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Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


Charpentier's "Apartment" at the Hôtel de Guise:

Can it be identified?

In his article on Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Le Parnasse François (1727), Titon du Tillet included the following assertion about the composer and the Guises: "Etant de retour à Paris [after his stay in Rome], Mademoiselle de Guise lui donna un Appartement dans son Hôtel." I have shown elsewhere that Titon made a point of consulting the families and heirs of every artist in his Parnasse François. I therefore argued that Titon gleaned his information about Charpentier during a visit to the shop of Jacques Edouard, the composer's nephew, who had inherited the manuscripts now known as Les Meslanges.

If Edouard's presentation of his uncle's career was reasonably accurate, an important assumption can be made about Charpentier's quarters at the Hôtel de Guise. That is to say, the composer occupied an appartement, rather than a mere chambre.

In other words, the fact that Mlle de Guise was portrayed to the literate public as having granted the composer an "apartment" can be taken as strong evidence that Charpentier was not a simple domestic. He was either a household "officer," or else he was an unpaid protégé who was granted room and board in return for his services.

Let us look first at the quarters occupied by the Guises' paid domestics. The size, location and prestige of a servant's lodgings was always commensurate with his position in the internal hierarchy of the urban château that Parisians called the Hôtel de Guise. The Guises occupied the central apartment on the étage noble. Like the king's apartment at Versailles, these rooms were arranged so that Their Highnesses could look out onto the garden recently designed by Le Nôtre, with its trimmed box borders, its gravel arabesques, its fountains and its bushes pruned into topiary shapes.

By contrast, the humblest servants, those who wore the green Guise livery, were squeezed into the attics above the stables, so that they would never be very far from Roger de Gaignières, Mlle de Guise's écuyer. Indeed, domestics of this lowly level slept as close to their posts as possible: the Suisses bedded down in the turrets of the medieval Porte Clisson; the valets de chambre slept on folding beds or on pallets that they spread on the floor at night in order to be at Their Highnesses' beck and call; and some of the chambermaids spent the night in the cabinet adjacent to their mistress's bedroom while others retired to a large four-room complex on the ground floor that was connected to the apartment on the étage noble by a hidden stairway.

Only the more prestigious domestics — the "officers" — occupied quarters that the sources call an "apartment"; and they were assigned apartments adjacent to their workplace. For example, the furrier (who also watched over the archives) occupied an apartment under the roof, not far from the archive room; the officers who supervised food preparation could move up and down back stairways, passing quickly and invisibly from the kitchens to their apartments in the attic; and other officers, for example Mlle de Guise's secretary, her treasurer or her argentier (the latter kept close watch over the precious silver vessels that the Guises had collected over the generations) could move rapidly from the kitchen, the pantry or their master's apartment to their own ground-floor lodgings that looked out onto the beautiful garden. Their proximity to this garden (were they allowed to stroll in it?) proclaimed the prestigious positions that these officers occupied in the household hierarchy.

This is the picture that emerges from studying the scellé and inventory of the Hôtel de Guise that were drawn up in 1688, plus the fold-out plan of the building made for Roger de Gaignières in 1697. Charting the notary's path from room to room and watching him affix seals to the doors and enumerate the contents of each chamber, makes it possible to assert that these lower-level domestics and these high-ranking officers occupied all nooks and crannies, rooms and apartments in the main hôtel that were not occupied by the Guises themselves. Merging the evidence in these three sources, permits us to identify the occupant of each little apartment, each room, each folding bed, each pallet. This evidence, joined to the list of domestics rewarded in Her Highness's will of 1688, makes it possible to assert that virtually all the domestics who occupied these quarters and these makeshift beds in 1688 had been serving Mlle de Guise for years. In short, they had probably occupied these apartments, these rooms, these beds, these pallets, for many years. In short, it is highly unlikely that the "apartment" that Marie de Lorraine offered Marc-Antoine Charpentier circa 1670 was situated in the main corps of the Hôtel de Guise. It must therefore have been located in the long wing that ran at right angles to the hôtel and stretched along the garden in the direction of the rue vieille du Temple. This wing had been totally redone in the 1660s. Roger de Gaignières, the collector and curieux, was officially one of Mlle de Guise's domestics — her écuyer, to be exact — but in many ways he was also one of her protégés, one of the gems in her patronage crown. Gaignières had been granted an unusually large apartment situated just above the orangery and adjacent to the stables he supervised. In short, half protégé and half household officer, the unmarried Gaignières occupied an unusually large lodging that permitted him to fulfill his household duties with maximum ease yet receive the many illustrious visitors who came to see his collection in elegant and private surroundings. (Gaignières' apartment is in the dark portion in mid-illustration.)

the apartment

Marie de Lorraine's principal protégé, Philippe Goibault du Bois, had been given the largest apartment in the orangery wing. Du Bois, his wife (who died in the mid-1670s) and their domestics occupied thirteen rooms distributed over three floors (shown on the excerpt by a garland of diamonds). The number of rooms and the layout of "M. du Pin's" apartment as it appears in Gaignière's 3-story plan corresponds to analogous evidence in the Du Bois death inventory (A.N., M.C., LXXV, 400, July 5, 1694). In other words, circa 1694 Du Pin, the agent for Mlle de Guise's heirs, took over the Du Bois apartment and was living there when the plan was drawn in 1697. (The Du Bois apartment is at the lower right of this illustration, just above the great staircase.)

