Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Jardin Monceau

Among the distant ancestors of television, the eighteenth century rouleaux transparents of Louis Carrogis (known by the name of Carmontelle) have a particular interest for landscape historians.  As the handles of the box were turned, viewers were taken on a stroll through a succession of scenes with titles like The Four Seasons, Landscapes of France and The Banks of the Seine.  The clip embedded above shows a surviving example, Figures Walking in a Parkland, which featured in the Getty Museum's 2006 exhibition, Carmontelle's Transparency: An 18th-Century Motion Picture.  Carmontelle, a cobbler's son, was employed as tutor, engineer and master of entertainments by various French aristocrats - the Duc de Chevreuse, the Duc de Luynes, the Comte Pons de Saint-Maurice, and from 1763, Louis Philippe I, Duke of Orléans.  He wrote plays, designed sets and painted portraits of illustrious guests, including Rameau, d'Holbach, Sterne and the young Mozart.  In the 1770s Carmontelle was given the opportunity to create a real landscape, when he was commissioned to design the Jardin Monceau for the Duc de Chartres, Louis-Philippe's son.  The resulting garden was, according to Carmontelle, 'a land of illusions.'

Carmontelle, Carmontelle Giving the Keys of the Parc Monceau to the Duke of Chartres, c. 1790

The spectacle of the Jardin Monceau is conveyed by John Dixon Hunt in his book The Picturesque Garden in Europe.  'There was, according to Carmontelle's own commentary in Jardin Monceau près de Paris (1779), a specific itinerary through its 'quantity of curious things', and later commentators have plausibly attributed to his route a Masonic subtext.  Visitors entered by a Chinese gateway, next door to a gothic building that served as a chemical laboratory, and passed through greenhouses and coloured pavilions.  Upon pressing a button, a mirrored wall opened into a winter garden painted with trompe-l'œil trees, floored with red sand, filled with exotic plants, and containing at its far end a grotto in which summer parties were held while music was played in the chamber above.  Outside was a farm.  Then there were a series of exotic 'locations': a Temple of Mars, a winding river with an island of rocks and a Dutch mill, a dairy, two flower gardens, a Turkish tent poised, minaret-like, above an icehouse, a grove of tombs (still there today), and an Italian vineyard with a classical Bacchus at its centre, regularly laid out to contrast with an irregular wood that succeeded it.  The final stretches of the itinerary included a Naumachia or Roman water-theatre (still there), more Turkish and Chinese effects, a ruined castle, yet another water-mill, and an island on which sheep grazed.' 

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