Designs by Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier, 1726–31

Drawing of designs for the interior of the Church of The Order of The Holy Spirit, Paris, France, by Juste-Aurele Meissonnier, 18th century. Museum no. 9085

Drawing of designs for the Palace and Church of The Order of The Holy Spirit, Paris, France, by Juste-Aurele Meissonnier, 18th century. Museum no. 9085

The Order of the Holy Spirit was a French order of chivalry founded in 1578 by Henri III (reigned 1574–89). It was composed of high ranking members of the aristocracy, and the King was its Sovereign and Grand Master. The Order was abolished during the French Revolution in 1791, reinstated in 1814 and abolished permanently in 1830. The Maltese Cross was the symbol of the Order.

The Order used the Church of the Grands Augustins in Paris for its official ceremonies. However, after his accession to the throne, and after becoming the Order's Grand Master, Louis XV (reigned 1715–74) decided to erect a new building within the convent of the Saints Augustins.

Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier was a gifted designer and goldsmith and an early exponent of the rococo style. In 1726 he succeeded Jean Bérain (1678–1726) to the prestigious function of 'Dessinateur de la Chambre et Cabinet du Roi'. The Comte de Maurepas, Secretary of the Order and a patron of Meissonnier, may have suggested that he propose a project for the Palace and Church of the Order of the Holy Spirit. Two other architects, Nicolas Pineau and Giovanni Niccolo Servandoni, also submitted designs for the monument. However, Meissonnier appears to have been the only one to have included a palace in his project.

Drawing of designs for the interior of the Church of The Order of The Holy Spirit, Paris, France, by Juste-Aurele Meissonnier, 18th century. Museum no. 9085

Drawing of designs for the interior of the Church of The Order of The Holy Spirit, Paris, France, by Juste-Aurele Meissonnier, 18th century. Museum no. 9085

Meissonnier was inspired by the chapel at Versailles. He represented the main axis of the building with the entrance façade in the centre with the church on the left and the palace on the right, each crowned by a dome. The design of the exterior shows that the pediment is decorated with the arms of France and Navarre surrounded by the arms of the Order of the Holy Spirit and surmounted by the royal crown. The four evangelists are represented on each side of the pediment. The Maltese cross can be seen on the domes. There is no scale but the depiction of people suggests that the dome could be the size of that of the Invalides, namely 107m. 

Meissonnier's interior view only shows the proposed church. He deliberately chose to employ the same colossal order for the interior. Paintings can be seen on the vault of the nave and on the cupola. The openings between the stylobates (the base beneath a row of columns) are decorated with large volutes (scrolled ornament) ending with shells, a rococo motif often used by Meissonnier.

Meissonnier's designs were long believed to have been executed in the mid 18th century but recent research has reassessed its date to 1726–31. An illustration in his 'Parallèle General des Edifices' showing a perspective view of the church and palace of the Order of the Holy Spirit reveals that Meissonnier revisited the project in the 1740s.

These drawings can be found in the V&A Prints and Drawings Study Room

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