In the revolution of 1789, France set out to replace its absolute monarchy with a government based on a separation of legislative, judicial, and executive powers. In Geometries of Power: Royal, Revolutionary, and Postrevolutionary French Courtrooms, Katherine Fischer Taylor asks how the goal of separating powers affected the reform of French justice through its physical housing. Providing the first overview of French courtroom layout, Taylor identifies four geometric configurations that characterize in turn the late ancien régime, the revolutionary decade, and the Napoleonic era and beyond. While taking account of changes in the conduct of trials, the analysis emphasizes instead how the courtroom’s spatial arrangement expresses the political source and status of justice. The revolution’s hitherto-unstudied circular layout is placed in the context of the novel curvilinear legislative chamber and influential theater reform. It proposes that the Napoleonic replacement, a rectangular layout inspired by contemporaneous basilican church interiors, instead reframed justice as a sacral power distinct from the theatrical legislature.
There is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers. … Miserable indeed would be the case, were the same man, or the same body … to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and that of judging the crimes or differences of individuals.—Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws (1748)
Montesquieu’s influential articulation of the need to separate the three powers of government was put into practice several decades later, when France drafted its first constitution during the Revolution of 1789.1 But the form this separation took was entirely experimental and was mightily debated. Similarly, the French did not begin with clear ideas about how to arrange the architectural settings for the new powers, although their intent to launch a new type of democratic government led them to plan some of its features in opposition to those of the despised absolute monarchy. While the political parameters and relationships of the three powers were directly addressed in the constitution, the architectural questions were answered through the trial and error of bricolage. How did this political experiment produce its chief architectural settings, and how did those settings abet their political functions as separate but interrelated powers?
Concentrating on judicial power, I offer an analysis of how French courtrooms changed in response to revolutionary events by emphasizing the role of the separation of powers and the accompanying redefinition of the source of power. As most of the courtrooms themselves are long gone and scantily recorded in pictorial images, I work primarily with the traces recorded in courtroom plans showing the placement of furniture, which I interpret in light of judicial and political practice. My sample yields a striking pattern of change in those layouts: four distinct geometries characterize ancien régime courtrooms of the eighteenth century (diamond shaped and squarish), the revolutionary decade of 1789–99 (circular), and the postrevolutionary era that opened under Napoleon (rectangular) (Figure 1). Because French courts follow a different procedure in civil and criminal trials, and civil trials are considered the standard type, I have simplified this introductory sketch by representing civil courtrooms only. Certain key features are shared by all—a large empty well or parquet at the center of the room across which the judges and parties to a trial address one another, and the habit of elevating the judges on high benches or platforms—but such features function differently in different layouts. The geometric changes match changes in the political status of justice and the ritual aspect of judging. For the old courtroom whose attendees gathered around a squarish or diamond-shaped well, revolutionary leaders substituted a circular layout derived from the new, democratically theatrical legislative chamber, while the early nineteenth century differentiated courtroom from legislature by establishing a long, rectangular layout with the hierarchical, sacral overtones of the basilican church.
The ancien régime courtrooms were situated in a hierarchy of royal courts linked by an appellate procedure. The courtrooms at the top, whose judgment was sovereign, had the privilege of receiving the king himself, who delegated to them his power to judge but who could participate personally in their work. These courtrooms took the form of a diamond shape whose top corner was occupied by the king or the king’s seat facing a gate in the opposite corner; the diagonal between the seat and the gate determined the axis of movement and orientation of the room. The judges sat on two levels of benches flanking the king, and lower-ranking magistrates and barristers filled the opposite two benches. In a lower-level courtroom, the diamond-shaped layout was squared with the sides of the room, so the presiding judge sat in the center of the rear bench and his associates and barristers filled the benches enframing the well. Here the layout was essentially a squarish rectangle of benches to which extras could be added on the outer sides, emphasizing the gathering around the well. In all but the simplest trials, the collection and review of evidence were conducted largely outside the courtroom in written form, meaning that courtroom proceedings offered little drama to attract an audience. Criminal trials were conducted entirely along those lines with no defense attorney or jury, and in the moments when they used a courtroom, the room was never open to the public. Consequently, eighteenth-century courtrooms were not much visited by the public.2 The public fascination that arose in the 1770s and 1780s for a new genre of impassioned trial narratives relied on published texts that explained out-of-view procedures.3
Revolutionary leaders substituted a novel circular layout for their revised courts. The judges and the parties to the trial sat in opposite halves of a circle divided by a wide flight of steps, which separated the judges’ elevated platform from the rest of the room. Judicial desks formed a semicircle on the platform facing a semicircular bench for the parties. This layout maintained the ancien régime tradition of a gathering enframing all four sides of a well, but made it circular. It served a new system of courts presided over by a new judiciary selected by elections and in which the public was admitted to both criminal and civil trials, standing outside the barrier formed by the backs of the benches. Civil trial procedure was drastically abbreviated with the aim of making justice cheaper and swifter, and it now aired any written evidence gathered out of court in the public trial. The most famous and dramatic change was in criminal trials, where for the first time in modern France, a jury weighed evidence presented live for and against the accused. A new type of proof and judgment accessible to laymen and modeled on the British courts replaced the more technical legal proofs of the past. France, however, limited the jury solely to the criminal courts.
In the Napoleonic era (1800–1814), the circular layout gradually morphed into a very different configuration from those of the ancien régime or the revolution: an elongated rectangle with the judges’ desks arrayed in an arc at one end facing two banks of benches for the parties to the trial, with standing room for the public beyond. Between the two was the customary parquet, but it was no longer enframed by benches. Instead, the room was divided into a zone for the judges and a zone for the parties and public, who faced one another. An elongated longitudinal processional axis from the presiding judge to the entrance emphatically separated the seating for the parties into two halves, underscoring the agonistic aspect of a trial. While this layout took shape in a piecemeal process with no explicit directive to alter its form, the Napoleonic regime reorganized the courts yet again, reviving the hierarchical system of appeals and many of the procedural formalities of the ancien régime but retaining part of the public juried procedure of the revolutionary criminal courts. The system relied on the four codes of law and procedure that Napoleon’s government completed and stamped with his name; the judges oversaw the application of those venerated texts. It cannot be accidental that this courtroom layout situates the judges like clergy in the chancel of a church, facing a congregation in the nave, although I know of no explicit contemporary claim to do so.
Viewed in light of the separation of powers, the revolutionary and postrevolutionary judicial layouts bear a significant relationship to the amphitheatrical and semicircular forms successively adopted for the legislative chamber (Figure 2). From the moment the Estates-General deputies constituted themselves as a national assembly in 1789, they insisted that the correct form for deliberation was the ancient curvilinear one because it maximized visual and acoustic access for all members. The precise room shape was then developed through experiment, subject to the constraints of available meeting places for 1,200 deputies and a public audience. But the principle the deputies brought so readily to mind was familiar to them from the reform of public theater auditoriums that crystallized in several exemplary new theaters in the 1780s. There the traditionally deep auditoriums of French theaters were replaced by semicircular or circular ones truncated by the stage, and the vertically stacked levels of boxes enframing their sides were stepped back as they rose to resemble the steps of ancient amphitheaters. The legislators ordained a similarly circular shape for the courtroom as they sought to make trials more accessible to the public, in their roles both as parties and spectators. Their initial concern was apparently to stamp both the legislative chamber and the courtroom as components of the same new political order. Although differences between the two types of interiors inevitably arose as the circular layout was adapted differently to trials and to legislative debate, legislators did not initially feel the need to differentiate them visually as distinct powers with distinct functions.
Only after a decade of experience had underscored the extent to which the revolution had reduced judicial power did visual differentiation occur. Architects turned from the model of the theater to that of the church as reshaped in basilican form during the eighteenth century, thereby distinguishing the courtroom from the legislature and compensating the diminished judiciary by giving it greater pomp in the eyes of the public. Although the first known projects for a courtroom with the rectangular layout date from the two winning projects for the Academy of Architecture’s annual Grand Prix competition of 1782, that arrangement was absorbed into actual courtrooms only around the turn of the century, in very different political circumstances, when it assumed a political significance the academicians could not have anticipated (Figure 3). The rectangular courtroom layout was well suited to characterize the stability of law and order at a time of actual tumult.
Methodologically, telling this story requires reconstructing the layout of ancien régime courtrooms from records of furnishings that were either used or planned for specific buildings and registering the discrepancy between practice and academic idea. It calls for examining plans that reflect compromises between architects and users, often in renovations. What emerges from this first survey is a story of the geometries of power.
The Circular Courtroom Layout of the Revolutionary Decade
Two engravings, developed by three legislators with the aid of an architect, were dispatched together with a brief circular on 22 January 1791 to 547 new tribunals established across the nation to indicate how each should arrange its courtrooms (Figure 4, 5).4 Archives show that the instruction was widely followed long after the replacement of the constitutional monarchy of 1791 by a republic. Although the perspective view has been reproduced at least twice before, the engravings have never been studied historically.5 Within the standard rectangular room is a circular parquet, half defined by the judges’ bench on an elevated platform and completed by benches for the parties to the trial—solicitors, their clients, and their clients’ defenders. The circular arrangement of the furniture is not found in typical courtrooms before or after the revolutionary decade. Moreover, the engravings present the only outright governmental prescription I know of for courtroom layout. By contrast, norms for pre- and postrevolutionary tribunals developed little by little to become unstated conventions, generating a history that is difficult to reconstruct.
The circular model was conceived for a world in which power was being dissected into several specialized separate entities, each with distinct procedures for its particular work, and all henceforth responsible to the citizenry. The new model served a judicial system that differed from prerevolutionary justice in three main ways. First, the judiciary lost its former admixture of legislative and administrative prerogatives to become solely judicial; second, judicial power was authorized by the general will of the citizenry, not imposed by a divine-right king; and third, this justice was egalitarian for a nation bent on eradicating feudal privilege.6 The question is the extent to which those changes marked the form of the new model courtroom.
The difference between mixed justice and specialized justice is evident when one compares the new courtroom type to the courtrooms of the highest royal courts of the ancien régime, the parlements (Figure 6; see Figure 5), the sovereign law courts that judged in last resort. Like the parlements, the revolutionary courtrooms also served the top level of a new judicial structure, which was stripped of most of its former hierarchy. The contrast between the diamond-shaped layout of the ancien régime courtroom and the circular layout of the revolutionary one is striking. In the first chamber of the Parlement of Paris, the king sometimes came to preside over his judges, occupying the lit de justice, a throne situated in the corner, which enabled him to dominate the assembly from a unique vantage point. Miniatures depicting early royal assemblies, which came to be called lits de justice, were often oriented on the diagonal to literalize the king’s status as the apex of the court.7 This mode of organizing judicial space stems from the confusion of powers in the ancien régime. The king was the source of all types of power, and, moreover, the king’s judges themselves exercised not only judicial power but also legislative and administrative powers.8 The lit de justice most often took place when the king visited the courtroom in order to overrule an attempt by his judges to intervene in legislation promulgated by the king.9 Yet the diamond layout was uniquely associated with royal justice; the king used it solely to meet with his judges, never for other types of assemblies or audiences. Lits de justice were sometimes set up temporarily in royal palaces, whereas the diamond layout remained permanently intact in the courtroom, even when the room was used for trials the king did not attend. The corner itself remained vacant in anticipation of a royal visit, but the presiding judge took the seat below the king’s. Thus we see him represented in the corner of the courtroom at a trial of 1786 in the highly unusual act of releasing an exonerated accused to a delighted public (Figure 7).10
By contrast, the circular layout, conceived for a constitutional monarchy at the outset of the Revolutionary decade, reduced the king’s status to a secondary role. Power in the courtroom was concentrated in the hands of the elected judges, who presided from a shared desk at the back of the room. Seated in the center of the judges’ desk, the president lacked the unique position afforded by the corner but instead dominated a long aisle that stretched from his seat through the gate in the parquet to the public entrance in the opposite wall. In this sense, the courtroom resembled ordinary (nonsovereign) royal courtrooms of the ancien régime, those that lacked the diamond-shaped layout that signaled the privilege of receiving the king—for example, the secondary chamber of another sovereign court in Paris, the Cour des Aides, and the humbler Breton tribunal of Hennebont (Morbihan) (Figures 8, 9).11 Its parquet resembled those of prerevolutionary ordinary courtrooms in that the empty space at the center was entirely framed by benches, but where the ancien régime courtrooms used straight benches to encircle a squarish parquet, the 1791 type substituted curved furnishings to define a circular parquet.
