Architecture History of Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris, designed primarily by architect Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 after his victory over the Third Coalition at Austerlitz in 1805 to celebrate not only that event but his other victories. Construction took one year from 1807 to 1808 and completed  a year ahead of schedule. The location chosen by Chalgrin was originally intended as a monumental entrance to the Tuileries palace that was destroyed by fire purposefully set in 1871 during the Paris Commune.

The  arch sits in  an open space, the past location where costumed nobles performed in an equestrian display—carrousel—to celebrate the birth of the dauphin (heir to the throne) in 1662.

Information is sparse on the type of stone used but was most probably limestone since there were numerous quarries around Paris, and many of the buildings in the French capitol such as the Louvre and the Invalides used the material.

The monument measures 19 meters high, 23 meters wide, and 7.3 meters deep.  The high central arch, 6.4 meters, is bordered by two smaller arches at 4.3 high and 2.7 meters wide. The quadriga atop the arch representing Peace in a triumphal chariot led by gilder victories on each side, is a copy of the so-called Horses of Saint Mark that adorn the top of the main door of the St Mark's Basilica in Venice. Originally, the chariot was to have a statue of Napoleon in the chariot but he discarded the idea so the chariot remained empty until the restoration of 1828 when an allegorical figure took the emperor’s place. It is flanked by statues symbolizing Victory and Peace.

Encompassing its exterior are eight Corinthian columns of pink marble topped by eight soldiers in the upper frieze representing various soldiers of the Grand Army: an infantry grenadier, a dragoon, a gunner, a cavalry chasseur, a rifleman and a sapper.

On the pediment, between the soldiers, bas-reliefs portray the Arms of the Kingdom of Italy with figures representing History and the Arts, the Arms of the French Empire with Victory, Fame, History, and Abundance, and Wisdom and Strength holding the arms of the Kingdom of Italy, accompanied by Prudence and Victory.

The history painter Charles Meynier was hired to provide drawings for the statues and bas-reliefs.

Napoleon's military and victories diplomatic and military victories are celebrated using bas-reliefs also of rose marble depicting:

  • the Peace of Pressburg
  • Napoleon entering Munich
  • Napoleon entering Vienna, sculptor Louis-Pierre Deseine
  • the Battle of Austerlitz, sculptor Jean-Joseph Espercieux
  • the Tilsit Conference
  • the surrender of Ulm, sculptor Pierre Cartellier

The arch and its proportions is derivative of the Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome. 

The Carrousel is one of two commissioned by Napoleon, the other being the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile.


Architecture History: