Primaticcio’s façade in the Belle Cheminée Wing, the architectural dressing of the façades and the symmetrical layout of the Cour Ovale which borders the old mediaeval structure are now the Château de Fontainebleau’s most outstanding Renaissance architectural features.
When King Francis I returned from Italy, he ordered considerable development work to take place at the Château de Fontainebleau, which was to continue throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. The construction of the famous gallery which linked his chamber to the chapel was accompanied by the most renowned décor of the French Renaissance. This Italian work marks the birth of the First École de Fontainebleau. Continuing under the reign of successive rulers, it would shape the château into the structure we recognise today.
1858 was a key year in the Château de Fontainebleau’s construction. It was during this time that, having ordered the demolition of the old château to make way for his own palace, Francis I began work on the gallery. Adjacent to the apartment of the King, whose chamber is situated on the first floor of the keep, the gallery wing is a private space which is divided over two levels. The first floor of the gallery is a space designed for the monarch to stroll through. It was illuminated from both sides as its windows looked out both south onto the Cour de la Fontaine and north onto the Jardin de la Reine. It was only in the 18th century, when the wing was extended to build new sovereign apartments from it, that the windows were blocked up and the King’s retiring room was removed.
This gallery was the first of its kind to be built in France, and it is said that the King himself wore the key to it around his neck, permitting only his most illustrious guests to visit it. On the ground floor were the appartements de bains (royal baths) in which, in addition to the great Vatican antiques castby Primaticcio at Fontainebleau itself, Francis I also displayed valuable works such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and The Virgin of the Rocks.
Whilst Francis I was rebuilding the château on its ancient foundations on the Cour Ovale side, he was at the same time taking back from the monks the abbey lands which he required to complete his building scheme. It was thus that the buildings which currently border the Cour du Cheval Blanc were built, namely the Ministers’ Wing to the north, the Ferrara Wing to the west, and the Galerie d’Ulysse to the south. Alongside these buildings were constructed various other outlying buildings (the small and large jeu de paume halls, kennels, conciergerie, pavilions, etc). Further additions have also been made on a regular basis, including modifications to staircases, the construction of the colonnade encircling the Cour Ovale, allowing access to apartments and the mounting of the guard alongside them, the development of buildings surrounding the Cour de la Fontaine and the alignment of those overlooking the Cour de Cheval Blanc. The reconstruction of a royal chapel over two floors marked the crowning glory of an edifice dating back to Thomas Becket.