There was no expectation that the king would ever visit the new courts; the legislature had taken over the former legislative prerogative of the courts, and the courts were bound to honor the laws made by the legislature and promulgated by the executive power. The Crown was represented solely by its delegate, the king’s commissioner, whose role in proceedings was greatly diminished by comparison to his ancien régime counterpart, the royal prosecutor. In accord with the separation of powers, the powerful job of prosecutor was split into two positions, a king’s commissioner who served on behalf of the executive to ensure that the courts applied the legal procedure and penalties in all cases, and a public accuser, an elected magistrate who prosecuted criminal charges on behalf of the citizenry.12 The seating of the king’s commissioner, however, was arguably grander than the royal prosecutor’s had been, for the latter had always occupied a separate bench from the judges—in the case of a highest courtroom at a parlement, either below them or on the outer side of the parquet. In the new layout, both the king’s commissioner and the clerk of the court gained places on the judges’ platform, at individual desks flanking the communal judges’ bench. This was the extent of expression of royal power in the room.
The anti-absolutist associations of the circular layout were novel. What contemporaries expected of it can be gleaned from the contemporaneous history of the curvilinear assembly chamber for the new legislative power. Although the nascent legislative power only gradually arrived at its ultimate and stable form of a semicircular assembly chamber (see Figure 2), the idea of assembling in an amphitheatrical shape struck members of the Estates-General of 1789 as soon as they reconstituted themselves as a national assembly at Versailles. The general assembly chamber of the Estates-General was a rectangular room arranged along the long axis to emphasize the king, enthroned at one end as president of the introductory and concluding plenary sessions. Legislators reasoned that rearranging the seating in an amphitheater and centering the tribune or speaker’s podium on one side would afford the most egalitarian model and the best visual and acoustic access to the speaker for every member of the assembly arrayed around him, permitting maximum participation in legislative work.13
The legislators’ assumption that their first debating chamber should be curvilinear with stepped seating is surely informed by the lively history of French theater reform since the 1750s, which stabilized during the revolutionary decade.14 In 1748, Voltaire famously deplored the lack of well-designed theaters to match the quality of native repertory and its growing popularity among a socially diverse audience. Parisian theaters had a history distinct from the most innovative European theaters of the day, which were Italian. Generally speaking, the earliest theater interiors were long, narrow rectangles, with a stage at one end and a deep auditorium lined by balconies containing boxes on three sides, surrounding a large area of standing room for thrifty spectators known as the parterre. This arrangement left many seats distant from the stage and placed many of the boxes at an oblique angle to it.
The layout characterized both court and public theaters, despite different architectural origins. Private theaters for princes and aristocrats typically used the great hall of the dwelling, an elongated rectangular hall. Public theaters had a similar shape owing to their adaptations of indoor tennis courts, themselves long, narrow interiors. At court, no distinction was made between the room types appropriate for performance and for more participatory events such as balls and banquets, or royal audiences. Consequently, the early French theater shared the layout used to represent royal power, with the striking exception of the lit de justice. In the case of a royal audience, such as the inaugural assembly of the Estates-General of 1614, which was held in the long, narrow Salle du Petit Bourbon (the great hall of the Hôtel du Petit Bourbon used for early royal performances in Paris), the king and his attendants substituted for the actors onstage to address guests positioned as spectators, a layout that was deliberately resurrected for the Estates-General of 1789 at Versailles. The interchangeability of ruler and actors onstage was reinforced by the fact that acting companies provided the elite with seats on the stage itself, to either side of the actors, blurring a distinction between stage and auditorium, actors and spectators. By 1789, however, the layout of 1614 struck the deputies to the Estates General as unacceptable when they redefined their role from loyal advisors to a powerful monarch to legislators representing the will of the king’s subjects. They drew on the recently developed curvilinear French theater auditorium and the related round or elliptical amphitheater, which arose simultaneously to house public entertainment.15
The altered auditorium shape affected the relationship of audience to staged spectacle. Enlightenment theater reformers called for types of repertory and auditorium seating that would encourage spectators to pay less attention to one another and lose themselves in quiet contemplation of the spectacle. To this end, reformers banished spectators from the stage, and many argued that semicircular auditoriums with more egalitarian, stepped seating, modeled on ancient classical theaters rather than the vertically stacked private boxes typical of modern Italian theaters, fostered more attention to the stage and provided better sight lines and acoustics. Forced by patrons to maintain some boxes, architects compromised by stepping back their profile at each successive level to resemble amphitheatrical stepped seating and to reduce their contrast with the crowded, rowdy parterre below. They also began replacing the parterre with fixed seats, which theater managers hoped would quell the parterre occupants’ notoriously insubordinate behavior. The movement in favor of circular or semicircular auditoriums culminated in the 1780s, epitomized in Paris by the Comédie-Française, now known as the Théâtre de l’Odéon. In his spectacular longitudinal section for the 1781 Salon, Charles de Wailly drew attention to the auditorium’s circular shape and the stepped profile of the balconies (Figure 10).16
In exploring the relationship between the theater and the legislature in the early Revolution, scholars have overlooked the fact that the National Assembly’s affinity for the theater auditorium ideal might have become literal, for it considered appropriating the Comédie-Française for its debates when it moved with the king from Versailles to Paris in October 1789.17 A committee scrutinized the largest interiors in Paris, including the Comédie-Française and especially Jacques Gondoin’s semicircular lecture theater for surgery students of 1774 with steeply stepped seating, the closest approximation of an ancient theater auditorium in Paris.18 While the committee dismissed churches because of their shapes and acoustics, it surely found theaters attractive. Ultimately, it pronounced both interiors too small and further rejected the Comédie-Française for lacking the daylight needed for reading and writing. The first Parisian legislative chamber was improvised instead as another fully elliptical amphitheater set within a capacious but unsuitably proportioned riding ring next to the Tuileries Palace. It took nine years for the legislature to reach its first purpose-designed semicircular chamber with stepped seating, which resembled Gondoin’s lecture theater with the addition of spectator balconies.
In adapting the theater type, the legislature also took on a fraught model of behavior for the public spectators it deemed essential to its legitimacy. The theater had a history of raucously responsive audience behavior.19 Divergent scholarship shows that two models competed in the late ancien régime and the revolutionary years before the Terror: spectators who interacted as they watched the play and commented on and even intervened in the performance, most often while standing as a crowd in the parterre, as opposed to seated spectators who silently observed the play, rousing themselves only at the end to applaud. Many contemporaries considered, for better or for worse, responsive parterres to be exercising an independent political voice about the plays they patronized and about their political associations, and thus to be a proxy for public opinion more broadly.20 On the other hand, quietly rapt audiences were prized for their capacity to internalize the didactic moral lessons increasingly embedded in new plays.21 Themselves a fusion of actors and mutual audience, the legislators disagreed about which mode was more appropriate for their own public spectators, although many considered responsiveness a violation of their exclusive job to determine the national will.22
Viewed in terms of the separation of powers, it is peculiar that legislators would extend to the judiciary the same form they had adopted to facilitate and express the debating role of the legislative power. After all, the legislature had stripped revolutionary justice of its legislative prerogative and further reduced and specialized the judicial power to ensure that it could not challenge the legislature. Symbolizing the newly egalitarian ethos of both powers apparently took precedence over differentiating them. The engravings suggest their authors wanted to reduce the visible authority of the judges in their courtroom, making them less intimidating (see Figures 4 and 5). The circular layout offered a more intimate relationship between judges and parties than a rectangular one and made it easier for all parties to see one another. The broad steps that led from the parquet to the judicial platform also visually implied the accessibility of the judges to the public. That was in keeping with the new status of the judges, who had lost their former hereditary offices in favor of elections to limited terms. Moreover, a very simplified judicial procedure permitted people without legal training to present pleas for the first time, further decreasing the gulf between professional experts and ordinary citizens.
However symbolically significant the circular layout, we must also consider how it functioned for a courtroom, so different from a legislative chamber (see Figures 2, 5). Geometry is not destiny but rather a fostering influence, and its forms are always adapted to particular purposes. The parties had no physical access to the bench, whereas every legislator had the right to speak from the tribune. The parties and the public watched proceedings from a level floor five steps below the elevated platform of the judges, whereas the legislators watched proceedings from stepped seating rising amphitheater-style around the speaker’s tribune and the president’s seat. Both types of chambers had elevated seats for their presidents, enabling them to survey the room and maintain order. Yet the president’s elevated seat was chiefly practical in the case of the legislature whereas it was also symbolic in the courts, indicating the stature of the judges as impartial arbiters of the law. It became a jealously guarded prerogative that epitomized the role of the judges in maintaining order in the courtroom as an analogue to the order the judiciary was supposed to guarantee in society at large. In short, only the judicial power used floor-level variations to express hierarchy.23 The circular courtroom layout thus effected a compromise, reducing the traditional authority of judges while simultaneously providing them with greater authority than the legislative president to police their chambers. The mixed purpose is explicit in the speech given by one of the authors of the model, Jacques-Guillaume Thouret, at the inauguration of a new Paris tribunal laid out largely on its guidelines in the old Paris Châtelet on 25 January 1791. Explaining the unaccustomedly austere character of the décor, Thouret conjured up an institution that was at once accessible and majestic: “These tribunals, proportioned to your needs according to simple new laws, themselves present a simple composition without showiness. This befits the character of the gentle, pacific functions of civil justice. But they are imbued with the majesty of the constitution from which they arise and the majesty of the law they serve.”24
The second great innovation of revolutionary justice—locating the source of the power to judge in the citizenry rather than the king—is visible in the insignia of the room. The blue tapestries strewn with gold fleurs-de-lis that marked the royal character of ancien régime courtrooms were replaced by a plain cloth of honor behind the judges’ platform (see Figure 5). Since the engravings predate the fall of the constitutional monarchy, the absence of royal insignia seems a deliberate way to indicate the nonmonarchical source of revolutionary justice. More specifically, new insignia commemorated and reinforced the inauguration rites of the elected judiciary, insisting on its contract with the citizenry.25 In place of the crucifix that traditionally hung above the judges’ seats, the legislators ordained an inscription recording the two reciprocal oaths taken by the judges and by the representatives of the people at the inauguration. Municipal officers occupied the judicial bench to receive newly elected judges. Assembled in the parquet, the judges swore obedience to the constitution, after which they exchanged places with the municipal officers, who swore to obey the court’s verdicts. The reciprocity of the contract was underscored by the paired inscriptions, reminding the judges of their source of power. Were we to see the new courtroom type populated, costume would also signify the change of sovereignty, for the judges wore civilian clothing rather than the traditional judicial robes associated with the king.26
The legends on the engraved plan proposed an additional way to signal the limits of judicial power, although the engravings do not picture it. Louis Combes proposed to realize the verbal instructions to place allegorical sculptures of Law and Justice on the socles framing the steps to the judges’ platform in his design for the tribunal of Bordeaux (Figure 11).27 The allegories underscored the new principle that the judges obeyed and applied the law instead of interpreting and shaping it as their ancien régime predecessors had done. Law, made by the legislature, could not do without Justice, but the primacy of Law was nonetheless implicit. As Guy-Jean Baptiste Target, another author of the circular layout and president of another Paris tribunal, declared at its inauguration, “Just as the cult of the divine is man’s religion, the cult of the law is the citizen’s religion.”28 It became explicit a little later in the revolutionary decade, when the text of the law replaced the reciprocal oaths as the emblem above the judges.29
As passive mouthpieces of the law and elected officials, judges like Target hoped for respect from the public that authorized them. We should wonder whether the circular layout encouraged spectator response, which was more of a problem for the courtroom than for the legislature or theater. We do not know how large an audience the new trials drew, at least the civil ones, whether spectators expressed their opinions and how energetically, or how fully the revolutionary laws prohibiting response were enforced.30 Literary historian Yann Robert has proposed that early revolutionary theaters and courtrooms borrowed from one another in repertory, style of appeal, and spectator behavior, paralleling the symbiosis between theater and legislature, and he characterizes that behavior as politically assertive.31 Yet it seems that the parterre standing at the back of courtrooms may have been quite decorous. The Gazette des tribunaux, the Paris newspaper founded in 1791 to report on judicial affairs, occasionally comments that the public was struck by a point in a trial but fails to describe how it manifested that response. It notes, however, that the public at the temporary new criminal tribunal was sedate, reprinting a report in which the presiding judge declared to the National Assembly, “Only once did [the public] break its silence with applause, but I had only to read out the law that forbids all expressions of approval or disapproval to reestablish complete quiet.”32
