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The Supreme Architect of Gardens
André Le Nôtre's classical beauties

The French landscape designer André Le Nôtre, best known for his work and designs for Louis XIV palace of Versailles, utilized classical elements in every nock and cranny of each and every landscape he designed. He employed the classical style garden, French architectural or Formal style garden, were man was dominant over nature. "The classical garden took form in an age when man imposed precise patterns of his own making on mankind as well as on the landscape..."  The gardens were strict and contrived, it is obvious that the gardens were altered and groomed by man. Le Nôtre, born into a royal French landscape family in 1613, was destined to be a huge success; he was a third generation landscapist and was initiated into the practice of landscape design at an early age by his grandfather (Pierre) and his father (Jean). Le Nôtre education and training was the epitome of a classical and academic training, he followed the "proper training of a gardener set by Boyceau and studied painting and architecture with Simon Vouet and Francois Mansart."

Le Nôtre also learned about optical illusion, which he utilized throughout his successful career as a royal garden designer. This paper will focus on two of Le Nôtre's designs in particular, Château Vaux-le-Vicomte, and Versailles. Each
André Le Nôtre
  design excellently exemplifies André Le Nôtre's reliance on classical ideas and the dominance of man over nature to create a harmonious and picturesque sprawling landscape.

The monumental gardens that Le Nôtre designed possessed a typical and standard form, the gardens were very geometric and mathematical and utilized the technique of optical illusion to create the desired effect and play on the eye of a vast, sprawling landscape. Le Nôtre gardens were manipulated and "constructed garden, Paradise itself . . controlling every inch of space to the visible horizon and, by Cartesian projection, 'indefinitely' beyond it."  Le Nôtre created tiers, walls, waterways and pools to create optical illusions of infinite space. Usually Le Nôtre was not restricted to a limited space, but had unlimited space at his disposal, even though he had unlimited space he would still utilize optical illusions to create his masterpieces. Le Nôtre had a standard plan that he followed when creating a design. The classical scheme that he employed for his designs were used over and over again in each garden, the gardens all relied on the same basic standard plan. He would draw the château or main house into the landscape and use it as a focal point for the design. In the 17th century landscape and garden designs "house and garden were indivisible and complemented each other." The designs laid out by Le Nôtre always had a main axis leading towards the façade of the château, and the "central axis was bisected at intervals by transverse axes in the form of walks, pools and canals."  The main axis would be the 'spine' of the plan, which would extend along the main avenue, even though there were many deviations off the main path.

   The plan for Marly   The design for the Tuileries  
         The plan for Marly      The design for the Tuileries  
"His creations...are characterized by great axes opening onto vast perspectives reaching to the horizon. The layout of his plans is very geometric, using octagonal, tree-lined allees to define wooded spaces, at the entrance to which are groves- chambers of green where the gardener, by contrast, gives rein to his fantasy. Order, clarity, simplicity, symmetry, amplitude are the rules applied by Le Nôtre in the creation of his gardens..."

This type of strict plan of harmony and balance between buildings and landscape was a key element in Le Nôtre's plans as well as a leading aspect of classical landscape design.

Le Nôtre was credited with creating a set of rules for gardens, as written down by one of his pupils Alexander Le Blond in La theorie et la pratique du jardinage 1739. The book laid out the rules and 'grammar' of gardens. The rules of Le Nôtre's gardens became to be known as the classical scheme. The rules are as follows:

"The garden must be in harmony with the conformation of the land, that is, in accord with the situation whether it is in the mountains, on the seashore or in a desert such as the American Southwest; it must be planned for the climate, in terms of whether it is hot or cold, damp or dry, or combinations of these; it must form a unit with the house, harmonizing with its proportions as well as its size and style...the garden should be one-third longer than wide, and that one feature should always be balanced by another, such as wood by parterre. There should be variety, and no designs in the beds should be repeated. Statues should look inevitable, canals should be used in low places, and woods should be planted on the sides and at the back of the house. Moreover, planting should be done in terms of how it would look twenty years later..."

From these rules stemmed Le Nôtre's unique, yet very ordered and structured gardens. This set of rules was later applied to gardens to explain when something went wrong and was consulted to create the ideal garden landscape.

The classical idea of beauty and creating the perfect image by complying every 'perfect' aspect of nature was used full heartedly by André Le Nôtre in his landscape designs. Every detail was in harmony and perfect proportion to one another, and everything was on a monumental scale. The landscapes were a visual reference of Mans dominations over nature and the creation of the ideal. In Le Nôtre's landscapes, buildings accentuated the beauty of the landscape, although contrived and manipulated, and vise versa the landscape accentuated the buildings. Although the landscape was very important, "architectural features such as pavilions, stairways, balustrades and statues were considered the most important ornaments in the gardens and living plants were treated as subsidiary furniture."

 Continued >>>

                               View the Gardens of Versailles         View the Gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomté
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 © Copyright 1999 - 2016 by Sharon Atchley.  All rights reserved.  Updated:  05/06/2016