Nancy -- The Rococo and Jean Lamour
Joseph Moos
HEPHAISTOS 1/2, 1996. pp. 10-11
Tr. Mike Spencer


As a result of their experience with the construction of the great cathedrals, the French artist blacksmiths and metalwork designers were the best in Europe from the High Gothic period in the 14th century onward. Their creations reached a high point in the late Rococo on the eve of the Revolution and it is in Nancy -- not in Paris -- that the extensive works of their greatest master, Jean Lamour, are to be found. He was the last great representative of a guild that disappeared in the confusion of the Revolution of 1789.

Nancy -- The Rococo and Jean Lamour

A visitor to Place Stanislaus, in the heart of the Lorraine city of Nancy, is overwhelmed from the very first moment. Low buildings in pure Rococo style surround a square over 500 feet long and 400 feet wide. The City Hall -- Hotel de Ville -- extends across its entire width to the south. The four corners of the square are closed by enormous screens, like triumphal arches, ornamented with a rich profusion or gilded leafwork. A superstructure of escutcheons, arms and figurative elements crowns each screen. The bars of the screens are black while the ornaments, leafwork and other embellisments are, in contrast, richly gilded and in the sun, the screens glow as if beaten from pure gold.

The streets that enter the square on its shorter sides are provided with portals by which they may be closed off. These slide out from the buildings across the sidewalks and obstruct each its street with a pillar that is crowned by an ornamental urn and each bears a great forged bracket terminated by a gilded cock from which depends a heavy hexagonal lantern. The entire square is surrounded by heavy forged candelabra that at night bathe everything in a warm ochre light.

The two corners opposite the Hotel de Ville are occupied by two magnificent fountains surrounded by screens and gilded cresting. The overall effect is an impression of a great outdoor stage that one has entered by the Royal Portal. The screens do not restrain but rather tend to frame everything else.

The square is open to the north and leads the visitor through a small triumphal arch into the Place de la Carrière. It is of similarly enormous dimensions and more screens at its center form a long promenade. Lamour designed and produced all of the ironwork for this monumental installation.

Jean Lamour was born in 1698, the son of Nancy's official city Master of Metalwork. He learned the craft in Metz and spent his journeyman's time in Paris to further his skills. In 1720 he inherited his father's position in Nancy. His first major undertaking was a screen for the Church of Saint Epure. His cometary rise to fame began in 1737 when he became court metalwork master to the new ruler. This latter was the Polish Prince Stanislas Leszcuzynski, who had been compensated with the Duchy of Lorraine for his loss of the Polish crown.

Stanislas married a daughter of the French king and arranged with his personal architect, Emanuel Héré, to have Nancy, his city of official residence, renovated to suit his elevated station. Within a few years Nancy became the pearl of French cities. In a rarely seen collaborative success, the architecture of Héré and the metalwork of Lamour formed a unified and perfectly integrated work of art. The overall plan originated with Héré but the design of every piece of metalwork was Lamour's and he had the freedom to alter the architectural design to accomodate his sense of style. Tradition says that the King himself visited Lamour's workshops to inquire after the progress of the work and to pay his respects to the master craftsman.

At the peak of the project, Lamour employed more than 200 people in various metal crafts, most of them art smiths or gilders. After four years of work, the screens were completed and the dedication of the "Royal Plaza" was celebrated on the 26th of November, 1775. On this occasion, wine flowed in the fountains and special city officals strewed coins from the balconies among the people in the square.

Lamour received for the screens in the Place Stanislas the then unheardof sum of 150,000 livres. At that time a journeyman smith earned, in addition to board and lodging, 100 livres per year.

The City Hall alone has 14 balconies, the central one of which is 60 feet long, and the other buildings have, altogether, 56 balconies, all of which were provided with railings by Lamour. Inside the City Hall is still another surprise: Lamour's railing for a double course winding staircase, filled with a potpourri of foliage work. He was particularly proud of the bannister rail itself, over 80 feet long and so cunningly fitted that it appears to be of a single piece. The stair rail cost the King 60,000 livres.

The true apogee of Lamour's creation, however, was the construction of the two fountains facing the City Hall across the square. One fountain is dedicated to Poseidon, the other to Aphrodite, both figures surrounded by figures of minor dieties and dolphins. The figures were cast in lead by the sculptor Bartélemy Guibal. Lamour surrounded and crested them with a profusion of grillwork and repoussé.

Each of the fountains is 70 feet wide and over 30 feet high. The central portals are crowned with exceptional embellishments. The escutcheons in the center originally bore the Bourbon Lily, the arms of the French kings. Since the renovation in 1864 by Lippmann, the lily has been replace by the Lorraine Thistle, the arms of the City of Nancy.

Lamour's work is admired not only for its magnitude and technical mastery but, above all, because it represents the full maturity of the Rococo epoch. It evinces his mastery in cultivating his stylistic signature, the Rocaille or high Rococo, marked by clarity of line and parsimonious ornamentation. Nothing goes to Baroque excess or is stuffed full of a surplus of foliage as is the German work of this period. Plant-like ornaments appear to follow the natural laws of growth; They fulfill the underlying design rather than appearing to be just "stuck on".

Lamour didn't stop with the Place Stanislas. He also forged two splendid screens for the cathedral: One encloses the memorial chapel of Cardinal Charles of Lorraine, the other that of the Prelate Bouzey. One can admire many screens by Lamour in the Lorraine Museum and he, himself, took pains that his work should be available to posterity: he published his designs in a copperplate edition in 1767 under the title, Recueil des ouvrages en serrurerie...; composé et exécuté par Jean Lamour, serrurier du Roy... (roughly translated, "Collection of the Metalwork...Designed and Executed by Jean Lamour, the King's Blacksmith".) He dedicated the collection to his King, who had paid him so generously and had proclaimed him Maitre de serrurier -- Master of Metalwork.

Lamour's work brought him both wealth and respect. He accumlated a collection of paintings and enjoyed widspread recognition among his fellow citizens. With the death of King Stanislas in 1766, however, the period of great commissions came to an end. He continued to work in his shop, possibly because he had remarried in 1762. Lamour died in 1771 at the age of 73 and carried with him to the grave an entire epoch.

Rocaille ornament, trademark and signature of the Rococo, acheived its culmination in the work of Lamour and vanished with him.

The sketches exemplify the construction principles: several pieces of raised sheet are rivetted together into a three dimensional foliage element, gilded and then fastened into the ironwork as if it had grown out of it..

In France, the style of Louis XVI is called the Epoch after Lamour. The lines become stronger, the ornament more restrained and the work begins to lose its splendor and impact. With the Revolution of 1789 and the ensuing societal disorders, the high school of French art smithing sank out of sight. That the work of Jean Lamour has survived is, in view of all that has happend since its creation, somthing of a miracle. It has survived two world wars largely undamaged, secure behind walls of sandbags.

Nancy, for all our "colleagues at the anvil", novices, journeymen or masters, is a destination worthy of the journey. No city has been as enlivened as this one through the efforts of the blacksmith. Moreover, Nancy is, along with Vienna, Munich, Paris and Brussels, a center of the Jugendstil and the metalwork of this era in the city is not to be overlooked -- but that's another story.

Copyright © 1996 HEPHAISTOS Internationale Zeitschrift für Metallgestalter. Permission is granted to reproduce this article for educational or other not-for-profit purposes.