The third major change in judicial culture as a specialized power was its standardization. Transforming judges into technicians who applied a code of simplified laws uniformly across the nation was the preferred means of creating equal justice for all—an enormous project given the multitude of regional laws and varied jurisdictions, and one only completed under the Napoleonic Empire. This enterprise made the legislature’s law the master of justice, for France no longer allowed jurisprudence a formal role in judgment. The circular accompanying the model engravings drew an analogy between standardized justice and the standardized appearance of the courtrooms, specifying that “the Tribunals [must present] the eyes of the citizens with the same form everywhere just as the same Laws must govern their conduct and guide their fortune.”33 Those instructions were widely implemented, whether in preexisting courthouses or in expropriated buildings that were adapted to new public uses. Melun (Seine-et-Marne), near Paris, displays a typical solution (Figure 12). It planned to renovate a deconsecrated church as a courthouse and prison, placing the courtroom in the apse, whose concave wall would reinforce its circular layout.34 Bordeaux exemplifies another strategy: it renovated the former archbishop’s palace as the seat of the local executive and added a purpose-built wing for a tribunal with two courtrooms (Figure 13).35
Normally, the Ministry of Justice managed judicial administration as an executive matter, but in 1789–1791, the Constituent Assembly was redesigning the governmental powers for the new constitution of 1791. Thus it was three members of the Constitutional Committee who signed the circular for the new courtroom layout on the committee’s behalf. No law on courtroom layout was ever passed, and it is unclear that the three legislators actually possessed the authority to issue their order even though the order was taken seriously.36 Two were experienced in judicial matters, having been distinguished lawyers in the ancien régime: Thouret at the Parlement of Rouen and Target at the Parlement of Paris. Thouret took the leading role in drafting new judicial legislation and guiding its revision and passage in the legislature. Both men went on to judicial careers on the new Supreme Court, the Tribunal de Cassation, founded in 1791, after first being elected to preside over two of the six new tribunals established in Paris in late January 1791, whose layout they designed.37 The third member of the triumvirate was Jean-Nicolas Démeunier, a man of letters who shared a practical bent with Thouret and was broadly interested in politics, including the new American government, and ethnography, including legal ethnography.38
A literal reading of the circular suggests the three legislators arrived at their scheme by commissioning drawings based on their ideas from one or more architects and choosing among them.39 This procedure had developed during the Enlightenment among lay clients professing expertise in an institutional program in order to produce newly specialized types of buildings or interiors.40 The architect of the chosen scheme was Charles Norry, a protégé of the established architect Charles de Wailly.41 Thouret may have chosen the form, however, asking Norry to adapt the unusual elliptical courtroom layout that the engineer Armand-Bernardin Lefebvre had recently proposed for the bailliage at Caen (a middle-tier royal law court) in a new courthouse he began building in 1781 (Figure 14). As a former appellate lawyer in Normandy, Thouret surely followed the plans for the second most important judicial seat in the province, especially when Lefebvre publicized it in engravings of 1788 that he presented to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The building and the courtroom in question were incomplete as of 1790–91, but the engraved plan bears comparison to the 1791 engraving of the model courtroom.42
With its elliptical parquet, Caen’s courtroom differs from ancien régime tradition; perhaps its atypical semicircular wall cupping the judges’ bench was inspired by English county courtrooms.43 With benches for judges and parties enframing the parquet, it is a rounded variant on the ordinary ancien régime layout. Thouret and his colleagues apparently grasped its potential for adaptation to a circular layout intended to promote consensus building among participants and to deemphasize the status of the professional judges without entirely dissimulating it. The most interesting change is the replacement of the judicial bench against the semicircular end wall (presumably too expensive a feature for a model meant to be replicated in existing rectangular rooms around the country) with chairs at a freestanding curvilinear judicial desk. A writing surface for the judges, absent in ancien régime courtrooms, seems to have come about not only as a convenience for paperwork, which had been more typical of the private deliberation chamber but gained importance in the public courtroom under the new procedural rules, but also as an inexpensive expedient to establish the outline of a circular parquet, desirable for symbolic reasons. Of course, the new design also differs from Caen in expressing the accessibility of the judges by introducing steps stretching across the parquet and in reducing the number of benches for the parties (whose number, they hoped, would dwindle under the new judicial system); these changes permitted a purer circular layout. It may not be coincidental that the authors of the new design turned to the well-known architectural engravers Charles-Nicolas and Joseph Varin to engrave Norry’s final drawings since they had engraved the plan for Caen.44 Appropriately, Lefebvre inaugurated his courtroom in Caen, with its rounded end wall, not for the bailliage but for the revolutionary tribunal de district in March 1791.45
Despite political and judicial changes over the revolutionary decade, the circular layout of 1791 persisted into the nineteenth century. In 1798, Melun set up a new courtroom for its correctional tribunal, a nonjuried misdemeanors court, with a circular layout, and in 1810, a new civil tribunal for Lesparre-Médoc (Gironde), near Bordeaux, was planned with a circular courtroom layout.46 Yet there is evidence that this format frayed as courtrooms were updated to accommodate changes, especially the introduction of new, juried criminal courtrooms starting in 1792 and a partial return to some aspects of ancien régime judicial hierarchy and procedure after Napoleon’s coup of 18 brumaire (19 November 1799). Plans made to accommodate those events indicate the beginnings of a piecemeal metamorphosis of the circular layout into the postrevolutionary rectangular layout.
The circular model was designed for civil courtrooms at a time when new criminal tribunals were intended but not fully developed. Nine months later, new laws provided for the installation of eighty-three criminal courtrooms but did not specify their layout.47 Their most conspicuous new requirement was seating for the jury that France added only to criminal trials. A standard adaptation of the circular layout was to put the jury bench directly below the judges’ platform, facing the parties, as Louis Combes did at Bordeaux’s tribunal, which housed both types of courts (see Figure 13).48 He replaced the broad steps of the model engraving with a bench (the jury bench is so labeled in the criminal courtroom at the left) and substituted narrow flights of steps at either side. This was an imperfect arrangement because the judges could not see the jurors’ faces and thus could not ensure that jurors concealed their reactions to the evidence as it unfolded—a novel task for laymen. Moreover, it left the public, at the back of the room, unable to see the defendants’ faces—a particular disappointment in a criminal trial. In broader terms, the criminal jury bench helped erode the broad steps symbolizing the reciprocal relationship between judges and public.
The enduring solution for jury placement is seen in the criminal courtrooms in Montpellier, Nancy, and Paris, where the jury faced the accused on either side of the parquet, in both circular and rectilinear layouts. A plan of 9 prairial an VIII (29 May 1800) for the large Montpellier courthouse shows existing courtrooms combined with select renovations that respond to the first group of judicial reforms instituted under Napoleon after his coup of 18 brumaire (19 November 1799) (Figure 15). The criminal courtroom, at the upper left of the plan, retained its revolutionary layout. Its essentially circular parquet is defined by the concave edge of the judges’ platform at the back and concave benches for the jury and the accused to either side, although a flat barrier on the public side truncates the circle. Inexpert draftsmanship makes the plan difficult to decipher, but the seating for the jury and the accused seems to be raised to the same level as the judges’ platform. This arrangement overcomes the drawbacks of Bordeaux by creating a concentrated, elevated confrontation between jurors and accused that is easy for both judges and public to observe. Oppositional seating was also used in rectilinear layouts, such as Nancy’s criminal tribunal of 1792, which has a squared-off parquet with rounded corners (Figure 16).49 Similar and entirely rectilinear is the layout of the best-known juried criminal court of the period: the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, which tried counterrevolutionary charges and sent many to the guillotine during the Terror (10 March 1793–31 May 1795) (Figure 17).50 Despite the exceptional political purpose and special staffing and procedure of the Revolutionary Tribunal, its similar layout makes it look as though it maintains the new revolutionary protections for the accused; only its bleacher seating betrays the haste with which large numbers of accused came to be tried at single sittings. Knowledgeable onlookers knew the tribunal occupied the former courtroom of the parlement at the Palais de Justice of Paris, where the king had held his lits de justice (see Figure 6), an astonishing setting in which to dispense the justice of the Terror to Marie-Antoinette and, in a final reversal of fortune, to its own public accuser, Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville (Figure 18).
The gradual, piecemeal way in which the circular layout mutated into a new rectangular one by the Napoleonic era is exemplified by the Montpellier plan of 1800. In addition to its largely circular criminal tribunal, it contains several partially circular civil tribunals, where the portion of the circle that is retained is the curved judges’ bench rather than the curved seating for the parties, as though the latter benches had been removed (see Figure 15). The purpose of the plan, however, was to show where authorities would place a new type of court introduced under Napoleon’s Consulate to return hierarchy to the judicial system: a dedicated appellate court, shown at the upper right of the drawing, where only a slightly curved judicial platform recalls the circular layout. Given limited finances, it is not surprising that existing furnishings were reused or selectively adapted into new configurations, as in Montpellier’s civil courtrooms or in a projected criminal courtroom of ca. 1813–14 for Auch (Gers), which was intended to replace an earlier civil courtroom with a circular layout.51 In this gradual mutation, the circular layout left one major trace, the curved judicial bench, on the otherwise quite different rectangular layout that replaced it in the Napoleonic period.
The practical and political reasons for the abandonment of the circular layout can only be surmised. The semicircular benches for the parties may have been too compact for actual caseloads despite legislative efforts to curtail litigation through arbitration and conciliation alternatives. A circular form is self-limiting, complete in itself, and not easily expandable; too many semicircular benches would sacrifice the intimacy of the form, whereas a rectangular parquet lent itself to the addition of benches, especially on the side facing the judges. Moreover, a drastic reduction in the number of civil courtrooms, announced in the Directory’s Constitution of 1795, must have occasioned the abandonment of many of the circularly arranged courtrooms.52 Politically speaking, some judges may have regarded the egalitarian aspect of the revolutionary layout as incompatible with their job of maintaining order in court and enforcing respect for a newly framed cult of the rule of law over all citizens. Given the dramatic reduction of judicial power at the revolution, with the subordination of justice to the legislature and the curtailing of discretion in legal interpretation and sentencing, some old hands surely yearned to compensate by increasing the visible status of judges in the courtroom.
In broader political terms, I have proposed that the rationale for the circular layout was bound up with the limitation of the judiciary to the function of applying laws established by the legislature and its accountability to the populace that elected it. It would be too simple to say the dissolution of a separation of powers into personal power under Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule as first consul (1799–1804) and emperor (1804–14) inspired the gradual change to a new rectangular courtroom layout with a more hierarchical aspect in the early nineteenth century. The principle of separated powers had already suffered during the revolution, especially under the Directory (1795–99), even though its constitution expressly espoused it.53 Nor can the new layout simply be attributed to the will of Napoleon or the kings who succeeded him to express their personal authority through judges they appointed with nominal tenure in lieu of the elected judges of the revolutionary period. After the revolution, no head of state could do without at least some appearance of a legislature and of an independent judiciary evenhandedly administering the law. I suspect the major political reason for the new layout was that it was useful to the executive power for the judiciary to look like a strong, distinct power in its own right so that predictable, stable justice could lend legitimacy to regimes that muzzled legislatures and public opinion. But there was never any explicit general directive to alter the courtroom’s material form to enhance judicial authority; we must look instead to the record of practice to trace the change.
The Postrevolutionary Rectangular Courtroom Layout
When the architectural functionaries who supervised public architectural commissions assembled a model book of exemplary buildings during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, they included the departmental courthouse of Angoulême (Charente), completed by Paul Abadie père in 1825 (Figure 19).54 The engravings they compiled of several recent courthouses are the closest the government came to setting out courtroom standards comparable to those of 1791, although executed buildings display individual variations and eccentricities that a prescriptive model lacks. Thus Angoulême can serve here as a guide to the postrevolutionary rectangular layout that replaced the circular model. Its penal and civil courtroom layout is shared by the grander courthouse of Paris, as renovated and expanded later in the nineteenth century (Figures 20, 21), whose plans were presented to French architects as best practice by Julien Guadet in his Éléments et théorie de l’architecture, the summa of postrevolutionary architectural practice composed at the end of the century.55
A rectangular block, Angoulême’s courthouse is entered through a pedimented portico leading to a waiting hall, which gives access to the courtrooms at the building’s core. Dependencies ring the courtrooms, and internal courtyards aerate the block. Angoulême falls short, however, in packing its courtrooms side by side. While the large, double-story courtroom in the center is lit by clerestory windows, the only daylight in the flanking, one-story courtrooms comes from skylights. The central courtroom is for criminal trials. All it retains of the circular layout is an apsidal end wall, against which the judges sit in an arc. As in the revolutionary courts at Nancy, Montpellier, and Paris, jurors and accused sit along the side walls, facing one another across the parquet. The main difference is the provision of two banks of benches, facing the judges and separated by a central aisle, for witnesses, professionals, and favored members of the public. The rest of the public stands, as in the past, beyond the outer barrier near the public entrance. The smaller courtrooms for civil and misdemeanor trials also have benches facing the judges, separated by a central aisle, but they lack an apsidal end wall and boxes for jurors and defendants; the last feature reduces the length of the courtrooms and makes room for the courtyards behind them.
