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Blenheim Palace, The Cour d'Honneur is the large axial entrance court framed by the secondary wings containing kitchens and domestic offices that flank the corps de logis
Versailles: Louis Le Vau opened up the interior court to create the expansive entrance cour d'honneur, later copied all over Europe

Cour d'Honneur, sometimes literally translated as "Court of Honour", is the architectural term for defining a three-sided courtyard, created when the main central block, or corps de logis, is flanked by symmetrical advancing secondary wings, containing minor rooms. The Château of Versailles (illustration) and Blenheim Palace (plan) both feature such entrance courts.

Some 16th century symmetrical Western European country houses built on U-shaped groundplans resulted in a sheltered central door in a main range that was embraced between projecting wings, but the formalized cour d'honneur is first found in the great palaces and mansions of 17th century Europe, where it forms the principal approach and ceremonial entrance to the building. Its open courtyard is presented like the classical permanent theatre set of a proscenium stage, such as the built Roman set of opposed palazzi in a perspective street at Palladio's Teatro Olimpico (Vicenza, 1584). Like the theatre set the built environment is defined and enclosed from the more public space by ornate wrought iron gilded railings. A later development replaced the railings with an open architectural columnar screen, as at Palais Royal (Paris), Schönbrunn Palace (Vienna), Alexander Palace (Saint Petersburg), or Henry Holland's Ionic screen formerly at Carlton House, London (illustrated below).

Henry Holland's Ionic screen fronts a shallow cour d'honneur at the Prince Regent's Carlton House in Pall Mall, London

Technically the term cour d'honneur can be used of any large building whether public or residential, ancient or modern, which has a symmetrical courtyard set apart in this way, at which the honored visitor arrives. (The rest of us may arrive without flourish, through a side entrance.)

Examples of a cour d'honneur can be found in many of the most notable Baroque and classicizing buildings of Europe including the Palazzo Pitti, one of the first 16th century residences to open a cour d'honneur—in the Pitti's case by embracing three sides of an existing public space. Other 16th century urban palazzi remained resolutely enclosed, like Palazzo Farnese, Rome. In Rome, the wings of Carlo Maderno's Palazzo Barberini design (1627), were the first that reached forward from a central block to create a cour d'honneur floorplan.

Palazzo Barberini: without railings the entrance court is still public space.

On a condensed, urban scale the formula is expressed in Parisian private houses, hôtels particuliers built entre cour et jardin, between court and garden. In these plans, the street front may be expressed as a range of buildings not unlike the ordinary houses (maisons) that flank it, but with a grand, often arched, doorway, through which a carriage could pass into the cour d'honneur secreted behind. In a cramped site, one of the flanking walls of the cour d'honneur may be no more than an architectural screen, balancing the wing of the hôtel opposite it, which would often contain domestic offices and a stable.[1] On a grander scale, the Palais Royal was laid out in just this manner, among the first Paris hôtels particuliers to have a cour d'honneur, which once was separated from the public street by a wrought iron grille, later by an open architectural screen, with its grand open jardin behind, now a public space. Nearby, the Tuileries Palace is gone: but the cour d'honneur with its Arc du Carrousel remains, as do the Tuileries Gardens behind the former palace's site.

The Villard Houses facing Madison Avenue, New York

In densely-built cities disposed on a rigorously democratic grid plan like New York, private houses with a cour d'honneur were rare, even in the Gilded Age: the Villard Houses on Madison Avenue, 9illustration, left) and the former William K. Vanderbilt House on the Plaza were the rare exceptions. In London, Burlington House retains its cour d'honneur and so of course does Buckingham Palace, but here the cour d'honneur is now hidden behind Edward Blore's much photographed east facade, of 1847, which faces the Mall and now encloses it, however the cour d'honneur, now known as "The Quadrangle", still retains the principal entrance to the palace.

Notes

  1. ^ Michel Gallet Les Demeures parisiennes: l'époque de Louis XVI, (Paris: Le Temps) 1964.
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