Robert de Cotte was a French architect who was trained and worked in the classical Baroque French style of architecture, but was pivotal in laying the groundwork for the upcoming Rococo style. He is best known for being the brother in law of Jean Hardouin-Mansart as well as his residential designs, which gained notoriety even outside of France.
Born in Paris, de Cotte started his career like many newcomers at the time – by working through the ranks of masons. As a contractor, de Cotte worked on several royal projects between 1682 and 1685. He distinguished himself and was appointed as a member of the Académie royale d'architecture and as architect of the Court – making him third in command under the person in charge – Jules Hardouin Mansart.
Mansart was a heavy influence on de Cotte – as a pupil, de Cotte learned everything about architecture; as a collaborator, de Cotte worked on many of Mansart’s projects; de Cotte also ended up becoming Mansart’s brother-in-law in 1683. Even after Mansart’s death in 1708, de Cotte worked tirelessly to complete all of Mansart’s unfinished projects, continuing his legacy as the first architect to the King.
Some of de Cotte’s project as a decorator or designer include several city and country mansions, including the Hôtel des Mousquetaires Noirs, additions to the Hôtel des Invalides (that he worked on with Mansart). De Cotte also worked on several hotels such as Hôtel de Lude, the Hôtel d’Estrées, and the Hôtel du Maine.
This residential work earned de Cotte his own individual reputation; soon, de Cotte found himself getting commissions to design clerical residences, most famously the Episcopal palaces at Verdun and the Palais de Rohan at Strasbourg. In these buildings, you can see the very beginnings of the adoption of the Rococo style – de Cotte place a great deal of importance on blending interior comfort with simple facades in order to create a graceful, and complete unit of art. In fact, one of de Cotte’s many staff turned out to be Pierre Lepautre, the ‘father of Rococo’.
By the time of his death in 1735, de Cotte made many achievements, including the decorating of the Chapel of Versailles, the choir of Notre-Dame de Paris and the portal of the Church of Saint-Roch, Paris and reconstruction of the Abbey of Saint-Denis. He was in such high demand that commissions came not just from within France, but from all over Europe, from Germany to Italy.