The creation of this impressive garden and the original residence, the Luxembourg Palace, began at the start of the 17th century. Its origins are directly connected to the nature of the French monarchy of the time having been built by Marie de Medici (1575-1642), the widow of the French King Henry IV. Marie was a member of the famous Tuscan Family of exceeding wealth and it is suggested Henry IV negotiated his second marriage due to a dire need for money. Henry wasn’t over popular himself and was assassinated in 1610 leaving Marie in charge of the French Government, acting as regent for her son, Louis XIII of France. It was not long after these events that she started to build a palace here that would remind her of the Pitti Palace in Florence, her home town. The Luxembourg Palace still stands today and it is where the French Senate sits.
The image on the left above is of Marie de Medici; it is her statue amongst the 20 other statues of Queens and famous women of France, erected around the formal gardens and the large pond in front of the Palais de Luxembourg in the 1840s. Not all the women commemorated here became queens of France. Margaret of Anjou became a queen of England and Mary Stuart (Mary I) became queen of Scotland with unfulfilled hopes of becoming the queen of England. A statue of Joan of Arc from 1852 was placed in this collection but was considered too fragile to remain outdoors and was moved to the Louvre in 1872.
We have visited these gardens twice on trips through Paris and both times we have entered via the north-east gate. Just along this path is a vibrant sculpture and fountain dedicated to the memory of Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), often described as the leader of the French Romantic school of painting in the 19th century. Delacroix’s bust with wind-blown scarf (image on right above) sits at the top of the sculpture with three bronze statues of the allegories, Time, Glory, and Genius of Arts arguing below him. It is a very interesting sculpture worth a stop to study in detail. It was sculpted by Aime Dalou and installed here in 1890. Delacroix is particularly famous for his memorable painting of the people of Paris marching behind Lady Liberty during the French Revolution (See appendix 1). Conveniently for us, some of his finest works are murals in Saint-Sulpice Church, our last stop on this itinerary.
Luxembourg Park is very popular with locals looking for a pleasant day out with the family, particularly if someone in the family owns a small sailboat to launch on the pond in front of the impressive Senate building. But for me the most interesting feature of the park is the Medici Fountain, tucked away amongst the Plane trees on the right-hand side of the park. The original fountain was commissioned by Marie de Medici in 1630 as a Nymphaeum, an ancient Greek concept for a grotto built around a spring dedicated to water spirits (nymphs). Two centuries later it had fallen into ruin and was restored in 1811 under the orders of none other than Napoleon Bonaparte. It was moved to its current position in the 1860s and the long basin was added as well as sculptures retelling the Greek myth of the lovers, Acis and Galatea, being disturbed by the jealous giant, Polyphemus. Acis is killed and of course transformed into a water nymph by Galatea.
A common trivial pursuit question is “Where is the statue of Liberty?” The standard answer is that it is in New York Harbour, being built there in the late 19th century as a gift to the USA from France. An equally correct answer would be to say, “In the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris”. The one in these gardens is a scale model of the Statue of Liberty created by the sculptor Auguste Bertholdi who presented the original to the city of Paris in 1900 for placement in the museum attached to these gardens. It was decided to move it outdoors for everyone to view. The statue gifted by Bertholdi is today secure in the Musee D’Orsay with the one in this garden being a hardy replica. One of the reasons for its removal to the D’Orsay was the fact that its light was stolen by vandals, a sad fact given that this statue’s French title is “La Liberte Eclairant le Monde”, the “Light of the World”
APPENDIX 1: Liberty Leading the People (Eugene Delacroix)