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  • Carmontelle’s Design for the Jardin de Monceau: A Freemasonic Garden in Late-Eighteenth-Century France
  • David Hays (bio)

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Figure 1.

Plan of the Jardin de Monceau. Carmontelle, Jardin de Monceau, près de Paris, 1779 (Plate 1). Courtesy of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Washington, D.C.


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Figure 2.

The Temple of Mars. Carmontelle, Jardin de Monceau, près de Paris, 1779 (Plate 6). Courtesy of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Washington, D.C.


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Figure 3.

The Watermill and the Ruined Castle. Carmontelle, Jardin de Monceau, près de Paris, 1779 (Plate 4). Courtesy of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collections, Washington, D.C.

Between 1771 and 1779, Louis Carrogis, known as Carmontelle (1717–1806), conceived and realized a garden on a site near the village of Monceau, just northwest of Paris. The design, laid out over twenty-eight acres, was rich in thematic settings, the variety and distribution of which were unprecedented in France (fig. 1). 1 Included were such confections as the Temple of Mars and the Farm, erected close to each other along the southeast edge of the property (fig. 2). Also present were the Ruined Castle and the Watermill, nearby structures that stood back-to-back (fig. 3). Towards the north end of the garden, the Dutch Windmill and the so-called Minaret created a curious skyline over the airy Italian Vineyard and lugubrious Wood of Tombs. 2 Farther west, the Circus or Naumachia and the Tartar Tent overlooked the agrarian expanse of the Plaine de Clichy, visible across the open ditch that defined the northwest boundary of the garden. Finally, the Chinese Merry-Go-Round, set up next to the main pavilion, was undoubtedly the most playful feature of the design.

Perhaps due to the complexity of Carmontelle’s design, as well as the notoriety of its patron, Louis-Philippe-Joseph d’Orléans, the duc de Chartres (1747–93), the meaning of Monceau has long been a subject of speculation. 3 Monceau has never escaped its early reputation as a costly, private haven for sexual license. Even in recent years, the density and apparent disorder of Carmontelle’s design have been moralized by various scholars as signs of ancien régime prodigality. 4 Association of the design with pleasure and imaginative play is, in fact, partly legitimate. Carmontelle’s work at Monceau and his attitude towards garden design in general were intimately [End Page 447] bound up with his principal occupation as an organizer of social entertainments for the Orléans household. Having entered the Orléans employment in 1759 as lecteur (reader) to the duc de Chartres, Carmontelle was appointed to a second post, that of general director of entertainments, in 1763. 5 Over the course of thirty-four years, he produced more than 750 watercolor portraits of the Orléans, their friends, and their acquaintances. 6 He also composed hundreds of short, lightly pedagogical skits for performance at parties given by the Orléans for their guests. 7 Curiously, however, there is no evidence to suggest that Carmontelle ever used the settings at Monceau as backdrops for his structured entertainments, nor does the range of themes represented in Carmontelle’s theatrical work seem to be echoed in the design of the garden. In fact, the expanse and exotic nature of the settings at Monceau were inappropriate to the informal, private theater in which Carmontelle specialized. 8 While Carmontelle’s professional disposition may account, in a general way, for the playful nature of the experience to be found at Monceau, the purpose of entertainment does not explain the particular selection and configuration of elements within the design.

Over the past two decades, the notion that freemasonry provided a key referent in the development of Monceau has surfaced periodically in scholarship on eighteenth-century architecture and garden design. 9 The possibility of a connection is suggested by the fact that the patron of Monceau, the duc de Chartres, served as Grand Master of the French freemasons from 1771 until the Revolution. More abstractly, the idea that...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 447-462
Launched on MUSE
1999-07-01
Open Access
No
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