The “Great Century” of the Marais : History of France and Street Art

Assia Bedjaoui / Post on 17 December 2020

Welcome to the blog of “Assia et Nathalie”, our Luxury Bed & Breakfast in PARIS, France.

An oasis of calm and greenery in the center of Paris.

Do you like history ? as well as art ?
Thanks to the street artist C215 – born Christian Guémy – discover with us
the splendid colorful portraits of the Great Century of the Marais.
From the History of France to Street Art, the Marais will never stop surprising you !
You will be able to meet 21 famous historical figures such as :
Henry IV, Madame de Sévigné, Mansart, Le Vau, Molière
And many other emblematic characters of the golden age of the Marais.

At the initiative of the Town Hall of the 4th district of Paris, the artist C215 invites you to a historical and artistic journey through his 21 portraits that represent the high society of the Marais in the 17th century. He has realized them on urban furniture (electrical cabinets) at the bend of an alley, a garden, a church or a mansion.

Madame de Maintenon, favorite and later secret wife of King Louis XIV – 51 rue de Turenne 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

“All of them lived or worked in the Marais, at a time when the first stone-built district in Paris was truly the bustling heart of the capital »
Christian Guémy, alias C215.

What is called the “Great Century” of the Marais ? 

It is the 17th century, also called the “golden age” of the Marais. This period begins with Henry IV in 1589 and ends with the death of Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, in 1715. It thus encompasses the reigns of Henry IV (1589-1610), Louis XIII (1610-1643) and Louis XIV (1643-1715).

The starting point : the construction of the Place des Vosges

In 1605, Henry IV ordered the construction of the current Place des Vosges (former Place Royale). It was inaugurated in 1612, two years after his death.

Its innovative and classical architecture, its walks under the arcades sheltered from the sun and its splendid garden make it a much appreciated place of pleasure and stay.

The Marais district gradually became the center of an intellectual, cultural and artistic society where the entire aristocracy liked to meet, building sumptuous mansions between courtyards and gardens.

For more information on the Marais district, take a look at our first article “Our Marais : guided tour, history and anecdotes“.

Place Des Vosges
My favorite place in Paris : Place des Vosges and its classical architecture © Assia et Nathalie

The Literary Salons and their influence on the Enlightenment Movement

The first literary salons were held in the Marais and brought together all the finest writers of the time. The art of conversation or “causerie”, a great characteristic of our French society, was born in these salons.

Sometimes animated by a man of Science, they were often organized by ladies of high society who selected their guests and set the themes of conversation.

The influence of these salons will allow the rise of the “Enlightenment Movement” in the 18th century. Indeed, some great figures such as d’Alembert, Diderot or Montesquieu met there. Beyond these simple private meetings, these salons were to herald the beginnings of the French Revolution.

The “Enlightenment” is an 18th century European philosophical and literary current based on “enlightened reason“. Based on rational knowledge and the idea of freedom, it fought against injustice and ignorance, rejected arbitrary authority, denounced slavery and religious oppression. It promotes the arts and sciences.

In France, the philosophy of the Enlightenment was carried in particular by Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and Beaumarchais. 

The apogee of France in Europe

In the 17th century, French culture shone in all fields thanks to the creation of the great Literary, Arts and Sciences Academies.

French artists, scientists and intellectuals are at the heart of European cultural networks. The entire rich European bourgeoisie sends its children to France for an internship in good manners, language or sciences. Moreover, the French language is seen as the language of great writers, such as Molière or Corneille. This explains the expression “language of Molière” to define our language.

Discover the works of C215 by walking through the Marais district !

Have a nice stroll !

Who are the famous figures of this “Great Century” ?

They are illustrious men and women of the 17th century, who lived in the Marais district and left their mark on our political, intellectual, literary and artistic history.

The Kings of France

We first introduce you to the most emblematic, those who ruled France at that time, notably Kings Henry IV and his son Louis XIII.

Henry IV, the first Bourbon king of France, distinguished himself in the Wars of Religion as leader of the Protestants. In the desire to put an end to these hostilities between Protestants and Catholics, he abjured the Protestant faith and promulgated the Edict of Nantes.

Henri Iv
Henry IV (1589-1610) – 15 boulevard Henri IV 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

In spite of this, he was assassinated by François Ravaillac, a fervent Catholic. At his death, his son Louis XIII succeeded him. Nicknamed “Louis the Just”, he reigned from 1610 to 1643 and imposed the Catholic religion. He is the father of Louis XIV.

Louis Xiii 1
Louis XIII (1610-1643) near Place des Vosges inaugurated for his wedding with Ninon de l’Enclos – 7 rue du pas de la Mule 75004 © Assia et Nathalie.