In terms of layout, the significant features of the criminal courtroom are the apsidal ending that functions like an honorific canopy over the judges and the long central aisle that extends from the public entrance to the president’s chair in the apse, passing between the two ranges of benches facing the judges. The apse was the showier but less durable feature. In the absence of the circular seating layout, its honorific qualities dominate the room, whose goal was to enhance rather than limit judicial authority and courtroom hierarchy. Favored during the Napoleonic period, the apse eventually fell out of use; it was often replaced by a concave judges’ desk—a less expensive echo of the apsidal form—or eliminated altogether, in which case the judges’ desk was rectangular.56 Perhaps the rhetorical emphasis on strong judicial authority provided by the apse lost importance once the Napoleonic changes to the legal codes and procedure became entrenched. What persisted was the emphasis on a longitudinal axis that opened up to the eye as a central aisle. Like the processional aisle of a church stretching from the main entrance to the altar, from secular to sacred, the aisle gives the room directionality and hierarchically distinguishes between ordinary citizens and the magistrates sitting in judgment. It is a novel feature, atypical of the ordinary prerevolutionary courtrooms and insignificant in revolutionary courtrooms with a circular layout.
Hierarchical distinctions had been downplayed in the 1791 model courtroom, in keeping with an elected judiciary and a newly accessible, simplified procedure. But hierarchy suited the courts as they were definitively refashioned under Napoleon, with tenured judges appointed by the executive, the reinstatement of a unified office of public prosecutor responsible to the executive, a revival of many procedural steps that took place outside the courtroom and out of the public eye,57 and a return to much of the pomp and ceremony of the ancien régime courts, including nomenclature, professional costumes, and the reinstatement of superior appellate courts.58 With the proclamation of the empire in 1804, what had been the nation’s justice became imperial justice, for the first article of the imperial constitution specified that justice would now be rendered in the emperor’s name.59 Authority and hierarchy were newly important to justice— in a different sense from that of the ancien régime, however, since judges did not return to their complex ancien régime roles but continued to function as a strictly limited power responsible for applying externally established laws. Moreover, the ambience of the new courtrooms differed from that of ancien régime courtrooms. Although the latter were also rectilinear, they did not emphasize a long, processional aisle and oppositional seating for judges and parties; instead, they provided a ring of seating for judges and parties enframing the parquet on all sides. In this sense, the postrevolutionary rectangular layout is grander and more hierarchical than its prerevolutionary antecedents.
The Academic Source from the Ancien Régime
The architectural source for the churchlike rectangular courtroom layout was not primarily political, however. Remarkably, the precedent was unrelated to contemporaneous courthouse building practice: it was the winning entries for the competition for the Grand Prix de Rome of 1782 for a courthouse for a parlement (see Figure 3). The history of courthouse design in practice, whose premodern phases have been traced by the legal historian Robert Jacob and art historian Nadine Marchal-Jacob, needs to be integrated with the history sketched by Werner Szambien and other architectural historians, which emphasizes academic models and takes the 1782 projects as the point of origin ex nihilo for modern courthouse design.60 It was not until academic doctrine and practice converged in the early nineteenth century, partly as a result of new means for supervising public building design, that the new political and institutional circumstances of justice made the parti of the 1782 project appropriate and thus compelling for practice.
A rising preoccupation with typological models guided the competition of 1782. When the Académie Royale assigned a courthouse for a capital city, it must have intended to produce an ideal model for refashioning the Palais de Justice of Paris, the seat of the Paris Parlement, then being reconstructed by several architects on the Académie’s jury. Yet familiarity with the courthouse hardly informs the competition program, which was customarily brief, or the projects, which are so schematic that the courtrooms lack the fundamental feature of the parquet and also neglect the diamond-shaped layout of Parlement’s chief courtrooms. The competitors were primarily interested in the relationship of the large, central waiting hall with its obligatory chapel to the several courtrooms, their dependencies, and a prison. In Pierre Bernard’s winning project, as well as in the second-place project, the courtrooms prefigure those of Angoulême in their distinctive, elongated shape culminating in an apse framing the judges’ bench.61
In premiating and disseminating these projects in engraved versions released sometime between 1787 and 1790, the Académie surely meant to encourage courthouse architects to use the elongated, apsidal shape because of its neoclassical aspect, recalling the ancient secular basilica in which Romans had rendered justice. Oddly, however, there was disagreement among French experts at the time over whether the ancient basilica had in fact included an apse to be used as a tribunal or whether the tribunal met elsewhere in the building—despite the Italian tradition favoring the apsidal tribunal, exemplified by Andrea Palladio’s reconstruction of a standard basilican plan.62 Claude Perrault, in his celebrated translation of Vitruvius, had insisted it did not, and his work held considerable sway among eighteenth-century French architects.63 Several years after the competition, Antoine-Chrysosthôme Quatremère de Quincy published a refutation of Perrault’s interpretation, rehabilitating the apse as the ancient seat of justice in the basilica, referencing not only Vitruvius and other ancient authors but also the recently excavated remains of the basilica at Otricoli, whose plan he intended to illustrate.64 Quatremère’s acerbic attack suggests that as of 1782, it may still have been contentious for the Académie to promote apsidal courtrooms on the grounds that an apse was a necessary constituent feature of the ancient secular basilica.
The immediate model for the 1782 projects, however, was not the secular basilica but the revival of its descendant, the early Christian basilica, in contemporary church design. Bernard’s teacher, Louis-François Trouard, had set a model at Saint-Symphorien at Montreuil, now part of Versailles, completed in 1771, and Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin extended it to Paris in his influential Saint-Philippe du Roule of 1772–84 (Figure 22). The courtrooms of the 1782 projects resembled transeptless basilican churches, where the apsidal chancel and the nave merged into a unified, elongated interior with a strong processional axis down the central aisle. In this sense, they differed from ancient secular basilicas where the apsidal area for justice was separated from the main hall, which was used for commerce. In the Grand Prix projects, the apsidal chapels culminating the waiting halls literalized the parallel found in the courtroom between the apsidal judges’ bench and the apsidal sanctuary of a church. Other features associated with the ancient and early Christian basilican types would prove less propitious for courtrooms, however: the interior colonnades that Bernard included in his courtrooms were soon frowned upon, in part because they obstructed the judges’ view of the courtroom;65 balconies atop the colonnades were rarely used in France, probably because they placed the public higher than the presiding judge, a breach of security and decorum;66 the barrel vault was found to thwart courtroom acoustics.67 In short, the ancient secular basilica proved appropriate for revival only indirectly, with considerable adaptation.
More consequential for the future was the association of the courtroom with the church, an association that the genealogical link to the secular ancient basilica helped legitimate. It is not clear how deliberate the sacral association was intended to be. Certainly the Académie meant to promote stronger use of classical forms and prototypes, but the layout and character of a church did not make an obvious parallel to an ancien régime courtroom. The term “basilican” is often used by architectural historians of this period without a close look at its definition, which is necessary here. The main commonality is that both church and courtroom contain an enclosed zone for experts to which lay access was restricted, the chancel and the parquet, distinct from an outer zone accessible to all.68 Considered more closely, the analogy breaks down. Most important, large churches had three zones whereas courtrooms had two, a difference in compartmentalization that generated a difference in orientation and architectural character.69
The zones of a church represent sacred authority (the sanctuary with the main altar), the clergy as mediators (the choir), and the laity as subjects (the nave). Churches were oriented toward the sanctuary, normally placed at the far end beyond the choir. Choir and nave both faced the altar. Typically, the laity then observed the priest from the back as he celebrated Mass at the main altar—especially as many rood screens separating chancel from nave were removed or opened up during the latter eighteenth century to improve the laity’s view of the Mass.70 Just as existing church interiors were unified, through renovation, so too were the newly built basilican churches.71
In an ancien régime courtroom, the judges were secular authorities backed by throne and altar. Only the diamond-shaped layout gave spatial representation to the throne, and neither it nor the ordinary rectangular layout spatially expressed divine authority, which was represented simply by an image of a crucifix hung on the back wall above the judges. Apart from the king’s seat, the judges dominated their courtrooms spatially. The parquet opened visually toward the public end of the courtroom, and the judges seated there faced the public as they performed their duties, unlike the clergy in church. Most important, the seating and use of the parquet differentiated the courtroom from the church choir, which was in principle limited to clergy. Generally speaking, benches lined the parquet on all four sides, and judges received the lay parties and their professional representatives on those benches. Everyone sat in a squared-off circle, even though the different roles of judges, barristers and solicitors, and parties determined their particular locations. One might regard the area of the courtroom that was open to the public, outside the parquet, as analogous to the nave for lay worshippers, a zone that assumed long, narrow proportions in basilican churches. Yet in the courtroom, the size of the public zone relative to the parquet seems to have varied widely.
Like churches, courtrooms were considered to be open to the public.72 As noted earlier, however, only a small portion of ancien régime trial proceedings were actually held in open court. The difference between the church’s three zones and the courtroom’s two stems from the difference between the relationship of the clergy to lay worshippers and that of judges to parties and the public. Clergy were intermediaries between God and worshipper. Judges were authorities of final resort, subject only to appeals to superior-level judges or, at the limit, to the king. Of course their work was guided by procedural rules, but these were too complex for the public to follow readily. Moreover, royal justice varied according to regional traditions and was further complicated by overlapping, competing legal jurisdictions, such as those of seigneurs and clergy. In these circumstances, the decisions of judges could be unpredictable and their reasons obscure. Judicial power thus seemed excessive. The famous lists of grievances against the Crown assembled on the eve of the revolution called for a simplified, nationally consistent judicial system whose laws and proceedings would be clearer and more accessible to the public, especially but not only in criminal justice.73
It might seem that the simultaneous reference to the ancient secular and early Christian basilica types in the winning Grand Prix projects is evidence of the sacralization of contemporaneous justice. But the preceding analysis shows that functionally and characterologically actual courtrooms were quite different from the new basilican churches Parisians admired. It is also noteworthy that the Académie’s encouragement of a churchlike courtroom model was not unanimous.74 Moreover, from a political standpoint, it is unlikely that the Académie, responsible for advising the Crown on public building projects, would have proposed to aggrandize judicial authority with sacral associations. The parlements had been at loggerheads with the Crown for decades, variously drawing public approval and dismay. As we have seen, widespread distrust of the judiciary would soon lead the early revolutionary government to reduce its power and pomp. The relationship of courtroom to church suggested by a shared basilican model became far more appropriate, however, in the altered political circumstances of postrevolutionary Napoleonic rule.
The 1782 Grand Prix model might have remained a sport were it not for its somewhat surprising reinforcement in the competition for public buildings called by the legislature of the Convention in 1794 (the year II) during the Terror and judged in the spring of 1795 under the more conservative Directory. Like the 1782 projects, all the surviving entries for judicial buildings propose long rectangular courtrooms with apsidal endings behind the judge (Figures 23, 24, 25). This shape was not specified in the program, which offered no guidelines for judicial buildings. The long narrow rooms do not suit the circular furniture layout in use at the time; moreover, revolutionary courtrooms did not typically have apses, and when they did, architects often made them the backdrop for the judges’ portion of the circular seating.75 In his book on the competition, Szambien deduces from their consistency that the judicial entries simply refined established design, but he does not consider what contemporary courthouses looked like.76 The obvious source is the 1782 Grand Prix projects, not contemporary practice.
