French architect Claude Perrault is best known as the architect of the eastern facade of the Louvre, known as the Colonnade. An incredibly intelligent and talented scholar, Perrault had many facets; not only an architect, he was also a physician and anatomist, as well as an author of several books on physics, zoology, and machinery.
Born in Paris, Perrault’s father was Pierre Perrault, the famous barrister. Perrault’s brother, Charles, was the celebrated author Charles Perrault, who went on to write tales like Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. Coming from an accomplished family, Perrault was never idle – he received his doctorate from the University of Paris as a physicist and physician, and was one of the first members of the Academy of Sciences when it was founded in 1966).
Perrault’s architectural career was actually inspired by the translation he had started of the ten books of Vitruvius, the only surviving Roman work on architecture, into French. When King Louis XIV decided to rebuild the Louvre in the 1660’s, Perrault collaborated with the famous architects Louis Le Vau, Charles Le Brun and Francois d’Orbay to submit a worthy design for competition. Using the influence of Vitruvius, they designed a structure that used a series of paired weight-bearing Corinthian columns, with pavilions at each end, departing from the popular decorative Italian style.
While their main competition was the immensely popular Italian architect Gianlorenzo Bernini, Perrault’s design prevailed – their building was selected to become an addition to the Louvre, hailing a return of French architecture, which had lost momentum since the Gothic period. The Colonadde was built between 1665 and 1680. Perrault continued this trend of reviving French classicism with the Paris Observatoire (1667 – 1672), and in the meantime finished his translation of Vitruvius, which was published in 1673.
Perrault’s architecture projects include the church of St-Benoît-le-Bétourné, the church of Ste-Geneviève, and the altar in the Church of the Little Fathers. Perrault also won the competition to design a triumphal arch on Rue St-Antoine, besting his old partners Le Vau and Le Brun; only partially built, the arch was razed in the 19th century, and it was discovered for the first time that the stone pieces were not held together by mortar, but by a clever and effective interlocking system.
With incredible stamina, Perrault remained active in all of his fields until his death in 1688, in Paris.