Accompanied with some English gentlemen, we took horse to see St. Germains-en-Laye, a stately country house of the King, some five leagues from Paris. By the way, we alighted at St. Cloud, where, on an eminence near the river, the Archbishop of Paris has a garden, for the house is not very considerable, rarely watered and furnished with fountains, statues and groves; the walks are very fair; the fountain of Laocoon is in a large square pool, throwing the water near forty feet high, and having about it a multitude of statues and basins, and is a surprising object.
But nothing is more esteemed than the cascade falling from the great steps into the lowest and longest walk from the Mount Parnassus, which consists of a grotto, or shell-house, on the summit of the hill, wherein are divers waterworks and contrivances to wet the spectators; this is covered with a fair cupola, the walls painted with the Muses, and statues placed thick about it, whereof some are antique and good.
In the upper walks are two perspectives, seeming to enlarge the alleys, and in this garden are many other ingenious contrivances. The palace, as I said, is not extraordinary. The outer walls only painted à fresco. In the court is a Volary, and the statues of Charles IX., Henry III., IV., and Louis XIII., on horseback, mezzo-relievo’d in plaster. In the garden is a small chapel; and under shelter is the figure of Cleopatra, taken from the Belvidere original, with others. From the terrace above is a tempest well painted; and thence an excellent prospect toward Paris, the meadows, and river.
At an inn in this village is a host who treats all the great persons in princely lodgings for furniture and plate, but they pay well for it, as I have done. Indeed, the entertainment is very splendid, and not unreasonable, considering the excellent manner of dressing their meat, and of the service. Here are many debauches and excessive revelings, as being out of all noise and observance.
From hence, about a league further, we went to see Cardinal Richelieu’s villa, at Ruell1 . The house is small, but fairly built, in form of a castle, moated round. The offices are toward the road, and over against it are large vineyards, walled in. But, though the house is not of the greatest, the gardens about it are so magnificent, that I doubt whether Italy has any exceeding it for all rarities of pleasure.
The garden nearest the pavilion is a parterre, having in the midst divers noble brass statues, perpetually spouting water into an ample basin, with other figures of the same metal; but what is most admirable is the vast inclosure, and variety of ground, in the large garden, containing vineyards, cornfields, meadows, groves (whereof one is of perennial greens), and walks of vast length, so accurately kept and cultivated, that nothing can be more agreeable.
On one of these walks, within a square of tall trees, is a basilisk of copper2, which, managed by the fountaineer, casts water near sixty feet high, and will of itself move round so swiftly, that one can hardly escape wetting. This leads to the Citronière3, which is a noble conserve of all those rarities; and at the end of it is the Arch of Constantine, painted on a wall in oil, as large as the real one at Rome, so well done, that even a man skilled in painting, may mistake it for stone and sculpture. The sky and hills, which seem to be between the arches, are so natural, that swallows and other birds, thinking to fly through, have dashed themselves against the wall. I was infinitely taken with this agreeable cheat.
At the further part of this walk is that plentiful, though artificial cascade, which rolls down a very steep declivity, and over the marble steps and basins, with an astonishing noise and fury; each basin hath a jetto in it, flowing like sheets of transparent glass, especially that which rises over the great shell of lead, from whence it glides silently down a channel through the middle of a spacious gravel walk, terminating in a grotto.
Here are also fountains that cast water to a great height, and large ponds, two of which have islands for harbor of fowls, of which there is store. One of these islands has a receptacle for them built of vast pieces of rock, near fifty feet high, grown over with moss, ivy, etc., shaded at a competent distance with tall trees: in this rupellary4 nidary5 do the fowl lay eggs, and breed.
We then saw a large and very rare grotto of shell-work, in the shape of Satyrs, and other wild fancies: in the middle stands a marble table, on which a fountain plays in divers forms of glasses, cups, crosses, fans, crowns, etc. Then the fountaineer represented a shower of rain from the top, met by small jets from below. At going out, two extravagant musketeers shot us with a stream of water from their musket barrels. Before this grotto is a long pool into which ran divers spouts of water from leaden escalop6 basins. The viewing this paradise made us late at St. Germains.
The first building of this palace is of Charles V., called the Sage7 ; but Francis I. (that true virtuoso) made it complete; speaking as to the style of magnificence then in fashion, which was with too great a mixture of the Gothic, as may be seen in what there is remaining of his in the old Castle, an irregular piece as built on the old foundation, and having a moat about it. It has yet some spacious and handsome rooms of state, and a chapel neatly painted.
The new Castle is at some distance, divided from this by a court, of a lower, but more modern design, built by Henry IV. To this belong six terraces, built of brick and stone, descending in cascades toward the river, cut out of the natural hill, having under them goodly vaulted galleries; of these, four have subterranean grots and rocks, where are represented several objects in the manner of scenes and other motions, by force of water, shown by the light of torches only; among these, is Orpheus with his music; and the animals, which dance after his harp; in the second, is the King and Dolphin; in the third, is Neptune sounding his trumpet, his chariot drawn by sea horses; in the fourth, the story of Perseus and Andromeda; mills; hermitages; men fishing; birds chirping; and many other devices. There is also a dry grot to refresh in; all having a fine prospect toward the river, and the goodly country about it, especially the forest. At the bottom, is a parterre; the upper terrace nearly half a mile in length, with double declivities, arched and balustered with stone, of vast and royal cost.
In the pavilion of the new Castle are many fair rooms, well painted, and leading into a very noble garden and park, where is a pall-mall, in the midst of which, on one of the sides, is a chapel, with stone cupola, though small, yet of a handsome order of architecture. Out of the park you go into the forest, which being very large, is stored with deer, wild boars, wolves, and other wild game. The Tennis Court, and Cavallerizzo8 , for the menaged horses, are also observable.
We returned to Paris by Madrid, another villa of the King’s, built by Francis I., and called by that name to absolve him of his oath that he would not go from Madrid (in which he was prisoner), in Spain, but from whence he made his escape. This house is also built in a park,and walled in. We next called in at the Bonnes-hommes, well situated, with a fair chapel and library.
Richelieu’s palace at Rueil no longer exists. Its beautiful grounds were cut up by the heirs of the Duchesse d’Aiguillon, the niece to whom he bequeathed it, and who beautified it so much as to excite the cupidity of Louis XIV. The fortresslike chateau was destroyed in the Revolution. A memory of the gardens survives in the six views of Gabriel Perelle after Israel Silvestre. –AD ↩
The Fountaine au Dragon – source: Richelieu by R J Knecht ↩
Citron Garden or Lemon Garden -GS ↩
Rocky – from the Latin rupes – a rock – GS ↩
A collection of nests. -GS ↩
shell shape – to have a regular, curving indenture in the margin -GS ↩
Italian, Cavallerizza “Riding school” ↩