Why the discrepancy between project and practice? Judicial practice was not changing significantly at that moment, nor was the government seeking a change in courtroom specifications. The legislature left the competition decisions to a jury elected by the competitors (made up of artists except for three deputies) and ratified its verdict. Its goals were to occupy architects and artists at a time of little work, to create didactic republican imagery, and to select and publicize models for good practice, giving architects a platform for encouraging new norms. Those norms arose from the desire of architects to establish a type based on the ancient and early Christian basilicas rather than from governmental or judicial concerns. It is probably not coincidence that the jury included Quatremère and the architect Julien-David Leroy, who were deeply interested in typological consistency across the ages and in the basilican type, respectively.77 This was an opportunity for Quatremère to assert his conclusions about the basilican type over Perrault’s.78
The degree to which the competition projects disregarded practice is evident in the entries for a justice de paix, the more modest of the two types of judicial buildings solicited in the call for projects, the other being the tribunal, for the regular courtrooms discussed earlier.79 In a later description of his own entries for both types, Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand declared that a justice of the peace was simply a miniature of a tribunal, with the same character—an assumption he shared with fellow competitors.80 That was not the view of the legislature, which had designed them with emphatically different characters.
The extant projects for a justice of the peace conjure an incongruously grand courthouse for the modest lay institution created in 1790 as a local forum to settle disputes by a speedy, inexpensive conciliation procedure, or, in modest civil and penal matters, by simple judgment. The premise was that a local juge de paix would be better served by his familiarity with his neighbors’ habits than by legal expertise and would judge in equity as appropriate.81 He did not need a courthouse. The law empowered him to preside at his own house, so long as the doors were open, or at a site central to the dispute.82 Even in the capital, these courts were initially lodged in expropriated churches and subsequently wherever local authorities could find space, if the judge himself did not convene them at his home.83 Yet the extant competition entry that most monumentalized the justice of the peace, by Barthélemy Vignon, was the one the jury most admired and sought to publicize, singling it out among the 207 entries, along with eight projects for other building types, to be built as a model intended to become the core of a didactic museum at the French Academy (see Figure 23).84
Rather than imagine the juge de paix hosting a hearing in his house, all the known competitors lodged the judge within a courthouse, thereby inflating the building. Vignon proposed a pyramidal complex centered on a tall, temple-like courtroom enframed by low wings holding apartments for the judge and his clerk, archives, and an office for each of his six unpaid lay assistants, all set within a low, walled precinct. The dramatic massing and walled precinct were flourishes that everyday tribunals would forgo in practice, but the tall temple for the courtroom with low wings for dependencies became a model for small, early nineteenth-century courthouses. Like his competitors, Vignon gave his courtroom the basilican shape proposed in 1782, but he was the only one also to specify a central processional axis stretching from the portico entrance down the length of the courtroom to the parquet and the judge’s seat at the far end. In plan and section, he indicated a barrier defining the small parquet and the judge’s bench, elevated by one step, at its far end. (He imagined a great bench of five members, although only three were required.) Otherwise omitting seating, Vignon concentrated on impressive decoration. The central axis focused not on the judge but on a vast sculptural group in the niche behind him. The room’s high dado and bays defined by pilasters suggest the colonnades and balconies of the basilica without creating their problems. The formality of Vignon’s courtroom was atypical. Three of the other projects proposed more informal seating inside a basilican envelope, lodging the judge grandly in the apse but treating the rest of the courtroom as one vast parquet whose long sides were lined with raised benches that face one another rather than the judge.85 Thus the other projects revert to the relatively informal, squarish layout of ordinary ancien régime courtrooms, with benches ringing a large parquet. By contrast, Vignon’s project points toward nineteenth-century rectangular courtrooms, which would exploit the basilican potential for greater formality by making the parties face the judges’ bench.
The debt to the 1782 Grand Prix is still more obvious in the project for a tribunal proper jointly submitted by Durand and Jean-Thomas Thibault in 1794 (see Figure 25). It followed Bernard’s recipe for arranging multiple basilican courtrooms around the perimeter of a basilican waiting room whose apsidal chapel was magnified by a radial prison disposed around it. For Bernard’s entrance portico with flat entablature Durand and Thibault substituted the pedimented portico preferred by the second-place winner in 1782, Etienne-Denis-Louis Cathala, as well as by competitors in 1794—a feature that gave the courthouse the sacral associations of a church. Durand was aware of the disparity between his academic model courthouse and practice, for the only actual courthouse he illustrated in his well-known compendium of engravings of existing buildings in 1800 was the nonbasilican project by Ledoux for the unfinished courthouse of Aix-en-Provence. And his plate illustrating basilicas contains ancient secular basilicas used for justice and modern churches but no modern courthouses.86
Academic doctrine and models began to shape practice soon after the competition, largely because of the establishment of a durable new national board of leading architects to review public building projects, the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils, in 1795. As leading architects gained a new degree of control over design activity, their publications of exemplary projects became more influential, partly because they themselves brought their features to bear on the projects they reviewed.87 The Conseil did not completely supplant the guidance of the traditional guardian of the interests of the judiciary as end user: the public prosecutor, who represented the concerns of both the court he served and the executive power, which appointed him without tenure.88 He was sometimes joined by the presiding judge. Prosecutors’ criticisms are not nearly so well recorded as the Conseil’s deliberations, but they surely helped educate Conseil members about judicial needs, giving them a typological expertise they could transmit to the designing architects.
The Napoleonic Type
In the new institutional context, the publication of academic models did in fact shape the many courthouses renovated or designed in the first half of the nineteenth century. The first full volume of engravings of Grand Prix projects probably appeared by 1796, fulfilling a longstanding plan for their publication. The first- and second-place projects of 1782 appeared in the second volume of 1806, which included related projects, notably Vignon’s 1794 entry for a justice of the peace.89 Those models were reinforced by Durand’s publication in 1805 of his own 1794 projects for a justice of the peace and a tribunal in his architectural textbook.90 Yet even with new professional teeth, architects could not impose an ideal incompatible with judicial and larger political interests.
The judiciary’s decline from its august, mixed powers and formidable social standing in the ancien régime to its modest powers and social stature after the revolution, despite Napoleon’s reintroduction of superior courts and some ancien régime trappings, has been elegantly summarized by Isser Woloch.91 Yet the corollary change in the material culture of the courtroom, one that drives in the opposite direction, has gone unremarked. Rather than reinstate the relatively communal seating of the ancien régime courtroom layout, the postrevolutionary courtroom layout shows a marked increase in hierarchy between judges, lay parties and their professional representatives, witnesses, and public. In other words, as the judiciary lost political and social standing, it gained a grander courtroom setting. Even if the primary inspiration for the new layout was the typological, neoclassical preoccupations of a newly influential architectural profession with limited appreciation for the humiliation the judiciary had undergone, judges must have welcomed the change—especially when facing public spectators.
It is instructive to compare the basilican church interior, which remained a popular model for new churches in the early nineteenth-century France of the Concordat, to the postrevolutionary courtroom, to see how the relationship between superior, expert authority and the lay public had changed. Whereas the ancien régime courtroom had two zones and points of reference—the judiciary and the lay public—the postrevolutionary courtroom gained a third reference point: the new codes of law and procedure completed and promulgated under Napoleon. Although the codes lacked a spatial zone in the courtroom analogous to the church sanctuary, figuring instead as an iconographical motif in its decoration, they became a constant reference in nineteenth-century judicial and political culture. Once the apparent fount of justice, the judiciary now devolved to servants of the law expected merely to apply the codes to quotidian disputes. Like the clergy, they became the intermediaries between sacral authority and laity. The basilican layout was newly appropriate to this situation, which was neither of the ancien régime nor of the revolution but a peculiar mixture of the two.
Even under imperial and royal regimes, the sacral aspect of the basilican layout was appropriate to the French articulation of powers and the altered basis of state sovereignty. Powerful executives muzzled the legislature but did not eliminate it, nor did they dare to entirely eliminate elections and constitutions. They maintained and indeed insisted on visibly distinct forms for the powers. Their major change to the judicial power was to substitute executive appointment of tenured judges for elections, meaning judges were no longer directly accountable to the citizenry. Judicial power was limited, however, by the powers that gave it the laws to apply and interpreted legal ambiguities for it. With the promulgation of the Napoleonic codes from 1804 to 1810, completing the revolutionary project of establishing national laws governing every individual equally, and the elaboration of a grander cult around them, the judges came to resemble a priesthood serving the law.
Of course, hierarchical courtrooms that enhanced judicial authority and encouraged deference were tolerable only because judicial power had been so strictly limited. The basilican courtroom also curbed the impact of increased judicial publicity by enhancing the practical control judges could exercise from their elevated platform. Napoleonic judicial reform left intact a good part of revolutionary courtroom publicity; it remained an ideal that judges were to police. Newly elongated rooms—especially for criminal courts—made it harder for the public to hear the live, oral debates. Guadet later insisted on the importance of acoustics to courtrooms, attributing the return to the early modern tradition of flat wooden ceilings for courtrooms in place of neoclassical barrel vaults to their acoustical advantage.92 In practice, however, the proceedings are audible mainly to the trial actors clustered close to the judges’ bench, not to the public at the rear. Perhaps the change had as much to do with making the courtroom look different from other types of rooms associated with voluble assembly: the rounded legislative debating chamber or theater auditorium. In the late 1790s, the Directory’s bicameral legislature had gained its definitive semicircular shape in its first purpose-built chambers, just before the postrevolutionary rectangular layout took hold for the courts.93 By the nineteenth century, the courtroom and legislative chamber could no longer share a circular shape.
The key effect of the postrevolutionary rectangular layout is rhetorical. The layout helped express an enhanced symbolic status for the courts in the modern state as compared to the ancien régime. In prerevolutionary France, God was considered to have entrusted the dispensing of justice on earth to his chosen king, who delegated his sacred responsibility to the judges of his royal courts. In the vacuum created by the abolition of divine-right monarchy, justice, that prime attribute of monarchy, was refashioned as an ostensibly distinct and autonomous power whose functioning lent legitimacy to the secular constitutional government. During the revolutionary decade, judges functioned as secular substitutes for priests, rendering a justice regrounded in the will of the populace, or collective sovereignty. In the nineteenth century, they assumed a more visibly priestly appearance in court, redonning traditional black robes, as they administered the state’s justice on the basis of the ostensibly egalitarian Napoleonic codes.94
In a larger sense, the postrevolutionary layout signaled the judges’ priestly role in a government based on distinct, if no longer separated, powers. For the relationship among the three powers was one of circular authorization. Justice was the weakest, subordinate to the laws of the legislature, but its egalitarian enforcement of the law legitimated the other powers. It became a kind of origin point and justification for the state.95 Historiography lends support to this interpretation. Detailed historical study of the volatile legislative and executive powers in postrevolutionary France contrasts tellingly with the lack of a sustained historical account of judicial practice for the same period: it is as though French jurists, who normally write the legal history of their country, have understood that justice needed to appear stable and unchanging, without a history, so as to serve as the new legitimator, the imagined point of origin, for the state as a whole. Only recently, especially since the French bicentennial, has the historiographical tradition of describing doctrine begun to give way to a history of judicial practice, whose material culture remains to be fully excavated.
For that enterprise, the history of the 1791 circular layout is revealing. Its novelty and its assimilation into a new rectangular layout, in the context of a changing practice of power, shed light on a more gradual, inexplicit evolution in courtrooms. It throws into relief the stakes of the modern courtroom with a hierarchical rectangular layout dependent on its associations with the church. And it helps us understand its fundamental distinction from the legislative power and its chamber, whose traditions are based on the theater. Unlike the legislature, French justice is fashioned not as a popular or representative power but as an institution in which judicial authority and attendant ritual and form support the rule of law over passion.
I am grateful for a Franke Institute for the Humanities Fellowship at the University of Chicago and a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society to develop this project and to the editor and an anonymous reader for their helpful comments.
Although the two implemented constitutions of the revolutionary decade, those of 1791 and 1795 (the year III), have traditionally been seen as based on a separation of powers, modern scholars have debated that point because they lack some of the standard ingredients expected by political theorists today. For the view that they were not, see Marcel Gauchet, La révolution des pouvoirs: La souveraineté, le peuple et la representation 1789–1799 (Paris: Gallimard, 1995). A more historical approach is taken by Michel Troper, La séparation des pouvoirs et l’histoire constitutionnelle française (Paris: Librairie Générale de Droit et de Jurisprudence, 1973), who argues that they created a separation of powers according to eighteenth-century standards, namely, that no single authority exercised all the government functions (206). I have adopted Troper’s approach. A second complication is that French revolutionary political leaders agreed the judiciary should not make or interpret law, thereby barring it from the constitutional review powers that American federal courts came to assume. This fundamental limitation of ordinary judicial power stemmed in good part from historical circumstances: revolutionary lawmakers consistently sought to avoid the usurpatory effect they associated with the legislative prerogatives of the highest royal law courts of the ancien régime, called the parlements.
