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Le Jardin du Luxembourg in the heart of Paris is a pure delight any time of the year and is the second largest park in Paris. A thick forest surrounds the back of the Luxembourg Palace and green space with manicured floral beds, pools, the exquisite Fontaine de Médicis and countless statues. It’s beloved by Parisians seeking a bit of plein air. Let me tell you more about the women whose lives were intimately associated with the jardin and the palais.
Marie de Médici commissioned Le Palais du Luxembourg in the early 1600s. Widow of Henry IV, she intended to build an estate reminiscent of the Pitti Palace in Florence where she was born. But architect Salomon de Brosse urged her to temper this Italianate concept and built instead the French château embellished with Italianate architectural details, such as the rusticated stonework, bosses and “ringed” columns.
Her fate, complex and linked with Cardinal Richelieu, resulted in her own son, Louis XIII, banishing her to Cologne, where she died impoverished in 1642. But her spirit remains here. She stands proudly as one of 20 queens honored with statues along the terrasse surrounding the octagonal Grand Bassin, where today children intently nudge their rented sailboats from edge to edge. In statue she wears an elegant costume with open ruff, lace cuffs and sleeves of intensely chic decorative rolls. Her hair tightly curled, with a hint of a double chin. History tells us she was queenly, yet human. You can learn more about her at le Louvre, where Ruben’s series of 24 immense paintings chronicling her life now hang in the Galerie Médici. They first decorated the interior of her palais here.
You may also be drawn to the statue of Sainte Bathilde, seventh-century queen of Clovis II who began life raised by pirates and then became enslaved. There are so many stories, each revealing a compelling persona and personal style. It’s worth the time to take a closer look at each if time permits. It’s also a good idea to consult a detailed map so you can find your favorites easily.
Often unnoticed is another favorite statue of writer George Sand, born Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin Dudevant. Her statue is outside the formal gardens and tucked away in the mysterious Jardin Anglais section. Although noted for taking a man’s name to get published in the early 1800s and for smoking cigars while dressed in men’s trousers, she was also known as a woman with many lovers. Chopin, Liszt, de Musset to name only a few. Here we see the feminine George Sand—it’s easy to see why so many were attracted to her. This statue shows her as diaphanous and gentile, not the male writer, but the female lover.
One can’t speak of the gardens without mentioning the most romantic fountain anywhere. The Fontaine de Médicis is now located near rue de Médici. The incredibly sensuous figures date from the 1860s, the fountain per se from 1624. The sensuality of the adoring Acis and Galatea shocked the public so much that it is said the statues were painted black to tone down the couple’s overt sexuality. Study the doomed romantic pair, Galatea, a sea nymph, and the handsome Acis, son of a river nymph, embracing, unaware of the outraged, jealous cyclops Polyphemous hovering above, just moments before he murdered Acis with a huge boulder. Polyphemous’ love songs to Galatea had fallen on deaf ears.
Look again at the grand palais before leaving the gardens and consider it was once a prison. During the French Revolution, imprisoned here were Thomas Paine, Danton and Joséphine de Beauharnais before she was consort to Napoléon I. What transgression led to her imprisonment? Born in 1763 as Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie on the family’s sugar plantation in Martinique, and called Rose, after a failed marriage and several lovers, poverty and trips back to Martinique, she involved herself in coming to the aid of her ex-husband who commanded the defeated Army of the Rhine. He was soon beheaded but she was imprisoned here. She was released after the fall of Ropespierre. Napoléon fell madly in love with her—but not her name and he soon dropped Rose, in favor of Joséphine. The rest is history.
Recommended cafés with historical ties to the Paris of the past:
La Pallette, 43, rue de Seine. Wonderful find, near Beaux-Arts, with used artists’ palettes as décor. Hopefully the weather is nice, so you can eat out doors.
Café Procope, 13, rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie; the oldest café in Paris, for history lovers.
Les Deux Magots, 6, place St-Germain-des-Prés: Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s haunts, for literary lovers.
Want to know more? Related content:
Le Jardin du Luxembourg
71 Boulevard Saint-Michel, 75005
Métro: Luxembourg (RER B) or Cluny – La Sorbonne
Bus:82 or 85 (Luxembourg)
Vélib: 9 rue Le Goff
Photo credits: Jardin du Luxembourg, Château ©ctrix0r; Statue of Marie de Médici courtesy of Maire du Paris; Fontaine de Médicis detail of Galatea, Acis and Polyphemous, ©HarshLight
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