This building, « hôtel particulier », Hôtel de Beauvais, dates from around 1655-60, built in a French baroque style – architect Antoine Lepautre. The front side has lost a few decorations, but basically the building looks very much the same as on the 17th century drawing. It's a remarkable architectural achievement. When you look at it and enter the main gate, you have the impression of something completely symmetric, whereas with a bird’s eye view you will see how the architect has “cheated” with a space which is far from symmetric. A bit further down you can see the original plan (of the first floor) and what it looks like today on Google Earth. One exception from what normally was the case with these townhouses is that the “noble part” is not behind a central court, but directly along the street.
It was built for a merchant, Pierre de Beauvais, and perhaps more especially for his wife, Catherine Bellier – who was a much appreciated handmaiden to Queen Anne d’Autriche (Anne of Austria), wife, widow, of Louis XIII, regent and mother of Louis XIV. Catherine Bellier acquired her reputation – and fortune – for having relieved the young Louis XIV of his virginity - with the mother’s encouragments and approval. He was then 14 … and she was 38. She was furthermore known to be quite ugly and had the nickname of “Cateau-la-Borgnesse”, the “One-eyed Caton”. There are no known paintings or engravings of her, but a mascaron decorating the building is supposed to have her as model and… no more comments . She was described as intelligent, plotting… and despite her looks had a multitude of influent lovers. Obviously Pierre de Beauvais and Catherine Bellier were not too concerned about their “image”, looking at these mascarons of her and of him – happy and sad. We can also see heads of goats. (Goat = “bellier” in French.)
The address is Rue François-Miron, which originally was called – and was a prolongation of - Rue Saint-Antoine and it used to be the main street leading from the east into the centre of Paris – before rue de Rivoli was created during the 19th century. I already wrote about this street in a previous post, about all the ancient buildings around it… including the 13th century cellar under the premises of the association “Paris Historique” (of which I’m a member), including the beautiful Saint-Gervais – Saint-Protais Church in which the Couperin family members were the organists… The street leads to the back side of the Paris Town Hall where those days an arch in the building brought you to the front side of the Town Hall, those days’ Place de Grève…
Along this street, the newly wedded Louis XIV and Maria Theresa (of Spain), in 1660, made their triumphal entry into Paris in an enormous procession, followed by possibly a million people. On the balcony of the then newly built Hôtel de Beauvais, Queen Anne, Catherine Bellier, the Cardinal Mazarin, the Marshal Turenne… and others watched it all. Here is the balcony they were standing on.
The building later changed owners several times and was finally in a very bad state, having been used for workshops, flats, when it (thanks to “Paris Historique” and others) was saved from destruction, as from 1995 restored and since 2004 occupied by the Paris administrative court of appeal (Cour Administrative d’Appel de Paris). The inside rooms are today quite “naked”, modern, the suspended small garden is gone … but the stairs of the official entrance have been saved…
… as well as a beautiful circular staircase for the staff (someone engraved a heart).
In 1763, the then seven year old Mozart is said to have stayed here with his family during his first visit to Paris, as guests of the then owner, the Bavarian ambassador. What is clearly documented is that he gave concerts here, in the “gallery”, behind these windows. With his dad Leopold and his sister Nannerl they may have performed one of the first sonatas composed by the young Mozart, e.g. this one.
The building was constructed on top of some medieval houses, one of which had belonged to Heloise (famous for the Heloise and Abelard love story) and the cellar below, which was used as a storage, has been emptied of gravel and dirt and restored thanks to voluntary work by members of the above mentioned “Paris Historique”.
To end this long story and again referring to the above mentioned Couperin family, I cannot help giving you a chance to again listen to one of my favourite pieces, “Les barricades mystérieuses” by François Couperin (see previous post), here as performed in the movie “Tree of Life”.