For an overview of ancien régime civil procedure, see Arthur Engelmann et al., A History of Continental Civil Procedure (Boston: Little, Brown, 1927), 708–47; J. H. Shennan, The Parlement of Paris (Thrupp, UK: Sutton, 1998), 58–66. For penal procedure, Adhémar Esmein, A History of Continental Criminal Procedure (Boston: Little, Brown, 1913), especially 218–50, 275–87; André Langui, Histoire du droit pénal, vol. II, La procédure criminelle (Paris: Cujas, 1979), 89–109; Richard Mowery Andrews, Law, Magistracy, and Crime in Old Regime Paris, 1735–1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 417–504.
Sarah Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). Maza, however, does not observe that the public usually followed trials by reading about rather than attending them. The dullness of most of the pleas delivered in public civil trials is attested by the contemporary lawyer Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville: “The cases pleaded in French tribunals are almost all on such trivial matters that it isn’t surprising our bar fails to achieve the majesty of those of Rome and Athens. They are debates between private individuals, most often about claims to and shares in inheritance, financial payments, seigneurial rights, arid topics that hardly inspire the imagination to take flight. … Such cases must be treated simply; eloquence would be inappropriate.” “De la décadence du barreau français” (1781), reprinted in Brissot, Bibliothèque philosophique, du législateur, du politique, du jurisconsulte (Paris: Desauges, 1782–85), 6:378.
The copper plates, together with proofs but not the written circular, are in the Museum of the Archives Nationales de la France, inventoried with the incorrect date of 1789: AE/II/3631/pièce 1 (plan and section) and pièce 2 (perspective). A dated and signed copy of the circular, as well as correspondence about its implementation, is in the Archives Départementales de Seine-et-Marne, L/590.
Archives Nationales, La naissance de la souveraineté nationale (Paris: Archives Nationales, 1989), 227; Thomas A. Markus, Buildings and Power (London: Routledge, 1993), 6. In a study of tribunals in the vicinity of Versailles, the legal historian Jean-Claude Attuel notes the survival of the engravings and circular in local archives and describes the “functional” layout, commenting only that its circularity evoked ancient precedents and symbolized unity among trial actors. Although he finds it was implemented at Pontoise (Val-d’Oise), he doubts it was used elsewhere: La justice, la nation: Versailles sous la Révolution 1789–1792 (Montgeron: Desbouis Grésil, 1989), 535–41.
Jacques Godechot, Les institutions de la France sous la Révolution et l’Empire (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1985), 139–59, summarizes judicial change during the early revolution; for further detail, see Edmond Seligman, La justice en France pendant la Révolution (1789–1793) (Paris: Plon-Nourrit, 1901–5), and Aristide Douarche, ed., Les tribunaux civils de Paris pendant la Révolution (1791–1800) (Paris: L. Cerf, 1905), vol. 1, introduction.
Such as Jean Fouquet’s famous depiction of the trial of the duke of Alençon by Charles VII and the Paris Parlement, held in Vendôme in 1458, which forms the frontispiece of a French edition of Boccaccio, “Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes malheureux,” Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Cod. Gal. 6, fol. 2v. For other diamond-shaped representations of the lit de justice, see Sarah Hanley, The Lit de Justice of the Kings of France (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983), figs. 2 and 3; for triangular representations, see Robert Jacob, Images de la justice (Paris: Le Léopard d’Or, 1994), figs. 20, 34, 55, and plates III and VII (lower scene). I suspect eighteenth-century copies of an early miniature with the diamond-shaped format inspired a similar composition in Nicolas Lancret’s painting of a 1723 lit de justice, in the Louvre.
Summarized by Bailey Stone, The French Parlements and the Crisis of the Old Regime (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 17, 19–22. Shennan surveys the extrajudicial roles in his history of the earliest and most influential parlement in The Parlement of Paris. For administrative duties, see 86–97; on legislative prerogatives, see bk. 2.
For the institution’s history, see Hanley, The Lit de Justice, and Elizabeth Brown and Richard Famiglietti, The Lit de Justice (Sigmaringen: J. Thorbecke, 1994).
This engraving situates the scene in the main chamber of Parlement, whereas it actually took place in the plainer criminal courtroom. Armand Le Corbeiller describes the event and its location and comments on the engraving, but fails to recognize that it represents the wrong courtroom: Le long martyre de Françoise Salmon (Paris: Perrin, 1927), 183–87, 190–91.
Ancien régime courtroom layout has not been studied. Generalizing from a small sample of plans of late ancien régime courtrooms including furnishings, and from eighteenth-century encyclopedia articles on the courtroom features of the barrier (barre) and parquet, I believe these plans represent two variant types of layout in nonsovereign courtrooms. Higher-ranking courtrooms with a large judicial staff had a deep U-shaped bench for the judges, as in Figure 8 and in the secondary courtrooms of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s 1787 plan for a new building for the Parlement of Aix-en-Provence. The open end of the U was plugged by several rows of freestanding benches for the clerk and counsel. Behind them was often a barrier with gates guarded by ushers to prevent anyone in the standing area at the back from entering the parquet. Lower courts with a single judge or small bench, as in Figure 9, typically had a parquet framed by four benches, with less differentiation between the judges and the parties. In Hennebont, the bench against the back wall, raised on a platform, seated the judges. The benches defining the other three sides of the parquet were for barristers and solicitors. The backs of the benches opposite the judges formed a barrier separating the parquet from the public zone. A similar plan of 1747 survives for a courtroom at Joinville (Haute-Marne), illustrated in Robert Jacob and Nadine Marchal-Jacob, “Jalons pour une histoire de l’architecture judiciaire,” in Association Française pour l’Histoire de la Justice, La justice en ses temples (Poitiers: Brissaud, 1992), 41. These findings are corroborated by eighteenth-century encyclopedia entries on courtroom features: François-Vincent Toussaint, “Barre,” and the anonymous “Parquet,” in Encyclopédie, ed. Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert (Lausanne: Chez les Sociétés Typographiques, 1778–81), 2:90 and 12:81, and “Barre” and “Parquet,” Encyclopédie méthodique (Paris: Panckoucke, 1782–1832), série 30: Jurisprudence, vol. 1 (1782), 774–75, and vol. 6 (1786), 473, respectively. The U-shaped and rectangular configurations of these parquets stem from a long tradition evident in scenes of judicial proceedings in illustrated manuscripts and early printed manuals, like those reproduced in Jacob, Images, and Jean Milles de Souvigny, Pratique criminelle of 1541, trans. and ed. Arlette Lebigre (Moulins: Les Marmousets, 1983).
As established in the new criminal procedure enacted by the law of 16–29 September 1791 (Jean-Baptiste Duvergier, ed., Collection complète des lois [Paris: A. Guyot et Scribe, 1824–38], 3:331–48), and glossed unsympathetically by Esmein, A History of Continental Criminal Procedure, 408–19, esp. 414 and 418. For an extended rationale based explicitly on the separation of powers within the courtroom, see Jacques-Guillaume Thouret, “Premier discours sur le pouvoir judiciaire (4 août 1790)” and “Second discours sur le pouvoir judiciaire (10 août 1790),” reprinted in François Furet and Ran Halévi, eds., Orateurs de la Révolution française, vol. 1, Les constituants (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), 1135–53.
On the meeting hall in its initial and renovated forms, see the still-valuable Armand Brette, Histoire des édifices où ont siégé les assemblées parlementaires de la Révolution française et de la première République (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1902), 31–39, 79–80; Pierre Pinon, “La salle des Etats Généraux à Versailles,” in Des menus plaisirs aux droits de l’homme: La salle des États-Généraux à Versailles, ed. P. Pinon, P. Brasart, and C. Malécot (Paris: Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques, 1989), 13–73, esp. 66–69; Pinon, “L’architecte Pâris et les premières salles d’assemblées, des Menus-Plaisirs au Manège,” in Les architectes de la liberté, 1789–1799 (Paris: École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 1989), 77–84. On the symbolic political implications of the meeting hall in use, see Patrick Brasart, Paroles de la Révolution: Les assemblées parlementaires 1789–1794 (Paris: Minerve, 1988), and Jean-Philippe Heurtin, L’espace public parlementaire (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1999).
On the reform of French theater interiors, see Pierre Frantz and Michèle Sajous d’Oria, Le siècle des théâtres: Salles et scènes en France, 1748–1807 (Paris: Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, 1999); Béatrice de Andia and Géraldine Rideau, eds., Paris et ses théâtres: Architecture et décor (Paris: Action Artistique de la Ville de Paris, 1998); Guiseppe Radicchio and Michèle Sajous D’Oria, Les théâtres de Paris pendant la Révolution (Fasano: Elemond Periodici, 1990); Martine de Rougement, La vie théâtrale en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Champion, 1988); Daniel Rabreau, Le théâtre de l’Odéon (Paris: Belin, 2007); Christian Taillard, Victor Louis, 1731–1800 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de Paris–Sorbonne, 2008); Anthony Vidler, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990); Jacques Rittaud-Hutinet, La vision d’un future: Ledoux et ses théâtres (Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1982).
For example, Louis-Denis Le Camus’s Colisée, which stood on the Champs-Elysées from 1771 to 1780, a round ballroom at the heart of a cluster of cafés and shops, and Victor Louis’s long, elliptical Cirque, which operated from 1788 to 1798 in the Palais-Royal gardens.
He made the same points in a plate showing the plan and section of the auditorium for the 1777 supplement of Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie; Monika Steinhauser and Daniel Rabreau, “Le Théâtre de l’Odéon,” Revue de l’Art 19 (1973), 20, fig. 21.
For the relationship between theater and legislature, see Marie-Hélène Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution: The Staging of Marat’s Death, 1793–1797 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); Paul Friedland, Political Actors: Representative Bodies and Theatricality in the Age of the French Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002); Susan Maslan, Revolutionary Acts: Theater, Democracy, and the French Revolution (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005); Yann Robert, “Living Theater: Politics, Justice and the Stage in France (1750–1800)” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2010).
For a reprint of the committee’s report, see Brette, Histoire des édifices, 91–96.
Jeffrey Ravel, The Contested Parterre: Public Theater and French Political Culture, 1680–1791 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999).
Ravel, ibid.; Maslan, Revolutionary Acts; Robert, “Living Theater.”
Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution, esp. 41–44; Scott Bryson, The Chastised Stage: Bourgeois Drama and the Exercise of Power (Saratoga, Calif.: Anma Libri, 1991).
Several scholars fault Friedland for exaggerating the silencing of public spectators before and during the revolution, particularly Ravel in his book review, H-France Review 3, no. 70 (June 2003), http://www.h-france.net/vol3reviews/ravel4.html, and Maslan, Revolutionary Acts, 217–18n3. Maslan describes a revolutionary debate over whether and how direct democracy could coexist with representative democracy; she champions the Jacobin argument that responsive public attendance of legislative debates (as well as trials, one might add) constituted the legitimate direct democratic participation of sovereign citizens in representative government over the opposing position that spectators, constituting a random sample of the public, could never speak for the general will as did the body of elected representatives in its debates.
Stepped seating and public balconies are unusual in French revolutionary and postrevolutionary courtrooms. According to Honoré de Balzac, Napoleonic courtrooms typically had a balcony above the public entrance reserved for guests of the court: Une ténébreuse affaire (Paris: Hippolyte Souverain, 1843), vol. 3, chap. 19, 120. The only early case of courtroom balconies I have found is in Bordeaux’s courthouse of 1794. For later courthouses, see n. 67 below.
Gazette des tribunaux 1 (1 Jan.–1 July 1791), 45. The plan of the new courtroom deviates from the model layout only in substituting a rectangular judges’ desk for a curved one: AN, F/21/3509, pièce 2.
The rite is stipulated in the law of 16–24 August 1790, title VII: Duvergier, Collection complète des lois, 1:24. On the installation of the Paris tribunals, see Gazette des tribunaux, vol. 1 (25 and 28 Jan. 1791); Seligman, La justice, 1:353–55.
Jean Dauvillier, “Histoire des costumes des gens de justice dans notre ancienne France,” Mélanges Roger Aubenas (Montpellier: Faculté de Droit et des Sciences Économiques, 1974), 229–40; Jacques Boedels, “Le costume des gens de justice pendant la Révolution de 1789 à 1793,” in Une autre justice, ed. R. Badinter (Paris: Fayard, 1989), 338; Jacques Boedels, Les habits du pouvoir: La justice (Paris: Antébi, 1992), 122–25, 139.
