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  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

The Caryatids of Paris ...

Paris is truly an infinite world to explore, especially when you take the time to play the flâneur / flâneuse. It's how P'Niche herself stumbled across the sublime (and subtly) Angel de Turbigo.

We've so enjoyed learning more about the architecture - and the focus on the relief, just for the sake of beauty and decoration. Today, let's take a P'Niche peek to learn more about a similar type of design - the caryatid.

By definition, a caryatid is a stone sculpture of a female figure, replacing a pillar or column, as she serves to support and entablature upon her head. An entablature is a vital element in classical architecture.

The male equivalent of a caryatid is called an Atlas or a Telamon, but are vastly female. She works hard for the money!

While vital to Classical architecture, we can note that the origins of the caryatid lies in Greece. Stemmed from the Greek word, karyatides translates to "maidens of Karyai," Karyai being an ancient town on the Peloponnese peninsula (located in southern Greece.)

Karyai, or Cayae, was a nut-tree village, most well known for its temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis. Artemis was the goddess of the moon, the hunt, wilderness, wild animals. nature, vegetation, childbirth, childcare, as well as chastity.

Annually at this temple, a festival would occur, where Lacedaemonian maidens or virgins would perform a dance

Performing in honor of Artemis, the Karayatides (virgins) would dance about, carrying baskets on their heads of live reeds (tall slender grass), as if they themselves were dancing plants.

As Carye was considered one of the six neighboring villages that formed Sparta (hometown of Helen of Sparta - later Helen of Troy), Carye women were thought to be among the most beautiful, strong, and intelligent women of the world - able to give birth to many healthy children.

This made them the perfect representation to hold up pillars of society (and structures).

Moving wayyyyyyy ahead in the P'Niche Time Travel Machine, we note that caryatids were prominent in the architecture and design of the Renaissance period (1450-1650).

During this time, stunning caryatids were featured both on the exterior and now on the interior, particularly on fireplaces, where our daring damsels would hold up stone mantles.

I guess, like all trends, we can say that "all that was old is new once again!"

Moving over to Versailles, we find a jewelry cabinet (in the very ornate style of Louis XVI), created by Ferdinand Schwerdfeger in 1787. It is made from mahogany, inlays of mother of pearl, porcelain plates, and gilded bronze caryatids - it lives in the Queen Marie Antoinette's refurbished bedroom - what a marvel!

Mom, if you're reading - Christmas gift? Hahaha....

Our wonderful maidens were not only featured in architecture and furnishings - they became an inspiration and muse for many painters. Take "The Love of Paris and Helen," by Jacques-Louis David, completed in 1788.

Commissioned by le Comtre d'Artois and inspired by Homer's The Iliad and now living at le Louvre museum, we see Helen and Paris in the forefront and some wonderful caryatids in the background, lending depth to the fabulous artwork.

As we move forward to 1853, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann is now serving as Prefect of the Seine under Emporor Napoleon III. His task was largely to modernize Paris from medieval structures to the uniform landscape we recognize as iconic today.

He was an avid devotee to the neoclassical style of architecture and used much of this beauty in his planning (typically found in pairs). Given how similar all buildings were set to be, these playful (or serious) caryatids could serve as a decorative was to distinguish between buildings. Check out these carvings, by Aimé Millet added onto the Passage du Bourg l'Abbé in the second arrondissement - just magnifique!

We cannot forget to mention this gem - the Angel de Turbigo, located at 57 rue Turbigo, in the 3rd arrondissement.

the creation of architect Emile Delange, the 3 story angel was erected in 1860. The discussion continues on this one - is she a relief or a caryatid?

The world may never be sure, but P'Niche believes she beautifully serves as both...

If you have ever taken the time to stroll through the gardens of le Musée Rodin, you may have noticed this gem.

Rodin, in the early 1880s, created a set of two female caryatids - each in a spiral type of pose. She seems to gracefully be falling into herself (presumably due to the heavy load she bears.)

These were not Rodin's first caryatid productions, as during his stay in Brussels from 1871-1877, he sculpted similar statuary to decorate a building he was commissioned to collaborate on.

This representation was actually meant to be part of his much larger project, "The Gates of Hell," where you can see the crushing weight of the world as a visual representation - just stunning.

In the latter part of the 1870s, we find that Sir Richard Wallace, a British philanthropist, had come into a large sum of money.

While the vast majority of Parisian aqueducts were destroyed during the Franco-Prussian was, he felt that clean drinking water should be a free item, offered to all residents of Paris.

And so a fountain project was begun...

Wallace fountains, as they are now called, are adorned with caryatids, designed by Charles-Auguste Lebourg - on four sides. They represent: Kindness, Simplicity, Charity, and Sobriety. Today, there are over 100 functioning Wallace fountains in Paris.

Probably one of the most amazing items I found when researching this super cool topic is this STUNNING image of a Christian Dior (my top fave) photo shoot.

Photographed in 1951 (Dior's "Partie Fine" collection), these mesdames were snapped under the Caryatids of Erechtheion.

P'Nichers, can you even imagine the glamour?!

On your first (or next) visit to le Louvre, do not forget to make a visit to la Salle des Cariatides.

The room is in the Lescot Wing, in the southeast corner of the Sully Wing.

Aside from this beauty, there ae many other scrumptious pieces of statuary to admire.

In fact, aside from Haussmann's marvels, the exterior of the Louvre is a fantastic place to caryatid-peep.

You can see here the Baroque caryatids, located on the upper area of the Pavillon de la Bibliothèque.

Wander around the entirety of the exterior of the museum (and the Cour Carrée) for many, many caryatids...

And now, just a few of P'Niche's faves...

La France newspaper headquarters - 142 rue Montmartre (75002)

2, bis quai des Célestins (75004)

14, quai de la Mégisserie (75001)

Wait a minute, I hear you cry - you're sharing so few? Well, P'Nichers - a challenge for you!

As there are over 500 unique caryatids in Paris alone, why don't you take the time for a stroll to find, photo, and share your favorite/s with us? In the meantime, don't forget to subscribe so you can join us back here to see the results. Already have a photo to share? Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!


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2 comentarios

02 jun

You make it so real for non-travelers as I to have the sense I am where these caryatids are. Thank you for bringing a real travel moment into my life. G

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Debra Borchert
Debra Borchert
30 may

Your writing is so lovely: Karayatides (virgins) would dance about, carrying baskets on their heads of live reeds (tall slender grass), as if they themselves were dancing plants. I'd love to see that. Thank you again, for the lovely start to my day.

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