The Hôtel de Soubise is a familiar sight for many researchers of French history. Located at 60 rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the 3rd Arrondissement, the building is now used as one of the main branches of the French National Archives. This drawing after the French architect Germain Boffrand (1667- 1754) shows an elevation of the bedroom of Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise in the Hôtel de Soubise in the Marais district of Paris. The drawing is dated to 1735-6 and is executed in pen, ink and wash with traces of graphite under drawing—typical media for eighteenth-century architects. The drawing is incised for transfer and was engraved by Claude Lucas in Germain Boffrand’s architectural treatise, “Livre d’architecture contenant les principes generaux de cet art” (1745).
The drawing shows the bed alcove with a four-poster lit à la duchesse to the left and a wall with a fireplace surmounted by an overdoor primarily dominated by a cartouche with a helmet in the center. A double-paneled door lies to the right of the fireplace while to the left is a new type of paneling invented by Boffrand, as previous designs would have exhibited a fake door to observe the symmetry of the room. Floral trelliswork climbs the mirror and overdoor frames and the stops in the walls are adorned with sculpted cartouches representing the virtues.
There are two overdoor paintings depicted in this interior: the one the right is “Aurora and Cephalus,” (1738-39) by the French painter François Boucher (1703-70) and the left is “The Marriage of Hercules and Hebe” (1737) painted by the French interior painter Pierre Charles Trémolière (1703-39). The design presents a total integrated interior that unites painting with interior ornaments and furniture design. The drawing is a prime example of Rococo décor, particularly as the paneling is decorated with batwing like motifs undoubtedly influenced by Nicolas Pineau’s designs. Boffrand’s interior designs in fact marked a new moment in interior architecture and he not only invented new types of paneling but also novel room shapes in his architectural projects.
The Hôtel de Soubise was a type of building referred to as an hôtel particulier, which were grand private residences for aristocrats and the nouveaux riches in eighteenth-century Paris. The Hôtel de Soubise was first built in the fourteenth century with its ownership tracing back to the Templars. It subsequently served as the Paris residence of the Dukes of Guise, but was bought by the Rohan-Soubise family in 1700. Boffrand redecorated the interior from 1735-39 including the addition of oval salons for both the Prince and the Princess’s apartments—new kind of room that served as a transitional place between grand staterooms with and multipurpose rooms that kept the feeling of privacy and intimacy. Boffrand’s architectural designs were instrumental in disseminating French style across continental Europe.
This particular room is still intact, although the bed was reconstructed in the nineteenth-century after engravings by Boffrand. The appartements at the Hôtel de Soubise are open for visitors to this day!
Cabelle Ahn is a graduate intern in the Department of Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She received her MA in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art and is currently studying eighteenth century decorative arts at the Bard Graduate Center.