Jacques Lemercier - 17th century French architect

Jacques Lemercier was a French architect and engineer who is credited, along with fellow architects Louis Le Vau and François Mansart, as one of the primary influences that brought classicism to the Baroque, Roman influenced architecture of the time and revitalizing the French architectural traditions that had lay dormant for over a century.

Born in Pontoise, Lemercier was the son of a master mason, and was essentially born into a network of builders and craftsmen. After learning his craft from an early age, Lermercier even spent some time honing his engraving skills in Rome, Italy while in his early twenties. Upon his return, he focused on imitating the work of Salomon de Brosse, who was at the time the most popular architect in France under the rule of Louis XVIII.

After quickly moving up the ranks to become a royal architect, Lemercier was given the task by Cardinal Richelieu in 1625 to oversee the construction of the new Louvre galleries designed decades before by Pierre Lescot. Lemercier proved himself so well that he took over the construction of Palais du Luxembourg upon Salomon’s death in 1636. In 1639, Lemercier became chief architect, and was given the responsibility of supervising all of the royal building projects. Soon after his appointment, he had a famous argument with Nicolas Poussin about the decoration in the Louvre.

Lemercier’s work includes the Chateau de Richelieu, the Palais-Cardinal (which became the Palais Royal), and extensive work on the Sorbonne, where his domed church still stands today (the college and other buildings were subsequently demolished and rebuilt). The church, with its hemispheric dome resting on top of an octagonal structure, was the first of its kind in Paris. It was here that Lemercier’s old friend and patron Richelieu would be buried in 1642.

By 1645, Lemarchier’s status was so great that his salary was 3000 livres, unheard of at the time. He set off to plan his final work, the Church of Saint-Roch in Paris, laying the cornerstone in 1653, a year before his death. Still one of the largest churches in Paris, Lemarchier was only able to complete the choir and part of the nave. The rest had to be carried out over the next century by other architects.

Despite is status and career, Lemercier was never wealthy; his artistic inclinations did not mesh well with financial sensibility, and he was often broke despite his salary. He amassed so much debt that his estate needed to sell his library in order to cancel them after his death at the age of 69.