Philippe Maffre, “La construction des tribunaux civil et criminel par Louis Combes (1790–1794),” Société archéologique de Bordeaux 78 (1987), 61–66. The decoration of the building was simplified during execution, eliminating the statues. Maffre’s account addresses the building’s history and style rather than its layout. I am most grateful to the author for giving me copies of his photographs.
Gazette des tribunaux, vol. 1 (1791), 46.
As seen in the revolutionary renovation of the courtroom previously used to dispense seigneurial justice at the château at Châteaudun (Eure-et-Loir). The fifteenth-century room still retains its seventeenth-century judicial furnishings, which establish a diamond-shaped layout oriented around a corner seat and suggest that some seigneurial courts had used the layout of sovereign royal courtrooms that were eligible for a royal visit. At Châteaudun, a wall painting of a book inscribed “Loi” was added above the judge’s corner seat during the revolutionary decade, offsetting the royal associations of the corner. For an illustration (without analysis of layout), see Jacob and Marchal-Jacob, “Jalons,” 37. There is some evidence that the diamond-shaped layout was occasionally used in lower royal courts, but the circumstances in which that happened remain to be explored.
A journal founded in 1791 to report on judicial affairs only comments on audience size at the first hearings of the juried criminal courtrooms in Paris in the spring of 1792: Gazette des tribunaux, vol. 4 (1 Mar.–1 July 1792), 290. A decree of 28 February 1791 established penalties for public expression of response to trial proceedings: Duvergier, Collection complète des lois, 2:250–51. It would be useful to study its enforcement during the early revolution. Decorous public behavior was specified by authorities for courts, legislature, and theater alike, but it is likely that compliance and enforcement were highest in the courts and lowest in the theater. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, lively audience response at major criminal trials was common. See my In the Theater of Criminal Justice: The Palais de Justice in Second Empire Paris (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 21–31.
Robert, “Living Theater.” Robert discusses plays that include staged trials or refer to the courts or the process of judgment, but he stops short of comparing staged trial scenes to contemporaneous trial procedure and character.
Gazette des tribunaux, vol. 1 (1 Jan.–1 July 1791), 50–51. The president also remarked on this public’s behavior in light of its class: “This public was not made up of men who had benefited from an attentive education in self-control.” The report concerns the provisory criminal court that heard trials pending the establishment of the new juried criminal tribunal.
Archives Départementales de Seine-et-Marne, L/590.
Archives Départementales de Seine-et-Marne, L593, L593-5 and L593-6, plans dated 5 germinal an II (25 March 1794), approved for execution on 16 May 1794. The accompanying documents do not indicate whether the project was realized; histories of the church do not refer to its use as a law court, suggesting that the government ultimately failed to find funds for the project.
Plans for two more faithful implementations of the circular layout were sent to Paris for approval in 1791, in a former monastery chapel at Chinon (Indre-et-Loire) (AN, C/71/plaquette 695, nos. 11 and 13) and an abbey at Foix (Arriège) (AN, F/13/213). The national archives have the plans because government services were often installed in buildings the government had expropriated (from the church, Crown, or aristocratic émigrés), and legislative approval was required to use such buildings rather than sell them for government revenue: Archives Nationales, La Naissance de la souveraineté nationale, 210, no. 402.
Beyond drafting the constitution, the Constitutional Committee was authorized to issue opinions or avis on how to apply new laws. Although it exceeds the scope of an avis, the circular appears to have been issued as another executive act, supporting the implementation of the law reorganizing the judicial power. The committee’s range of executive action is not clear because minutes of its meetings do not survive, but other committees took considerable executive action, as noted by Raymond Delaby, Le rôle du Comité d’aliénation dans la vente des biens nationaux (Dijon: Rebourseau, 1928), 6. See also Ernest Lebègue, La vie et l’oeuvre d’un constituent, Thouret (Paris: Alcan, 1910), 236–37; Henri Olive, L’action exécutive exercée par les comités des Assemblées révolutionnaires (Marseille: Imprimerie Nouvelle de Marseille, 1908), and the qualifications of André Castaldo, Les méthodes de travail de la Constituante (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989), 204–54; Edna Lemay and Alison Patrick, Revolutionaries at Work: The Constituent Assembly (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1996), 59–77.
Thouret was elected president of the third arrondissement’s tribunal, which was installed in the old courthouse of the Grand Châtelet; Target became president of the fifth arrondissement’s tribunal, which was installed in new quarters next to the Panthéon. Thouret never served because of his legislative work at the Constituent Assembly: Lebègue, La vie et l’oeuvre d’un constituent, 285–87. Target assumed his presidency, at least after the close of the Constituante, and served until March 1793, if not longer: Seligman, La justice, 1:342, 385. The rules about serving simultaneously as legislator and judge at this date—a matter bearing on the separation of powers—are unclear. The layout of two of the Paris tribunals, those installed in the Châtelet and the old Palais de Justice, shows that they followed the engravings in most respects but substituted a rectangular bench for the judges for the prescribed curvilinear one. See the undated plan for the former, Thouret’s courtroom, AN, F/21/3509, pièce 2. Target’s courtroom layout can be reconstructed on the basis of the textual inventory of its contents made on 14 January 1792: AN, U/1004 (in a copy bearing the erroneous date of 1782). I have found no clues to explain the divergence, particularly since judicial benches appear to have been introduced at this time and thus were not a staple item in ancien régime courtrooms that could be reused to save funds.
For biographical background on the three, see Edna Hindie Lemay, Dictionnaire des Constituants, 1789–1791 (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation; Paris: Universitas, 1991); Timothy Tackett, Becoming a Revolutionary (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996); on Thouret, see Lebègue, La vie et l’oeuvre; Léopold Soublin, Le premier vote des Normands (1789) (Fécamp: E.M.T.N., 1981), 247–307.
As the circular says, “The committee has had engravings made of the design it considers the most suitable for the current makeup of the tribunals.” Archives Départementales de Seine-et-Marne, L/590.
The main study to call attention to this practice is Michel Foucault, Blandine Barret Kriegel, et al., Les machines à guérir: Aux origines de l’hôpital moderne (Brussels: P. Mardaga, 1979), 145–54. Anthony Vidler made it available to Anglophones in his The Writing of the Walls (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Architectural Press, 1987), 51–72.
As de Wailly’s student, the relatively obscure Charles Norry (1756–1832) had competed unsuccessfully for the Grand Prix of 1782, which had a courthouse program, and went on to work for de Wailly, for whom he tended various foreign commissions. Charles Henri Gabet, Dictionnaire des artistes de l’École Français au XIXe siècle (Paris: Madame Vergne, 1831); Charles Bauchal, Nouveau dictionnaire biographique et critique des architectes français (Paris: André, Daly fils, 1887).
On Lefebvre’s gift of an engraved plan and perspective view of the entrance façade, see Henry Lemmonier, Procès-verbaux de l’Académie royale d’architecture (Paris: J. Schemit, 1911–29), 8:374, 9:223. Planned from 1778, the courthouse was built slowly from 1781 to 1849; the bailliage courtroom seems to have been unfinished at the revolution. Patrice Gourbin, “Le palais de justice de Caen, construction et transformation de 1781 à 2006,” Annales de Normandie 57 (2007), 75–94. Coincidentally, the Caen bailliage was notorious at the time because of its gross misconduct of a capital trial in 1782, whose accused, Victoire Salmon, was exonerated by the Paris Parlement in 1786. See Figure 7 and Maza, Private Lives, 222–32.
Clare Graham, Ordering Law: The Architectural and Social History of the English Law Court to 1914 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003). Caen lies close to the English Channel.
The engravings are signed “Varin sculp.,” but, of the two Varin brothers who shared an engraving business and sometimes collaborated, it was Joseph who worked particularly with architectural subjects. Christine Abelé, Les Varin (Châlons-sur-Marne: Editions des Amis des Musées de Châlons-sur-Marne, 1987); “Joseph Varin,” Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à 1850–1860, ed. M. Hoefer (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1853–66), 45:957; Roger Portalis and Henri Béraldi, Les graveurs du dix-huitième siècle (Paris: Morgan & Fatout, 1880–82), 3:610.
Gourbin, “Le palais de justice de Caen,” 83.
For Melun, Archives Départementales de Seine-et-Marne, L/593-2, plan dated 28 ventôse an VI (18 March 1798), in a different building from the above-cited courtroom project of 1794. For the unrealized project for Lesparre-Médoc: Archives Départementales de la Gironde, FI/N1119, plan, elevations, and longitudinal section, signed by Courcelle in Bordeaux, dated 15 June 1810.
Decrees of 16–29 September and 29 September–16 October 1791: Duvergier, Collection complète des lois, 3:331–48, 473. On revolutionary criminal justice and procedural reform, see Esmein, A History of Continental Criminal Procedure, 408–36, and Godechot, Les institutions. The Ministry of Justice issued a circular listing the required furnishings and dependencies: Jean-Louis Debauve, La justice révolutionnaire dans le Morbihan 1790–1795 (Paris: Jean-Louis Debauve, 1965), 208. Either it did not reach all departments or it fell short of specifying a layout, for a 3 March 1792 letter from a departmental administrator informs an unspecified Parisian authority that because Paris provided no instructions on how to install the criminal courtroom at Nancy, he himself developed the layout he transmits in an attached plan: AN, F/1/CIII Meurthe 15 (see Figure 16).
The same solution was used in the criminal tribunal of 1792 for the Breton town of Vannes (Morbihan), and a similar jury bench was probably added to the single courtroom for civil and criminal trials proposed in 1794 for Melun (see n. 35 above). The plan at Vannes is in the Archives Départementales du Morbihan, 1/Fi/144, and is reproduced and discussed in Debauve, La justice révolutionnaire, plate III and 208–10, 543; Debauve does not comment on its circular layout. I am grateful to Robert Allen for pointing me toward this study.
Hubert Thomas, Le tribunal criminel de la Meurthe sous la Révolution (1792–1799) (Nancy: Imprimerie G. Thomas, 1937), 160–61. Its departure from the circular model does not seem to reflect the preexisting arrangement of the courtroom, which it inherited from the first chamber of the sovereign court of Lorraine; as explained in n. 47 above, its atypical layout was devised by a local bureaucrat.
The only study to reconstruct the physical setting of the Revolutionary Tribunal is Georges Lenôtre (Louis-Léon-Théodore Gosselin), The Tribunal of the Terror (London: W. Heinemann; Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1909), 80–87, 207. (I have not attempted to reconstruct the layout of the larger field of exceptional courts that tried similar charges across the nation.) The Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris is distinct from the separate, ordinary criminal tribunal of Paris, which was probably laid out like Nancy and Montpellier. No plan of the latter survives, but written sources offer a clue. Also lodged in the Palais de Justice, it occupied the courtroom previously furnished for the tribunal of the first arrondissement with a rectangular judges’ bench and two curved benches for the parties enframing the parquet in a semicircle (see n. 37 above). To adapt the room for criminal trials, the curved benches were either appropriated or rebuilt as two ranges of straight benches facing one other to house the jury and the accused. Gazette des tribunaux 4 (10 May 1792), 290.
Archives Départementales du Gers, N/371. The feature that this criminal courtroom plan probably retained from the circular layout is a flight of steps spanning the entire courtroom and separating the judges’ platform from the area for the parties below. The postrevolutionary rectangular layout usually had a narrow flight of steps at one side.
The Constitution of 5 fructidor an III (22 August 1795), article 216, reduced the number from one per district (then over 547) to one in each of the then ninety-eight departments, as was already the case for the juried criminal courts. Concomitantly, it enlarged their staffs, no doubt prompting new courthouse renovations in the department capitals.