The remaining apartments of this wing generally consisted of three or four rooms each, one for sleeping, one for eating or toasting oneself near the fire, plus several tiny cabinets or antichambres. The inventory of 1688 does not permit identifying the individuals who occupied these apartments, because the notary listed the contents of only two of the fourteen lodgings. If the contents of the apartment occupied by several Suisses, and the one where Mlle de Guise's two demoiselles d'honneur resided were inventoried, it is because both lodgings contained furniture belonging to the late mistress of the house. In other words, most the occupants the orangery-stable wing supplied their own furniture. Among the twelve apartments not visited by the notary (because he had no reason to enter them) were those occupied by M. Du Bois and a certain M. d'Amades to whom we will return. No mention is made of an apartment currently occupied by Charpentier. Should this silence be taken as an indication that the composer lived there nonetheless, surrounded by his own possessions? Probably not, for neither Mlle de Guise's will nor the papers of the succession suggest that he occupied an apartment at the time of her death and therefore could not be expelled by the new owners without appropriate recompense. In short, Charpentier seems to have left the Hôtel de Guise by March 1688.

That does not mean that the apartment that where Charpentier lodged cannot be identified with reasonable certainty. While drawing up the inventory of the main wing of the hôtel, the notary dropped an important clue that permits us to deduce which "apartment" Charpentier had occupied for more than fifteen years. The notary remarked that a certain Monsieur de Roquette had vacated his apartment near the grand staircase of the hôtel shortly before Marie de Lorraine's death in March 1688: "La chambre et cabinet cy-devant occupée par M. de Roquette sur le grand escalier et veu sur le jardin" (item 1075 of the inventory, A.N., R*4 1056). The individual in question is Henri- Émmanuel Roquette d'Amades, the son of the late Louis-Christophe Roquette, Mlle de Guise's long- time intendent. Although Her Highness apparently deemed it premature to call d'Amades her "intendent," the son took over his father's duties in 1685 and moved into Louis-Christophe's apartment near the grand staircase. This apartment was, however, very small: one large room and an adjoining cabinet. When one of the apartments in the garden wing was vacated — an event that took place between 1685 and late 1687 — Roquette d'Amades moved into the empty apartment. (In the illustration, this apartment, labeled "d'Amades," can be seen between the Du Bois-Dupin lodging and Gaignières' lodging.) 

Now, the content of the composer's autograph notebooks for 1687 suggests that it was during the spring or summer of that year that Mlle de Guise, whose health was failing rapidly, permitted her protégé to leave her service and work full-time for the Jesuits. In other words, Roquette d'Amades apparently moved into the apartment that the Charpentier had just vacated.

This apartment was situated on the second floor of the long orangery wing. It comprised four rooms, two cabinets and a vestibule. By a spiral staircase the occupant could descend to the privy or to the ground floor. Exiting by a back door that stood only a few feet to the right of the entrance to the Du Bois apartment and just to the left of the entry to Gaignière's kitchen, the occupant of this apartment could move along the service alley that led to the manège and the vegetable garden, then climb the grand staircase of the hôtel. At no time would he be seen from the formal garden, the terraces of the hôtel proper or the windows of the Guise apartment. Nor, of course, could he contemplate the beauties of the garden and the garden facade as he made his way to and from the main building. In short, the occupant of this apartment did not have routine access to the formal garden of the hôtel. Still, from the main rooms of the apartment he could contemplate three rows of trees in the foreground and, in the distance, the flowerbeds and fountains.

The largest room was surely surely the most agreeable: it could be heated and it opened onto the garden. Still, it faced north and did not receive the direct sunshine that might have warmed it on a chilly day. At the back of the apartment (that is, at the very left) was a room that could be heated. This was an ideal area for practicing or for storing scores and partbooks. bookshelves

Of special interest are the strange details in the room at the left. These rows of parallel lines can scarcely represent staircases. (Not only would stairways block the only window, they would  occupy most of the principle room of the apartment just below). These structures are unique in the complex floor plans that have preserved so many details of the Hôtel de Guise. Can they be anything other than storage shelves? 

Since none of these apartments seems to have been furnished, aside for a few faded wall- hangings, an old armoire and a bed, Charpentier either moved a few old family pieces out of his his sister Etiennette's home, or else he rented furniture from the concierge, as M. and Mme Du Bois did when they first came to the Hôtel de Guise. The furnishings probably were of walnut and dated from the reigns of Henri IV and Louis XIII. A bed (most likely a four-poster with green serge curtains to fend off drafts, but perhaps a mere camp-bed placed within a curtained canopy), iron andirons, some rudimentary cooking equipment, an armchair, a dozen straight-back chairs, a few chests covered with black leather, a walnut desk, several small pine tables covered with green serge cloths and white linen window curtains. This is the typical decor in a Parisian bourgeois apartment. This is the decor in which Charpentier was raised, the decor the notary described when Elisabeth Charpentier died, and the decor in Etiennette Charpentier's private quarters behind her shop. Over the years, Marc-Antoine Charpentier surely added a few decorative objects, as his father had done before him: faience pots, a china cup, mirrors, a few devotional pictures, a portrait of Mlle de Guise, a silver dishes— some purchased, others given to him by Her Highness, who is known to have offered such gifts her domestic "family."

It was in just such an "apartment" that for seventeen odd years, Marc-Antoine Charpentier filled a hundred folio notebooks with his compositions. Did he sometimes interrupt his work to glance out that northern window and contemplate the beautiful garden of the Hôtel the Guise? 


For the renovations of the Hotel de Guise, 1666-1667, see Patricia's article available on this site as a "Fugitive Piece"