Faithful adviser to King Henry IV, the Duke of Sully is also represented by C215.

A Protestant soldier and companion in arms of the King, he played a great role in the reorganization of the economy and finances of the kingdom during his reign.  

The Duke of Sully : in front of Hôtel de Sully – 47 rue Saint-Antoine 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

The great architects of the 17th century

You all know the Palace of Versailles, the masterpiece of the reign of Louis XIV.

But do you know what it was originally used for?

It was the hunting lodge of his father Louis XIII, who only came to hunt deer and foxes. But in 1661, Louis XIV ordered its transformation into a royal residence.

Around 1662, he entrusted André Le Nôtre with the creation of grandiose gardens where symmetry, sculpted decoration, fountains, water features and flowerbeds contribute to the structuring of the space. Don’t miss the enchanting and unforgettable scenery of the “Grandes Eaux Nocturnes” of Versailles every Saturday evening in summer!

Previously, the Court was itinerant. It used to move from castle to castle. Louis XIV, still a child, had lived through the trauma of the “Fronde”. To protect himself from the successive rebellions of the nobility and the people, he decided to leave the Louvre Palace and Paris.

In 1682, the King’s Court moved permanently to Versailles: the city became the seat of the central administration and the capital of the kingdom of France. Apart from protecting himself from revolutions, the Sun King also wanted to shine and build a grandiose palace in his own image to display all his power and glory. He organized sumptuous receptions in the Hall of Mirrors of the Castle.

C215 drew up the portrait of the first great architect of Louis XIV’s Versailles: Louis le Vau is the creator of the King’s and Queen’s Apartments and the large white stone façade on the garden side.

He is also at the origin of another French architectural masterpiece, the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Le Vau
Louis le Vau : on Isle Saint Louis, Boulevard Henri IV, near Hôtel Lambert of which he is the architect  © Assia et Nathalie

C215 also wanted to pay tribute to François Mansart, a great precursor of classical architecture in France. His most famous buildings are the beautiful rotunda chapel of the Visitation on rue Saint-Antoine, the new castle of Blois, the castle of Maisons-Laffitte, and the Val-de-Grâce.

François Mansart : 8 rue Payenne 75003, street where his house is located. Now the Mansart gallery © Assia et Nathalie

He is often confused with his grand-nephew Jules Hardouin-Mansart who continued his work with the construction in Versailles of the famous Hall of Mirrors, the Orangery and the Grand Trianon.

Famous writers and playwrights

Did you know that it was at 32 Quai des Célestins that Molière‘s troupe (born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) moved in during the first part of his career?  It is at this same address that you will find his Street Art portrait today.

Molière became the favorite author of King Louis XIV for whom he created numerous shows. He died at the age of 51, just after one of the performances of Le Malade Imaginaire, and remains one of the pillars of literary education in France and internationally.

Molière – 32 Quai des Célestins 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

His portrait is accompanied by that of Pierre Corneille.

The many tragedies of Corneille, such as the Cid, Horace or Medée, took place in the theater of the Marais at 37 rue Volta. We owe them the famous expression “Cornelian dilemma” to designate an impossible choice between two values (duty on one side and love on the other).

Corneille – 32 Quai des Célestins 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

The Ladies of the Court of Louis XIV

You certainly know ” Les Précieuses Ridicules “(the Pretentious Ridiculous). This satirical comedy by Molière makes fun of the snobbish excesses of the Ladies who frequented the literary salons that were very fashionable in the 17th century.

Admire the portrait of Madame de Sévigné who held a salon at 23 rue Sévigné. She was born on Place des Vosges and was baptized in the Saint Gervais Church in the Marais. Her marriage to a Breton nobleman raised her to the rank of Marquise.

She is famous for her numerous letters exchanged with her daughter the Countess of Grignan during 25 years. Political scandals, social events, weddings… The Marquise depicts with accuracy and talent the Parisian life of the 17th century in nearly 1 500 letters. Madame de Sévigné is thus considered the founder of the epistolary genre, this relationship or correspondence in the form of letters.

She will end her days in the Hôtel Carnavalet, the present Musée Carnavalet (rue de Sévigné), where she died of influenza.

Image Madame De Sévigné
Madame de Sévigné : 34 rue de Sévigné 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

At 2 rue du Temple, where she held her salon, you can discover the portrait of Madame de Scudéry. She was the first woman to receive the Eloquence Prize of the French Academy in 1671 for her Discourse on Glory.

