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  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

Paris - What a Relief!


“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.” Former President (and Ambassador/Minister to France) Thomas Jefferson's quote rings true on so many levels, but most especially on simply walking around Paris with the singular goal of enjoying her beauty. That is known as being a flâneur (flâneuse for the ladies.)

Get out your walking shoes, P'Nichers, and let's hit les rues de Paris for some artistic fun!


Walking around Paris really is key to enjoying the many architectural styles that compose the city's iconic landscape.

While the majority of central Paris is covered with Baron Haussmann's uniform buildings and facades (we've previously discussed the city's axis and symmetry as well as some playful gargoyles), today, let's take a P'Niche peek at a wonderful architectural style seen quite a bit in Paris - the relief.


What's a relief? So glad you asked, you Parisian culture loving P'Nicher, you!

Simply stated (and stemming from the latin verb relevo - to raise), a relief is a methodology of creating sculptural and visual depth, where previously / specially sculpted pieces are bonded / adhered to a solid background (typically of the same material.)

But why go through all that effort?

A relief gives the visual impression of depth and contrast to its larger background plane.

An artistic work of relief is also stronger, with a longer lasting durability (and should not affect overall weight bearing joints of a building, monument, etc.)

Oh, and they're really pretty...

But wait! if you call now... There are several different types of relief forms...


A bas relief (low relief or basso-rilievo), has quite a "shallow" appearance to its raised look, (as the background plane is only slightly lower than the artistic elements placed upon it) but still packs quite a visual punch.

One great example of this type of relief would be the Vendôme Column. It is over 42 meters tall, with 425 bronze plaques attached to its surface, which are all a testament to the many military conquests of one Napoléon Bonaparte.


Mid relief (half relief or mezzo-rilievo) is a bit less clear, and given it's not being quite high relief, nor low relief, sometimes the depth of the works may appear a bit "blurry" or even a bit distorted.

P'Niche has added a non-Paris (Roman - Ara Pacis) example here - because it is a great relief visual and well, the Romans did settle in Paris, after all!

High relief (or altorilievo) is most likely what you think of when you imagine a relief in Parisian architecture.

This is where there is the greatest distance from background to the top of the affixed sculpture - that is simply to say - the most pronounced.

It makes viewing easy to see and understand.


When creating a high relief, one uses the same building styles as those of free standing sculpture. You'd have to imagine that you'd be able to have the same visual field as someone standing and admiring a free standing statue - that's how defined the features are.

It is worth noting that relief art and architecture are certainly not specific to Paris or France. Nearly all cultures have used reliefs in their architecture.


Now that you are more acquainted with what you are looking at, you will find that you are noticing relief works of art and architecture nearly everywhere in Paris!

From door frames and store fronts, to monuments and cathedrals, varying forms of relief are there for you to examine, appreciate, and enjoy.

Like P'Niche said, get your baskets (sneakers) on and let's pace the cobblestones together. In fact, let's grab a head start...


On a recent virtual walk with the lovely Claudine Hemingway, she pointed out this sculpture on Rue Galande, an old (the oldest?) Roman road that led to Lyon and Rome (hey, it's the Romans again - twice in one post - ciao and bonjour!).

At 42, rue Galande (5th arrondissement), you will find this relief (and the oldest sign in Paris) from the 14th century portraying the legend of Saint-Julien l’Hospitalier.


Another gorgeous goodie is this gem, located at 21, rue du Faubourg-Monmartre (at the corner of rue Grange Batelière).

It is located in the 9th arrondissement, and mere steps from the Palais Garnier (Opera house - also boasting many reliefs).

This location, erected in 1719, has at the first floor level (that's second floor for the Americans) this bas relief religious scene.

Research has enlightened us that it seems to be The Annunciation of Mary (and that at this location was originally the Convent of the Visitation.) Look closely - at the bottom left of the sculpture, on the small wall where an open book is placed, is the Roman numeral figure "XXI" which would correspond to the house number. Très cool!

Believe it or not, none of the works shown today are P'Niche's favorite relief in Paris. Make sure to subscribe to join us back here in the Parisian Niche to find out what that particular relief is, and it's angelic history. In the meantime, P'Nicher, what is your favorite relief in Paris? Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!


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Joseph Console
Joseph Console
Apr 10, 2023

Lovely post! Personally the Vendôme Column is my favorite of the reliefs - flâneurism is a way of life!

Apr 13, 2023
Replying to

Love this - the student has become the teacher!


Debra Borchert
Debra Borchert
Apr 05, 2023

I like the reliefs at the top of the Louvre but also the very old and simple ones of shells on the outer walls of Musee Cluny or is it now Musee du Moyen Age now? Thanks again for educating me in a fun and humorous way! Debra

Apr 07, 2023
Replying to

No, I will add to my list for sure, merci!!

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