of the Observatory”, also known as the “Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde” or the “Carpeaux Fountain”, for its sculptures by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. It was installed as part of the development of the avenue de l’Observatoire by Gabriel Davioud in 1867.
The bronze fountain represents the work of four sculptors: Louis Vuillemot carved the garlands and festoons around the pedestal, Pierre Legrain carved the armillary with interior globe and zodiac band; the animalier Emmanuel Fremiet designed the eight horses, marine turtles and spouting fish. Most importantly Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux sculpted the four nude women supporting the globe, representing the Four Continents of classical iconography.
In spring, summer and fall, the garden is generally open between 7:30 am to dusk.
The garden contains just over a hundred statues, monuments, and fountains, scattered throughout the grounds. Surrounding the central green space are twenty figures of French queens and illustrious women standing on pedestals. They were commissioned by Louis-Philippe in 1848 and include: Anne of Austria, Anne of Brittany, Anne of France, Anne Marie Louise of Orléans, Bertha of Burgundy, Blanche of Castile, Clémence Isaure, Jeanne III of Navarre, Laure de Noves, Louise of Savoy, Margaret of Anjou, Margaret of Provence, Marguerite of Navarre, Marie de’ Medici, Mary, Queen of Scots, Matilda, Duchess of Normandy, Saint Bathild, Saint Clotilde, Saint Genevieve, and Valentina Visconti.
Jardin du Luxembourg in popular culture
The gardens are featured prominently in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables. It is here that the principal love story of the novel unfolds, as the characters Marius Pontmercy and Cosette first meet. Several scenes of André Gide’s novel The Counterfeiters also take place in the gardens.
Henry James also uses the gardens, in The Ambassadors, as the place where his character Lambert Strether has an epiphany about his identity. The final scene of William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary is set in the gardens. Patrick Modiano heard the news he had won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature via a mobile phone call from his daughter while walking through Paris, “just next to the Jardin du Luxembourg”.
Non-literary references include as the setting for a few episodes of French in Action, the 10th Joe Dassin’s 1976 studio album Le Jardin du Luxembourg, the cover of Tame Impala’s 2012 album Lonerism, the title of a song by the band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and the gardens and palace being added as a mission in the video game Assassin’s Creed Unity.