Madame de Scudéry – 2 rue du Temple © Sylvie Blanc (merci)

As for Madame de Maintenon, her destiny is incredible ! Born in prison in Niort where her father was incarcerated for debts, she will later marry the brilliant poet Paul Scarron. Thanks to him, she frequents the high society of the Marais. They received their guests in one of the most famous salons of the Marais at 56 rue de Turenne.

Paul Scarron portrait located at 51 rue de Turenne 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

On the death of her husband and in debt, she was appointed in 1669 as governess of the natural children of Louis XIV and the Marquise de Montespan. In 1675, she became the secret wife of the King who raised her to the rank of Marquise and offered her the domain of Maintenon, near Versailles.

Madame de Maintenon and her husband Paul Scarron are located at 51 rue de Turenne 75004, near their house and their salon © Assia et Nathalie

C215 also painted other mistresses of King Louis XIV such as Madame de Montespan. Official favorite of the King in 1674, she held her literary salon near the Hôtel d’Albret. But Louis XIV eventually neglected her because of her mood swings. She left the Court following the scandal of the Poisons Affair.

To learn more about it, you can read “The Poisons Affair : crimes and witchcraft at the time of the Sun King” by Jean-Christian Petitfils: “In 1679, at the height of the reign of Louis XIV, one of the largest criminal cases of all time broke out: the Poisons Affair. All at once, the sinister side of the scene was revealed: the crimes of the Neighborhood, spells, demonic conspiracies, black masses, ritual sacrifices… A staggering, dark, bushy affair with gigantic ramifications, in which hundreds of people were involved, including the greatest names of the French Court…”.
Madame De Montespan
Madame de Montespan : near Hôtel d’Albret where was held a literary salon that she frequented a lot – place Monique Antoine 75004 © Assia et Nathalie.

Admire also the Princess of Soubise, another notorious mistress of the King. “In January 1674, the Princess of Soubise was named lady of the palace of Queen Marie-Thérèse, and gave birth to a son on June 26 of the same year. Monsieur de Soubise recognized this child as his own, but received a large sum of money from the King, perhaps to buy his silence. Indeed, it soon appears that this child looks strangely like Louis XIV” (source 

The Princess of Soubise : near Hotel de Soubise – current Museum of National Archives – where she died in 1709 – 41 rue des Archives 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

The famous artists and musicians of the Court of Louis XIV

C215 also represents illustrious painters, such as Simon Vouet, or his pupil Eustache le Sueur, who owned the most popular studio in the capital.

You will find the portrait of Simon Vouet near the Church of Saint Paul where the painter painted the famous Presentation to the Temple (1641). Today you can admire it in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre Museum.

Simon Vouet : near Saint Paul Church – 98 rue Saint-Antoine 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

The painter Charles le Brun is also represented. Regarded as the “King’s first painter” Louis XIV, we owe him many works at the Palace of Versailles, the most emblematic of which is the vault of the Hall of Mirrors: 30 compositions that illustrate the glorious history of Louis XIV.

Le Brun
Charles Le Brun : île de la Cité – 1 quai aux fleurs 75004 © Sylvie Blanc (merci)

Another great artist from the Marais that you can admire is the composer, organist and harpsichordist François Couperin. He is nicknamed “Couperin the Great” to distinguish him from other members of this family which includes many musicians. He was one of the four organists of the royal chapel for King Louis XIV.

François Couperin : near Saint-Gervais Church where he worked part of his life at 25 rue du Pont Louis-Philippe 75004 © Assia et Nathalie

Find all the characters on the map of the course created by the Town Hall of the 4th district. http://town hall map

It is now time to introduce you to the talented artist behind all these works !

Who is C215 ?

Christian Guémy a.k.a C215 is a major French artist of the street art scene. He studied economics, art history and languages.

“Born in 1973 in Bondy (93), he lives in Vitry-sur-Seine where he has his ateliers. He works essentially with stencil with a very recognizable style. Apart from his interventions in the streets of the world, he presents works painted on recycled objects in many galleries in France and abroad.

“C215’s art is to capture light, depth and humanity. He wants to put poetry and emotion in the heart of disembodied cities”.

Source Site :

Photo C215
Christian Guémy alias C215 © Matthieu Riegler, CC-BY

“His goal is to paint portraits of men and women who have marked our centuries, to make them accessible to all, including the youngest, by restoring to public places these personalities who have lived, worked, or debated there, and to whom they have sometimes given their names.

Ariel Weil, Mayor of the 4th district.

For him, Street Art “also makes it possible to transform one of the most invisible and banal elements of urban furniture into a vector of culture and memory thanks to the contribution of a contemporary mode of expression”. Ariel Weil, Mayor of the 4th district.

C215 is now known in France and internationally. His works can be found in the streets but also in some museums and galleries.

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