A sketch of the history of the separation of powers during the revolutionary decade is helpful. The National Convention of 1792 to 1795 replaced the constitutional monarchy; its republican Constitution of 1793, intended to replace the constitutional monarchy’s Constitution of 1791, was never implemented because the legislature decided to rule on an emergency basis while France was at war. Even the 1793 Constitution, however, had stipulated a weak executive power incapable of checking the legislature. In reaction, the Constitution of 1795 decreed legislative and executive powers so mutually independent that historians have blamed the ensuing series of coups leading to Bonaparte’s Consulate on their lack of effective working relationship: Charles Debasch and Jean-Marie Pontier, eds., Les constitutions de la France (Paris: Dalloz, 1996), 58–59. In principle the judicial power remained independent, but in practice the stronger powers increasingly infringed on judicial elections by purges. See Jean-Pierre Royer, “Les épurations judiciaires de 1789 à 1815,” in Association Française pour l’Histoire de la Justice, L’épuration de la magistrature de la révolution à la libération (Paris: Loysel, 1994), 11–24; Isser Woloch, The New Regime: Transformations of the French Civic Order, 1780s–1820s (New York: W. W. Norton, 1994), 305–6 and 365. Elections as a vehicle for national sovereignty suffered as the definition of a voting citizen was restricted by property requirements. Universal manhood suffrage, stipulated in the Constitution of 1793, was only enacted in 1799 under the Consulate’s constitution, which nonetheless gutted its significance by a tiered system of electoral colleges with property requirements. For a more nuanced overview of the changing status of justice, see Jean-Louis Halpérin, “1789–1815: Un quart de siècle décisif pour les relations entre la Justice et le Pouvoir en France,” Justices 3 (Jan.–June 1996), 13–23.
Charles Gourlier, L.-M.-D. Biet, E.-J.-L. Grillon, and E. Tardieu, eds., Choix d’édifices publics projetés et construits en France depuis le commencement du XIXe siècle (Paris: L. Colas, 1825–50), vol. 2 (1844), plates 79–81.
Julien Guadet, Éléments et théorie de l’architecture, 5th ed. (Paris: Librairie de la Construction Moderne, 1923), 2:467–94, esp. 489 and 493. On Duc’s exemplary Paris criminal courtroom layout in relation to trial procedure, see Taylor, In the Theater of Criminal Justice.
Two Napoleonic plans for courthouses with apsidal courtrooms, for Nîmes (by Charles Durand, completed 1810) and Bordeaux (unexecuted project of 1810 by Louis Combes, architect of Bordeaux’s 1794 courthouse with the circular layout), are reproduced by Corinne Potay, “Les Palais de Justice de Nîmes,” 136, and Marc Saboya, “Les Palais de Justice de Bordeaux au XIXe siècle,” 161, both in Association Française pour l’Histoire de la Justice, La justice en ses temples. Durand additionally endowed his largest courtroom with side colonnades, another basilican feature; Combes, designing for an unobstructed site, gave his courtrooms long, narrow proportions, enhancing their hierarchical potential by comparison to his 1794 courtrooms. (Bordeaux hoped to move its courts in order to convert its revolutionary courthouse to government offices.) The trend away from apsidal courtrooms is indicated by Gourlier et al., Choix d’édifices, which reproduces plans for nineteen courtrooms built in nine towns from 1822 to the 1840s, only four of them apsidal.
One such revived procedural step involved replacing oral witness testimony at civil trials with secret pretrial deposition and, in criminal cases, greatly expanding the use of nonpublic judicial investigation prior to the public jury trial.
Superior appellate courts were reintroduced in 1800. Since 1790, all law courts had been called tribunals rather than courts, but in 1804, with the advent of the empire, the superior status of appellate and criminal courts over lower jurisdictions was recognized with the prerevolutionary name of cour, while their commissaires du gouvernement regained the ancien régime title of prosecutor general. In 1802, the Consulate replaced the civilian clothing worn by most judges since 1790 with judicial robes resembling those of the ancien régime. Even in 1795, when professional costumes had first been decreed for the Directory’s legislators, executive officers, and the judges of two special superior courts (the Tribunal de Cassation and the Haute Cour), ordinary judges had continued to wear civilian clothes with only an emblem of office on their chests. For an overview of the Napoleonic changes in organization, staffing, and penal procedure, see Godechot, Les institutions, 615–38; on civil procedure: Engelmann, A History of Continental Civil Procedure, 748–51, 754–82; for more on penal procedure: André Laingui and Arlette Lebigre, Histoire du droit pénal (Paris: Cujas, 1979), 2:133–45; Esmein, A History of Continental Criminal Procedure, 408–527. On costume, see Boedels, Les habits, 132–33, 137–40.
Senatus-Consulte organique of 28 floréal XII (18 May 1804), art. 1, http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/conseil-constitutionnel/francais/ la-constitution/les-constitutions-de-la-france/constitution-de-l-an-xii-empire-28-floreal-an-xii.5090.html (accessed 1 July 2010).
Jacob and Marchal-Jacob, “Jalons,” 37; Jacob, Images de la justice; Werner Szambien, “Langage des palais de justice,” in Association Française pour l’Histoire de la Justice, La justice en ses temples, 69–77; Simona Talenti, “Projets à l’École des Beaux-Arts, une mise en forme de la typologie judiciaire,” Monuments historiques 200 (Jan.–Feb. 1996), 22–26.
Jean-Marie Pérouse de Montclos, “Les Prix de Rome”: Concours de l’Académie royale d’architecture au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1984), 179–81. The engravings (which, in Bernard’s case, included a revision extending the apsidal ending of the courtrooms to the waiting hall, following the example of the second-place project) were published in the Collection des Prix que la ci-devant Académie d’architecture proposoit et couronnoit tous les ans, ed. A.-P. Prieur and P.-L. Van Cléemputte (Paris: chez Basan, Joubert and Van Cléemputte, n.d.). They were in the third fascicule, which Pérouse de Montclos estimates was released serially sometime between 1787 and 1790, before the complete volume appeared ca. 1796 (“Les Prix de Rome,” 12). They were republished in the second volume of Grand Prix projects: L.-J. Allais, A. Détournelle, and A.-L.-T. Vaudoyer, Projets d’architecture et autres productions de cet art qui ont mérité les grands prix (Paris: Détournelle, 1806).
Andrea Palladio, I quattro libri dell’architettura di Andrea Palladio (Venice, 1570; facsimile reprint, Milan: U. Hoepli, 1945), bk. III, chap. XIX, p. 39.
Claude Perrault, Les dix livres d’architecture de Vitruve (Paris: J. B. Coignard, 1684), plate XXXVII and 148–50, 153n13. Perrault’s influence is noted by Pierre Pinon, “La Salle des Etats Généraux à Versailles,” in Pinon, Brasart, and Malécot, Des menus plaisirs, 60–61; Antoine Picon, Claude Perrault (Paris: Picard, 1988), 120, 250–55.
Quatremère de Quincy, “Basilique” and “Chalcidicum,” Encyclopédie méthodique: Architecture (Paris: Panckoucke; Liège: Plomteux, 1788–1849), vol. 1 (1788), esp. 224, 226. It appears that the illustrations and the entry titled “Abside” to which Quatremère refers in “Basilique” were never published. Excavations of the ancient basilica at Otricoli began in 1775: J.-N. Huyot, “Otricoli,” Encyclopédie méthodique: Architecture, vol. 3 (1825). If not from his own Italian travels at the time, Quatremère could have known the basilica from the reconstruction of its plan and section as published in G. A. Guattani, Monumenti antichi inediti ovvero notizie sulle antichità e belle arti di Roma per l’anno MDCCLXXXIV (Rome: Pagliarini, 1784–1805), vol. 1 (April 1784), plate I. There Guattani goes to some lengths to justify identifying the building as a basilica rather than a temple. Otricoli must have added archaeological support to Palladio’s rather arbitrary explanation of his reconstruction: Palladio, I quattro libri, bk. III, chap. XIX, p. 38. The debate and Otricoli itself continued to interest French architects: Jean-Nicolas Durand published a comparative plate of basilicas in his Recueil et parallèle des édifices en tout genre (orig. pub. 1800; Brussels: Meline, Cans & Cie, ca. 1830s), plate 15, which includes Perrault’s reconstruction, Palladio’s reconstruction, and the plan of Otricoli.
Guadet, Éléments et théorie, 2:488. Exceptions were built, however. Charles Durand, who submitted a competition project in the year II with an astylar courtroom, used colonnades in the basilican criminal courtroom of his 1810 courthouse at Nîmes, and they were reiterated in the criminal courtroom of the larger courthouse that replaced it in 1846: Corinne Potay, “Les Palais de Justice de Nîmes,” in Association Française pour l’Histoire de la Justice, La justice en ses temples, 135–37, 140, 152. Amiens’s courthouse of 1874 had two courtrooms with internal colonnades: Jacques Foucart, “Le Palais de Justice d’Amiens,” in ibid., 240–41, 245–46. But none had balconies above the colonnades.
One such exception is Bordeaux. Its 1794 courthouse had a balcony supported on columns at the public end of each courtroom (see Figure 13). The later criminal courtroom of the 1846 courthouse, without internal colonnades, was equipped with window-like balconies for guests of the court, the press and the public: Marc Saboya, “Les Palais de Justice de Bordeaux au XIX siècle,” in Association Française pour l’Histoire de la Justice, La justice en ses temples, 180n62. A compendium of exemplary courthouses from the 1820s through the 1840s, published under government auspices, illustrates only one courthouse with balconies at the rears of several courtrooms (Aix-en-Provence, as completed in 1832 with modifications to Ledoux’s original design): Gourlier et al., Choix d’édifices, vol. 1, plates 91–92. The large and exemplary Palais de Justice of Paris, substantially rebuilt in the nineteenth century, had only one courtroom balcony, which is in the first chamber of the appellate court, from the 1880s, and is inaccessible to the public. Generally the judges’ platform was the highest point in the courtroom topography.
For example, in the barrel-vaulted revolutionary courtrooms of Bordeaux: Maffre, “La construction,” 66. Guadet advised a flat ceiling rather than a vault for acoustical reasons: Éléments et théorie, 2:488.
Antoine Garapon links the parquet to the church chancel by pointing out that the barrier defining the parquet’s public boundary was called the cancel, chancel, or chanceau, based on the Latin cancellus: Bien juger: Essai sur le rituel judiciaire (Paris: Odile Jacob, 1997), 34–35. Boucher d’Argis, “Chanceau, Chancel,” Encyclopédie, 3:86, makes the same link.
The concept of architectural character developed in the second half of the eighteenth century. See Werner Szambien, Symétrie, gout, Caractère (Paris: Picard, 1986), 174–99.
By increasing visual access to the celebration of the Mass on the main altar and emphasizing Christological devotion at the expense of other cults at secondary altars, this belated realization of Tridentine reform increased the overall visual unity of the church from entrance to altar. On the opening up of choirs to naves, see Bernard Chédozeau, Choeur clos, choeur ouvert: De l’église médiévale à l’église tridentine (France, XVIIe–XVIIIe siècle) (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1998), and Mathieu Lours, L’autre temps des cathedrals: Du concile de Trente à la Révolution française (Paris: Picard, 2010). On the liturgical reorganization of church interiors, see Marie-Hélène Froeschlé-Chopard, Espace et sacré en Provence (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1994), 213–86 and 393–94; also Bruno Restif, “Réforme catholique et modifications de l’espace sacré,” Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest 110, no. 4 (2003), 107–14.
The visual unification of church interiors, coupled with the classical character of eighteenth-century renovations (including the elimination of some traditional devotional accoutrements) and the growing taste for colonnaded interiors, which contemporaries related to such sublime effects as indeterminate vastness, created a startlingly new visual effect, still worthy of remark in 1780. Lay contemporary response to cathedral renovations is discussed by Richard Wittman in “Local Memory and National Aesthetics: Jean Pagès’s Early-Eighteenth-Century Description of the ‘Incomparable’ Cathedral of Amiens,” in Monuments and Memory, ed. Robert Nelson and Margaret Olin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 259–79, and “A Bourgeois Family Puts Its Cathedral in Order: A Fictive Debate on Notre-Dame in the Journal de Paris in 1780,” in Fragments: Architecture and the Unfinished, ed. Barry Bergdoll and Werner Oechslin (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006), 197–208.
“Audience (droit civil privé),” Encyclopédie méthodique: Jurisprudence, ed. Charles Panckoucke (Paris: Panckoucke, 1782–91), vol. 1 (1782), 571–78, and “Publicité de l’audience,” Encyclopédie méthodique: Jurisprudence, vol. 7 (1787), 70–74, insist on the civil courtroom’s publicity, describe courtroom protocol, and discuss the lively contemporary debate about opening criminal trials to public scrutiny. The difference between the negligible entry on “Audience” in the first volume of Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie in 1751 and Panckoucke’s counterpart from 1782 suggests the growing importance of the topic toward the end of the ancien régime.
The grievances are summarized by Seligman, La justice, 1:170–82.
Strikingly, the academician Étienne-Louis Boullée, whose theoretical projects for public buildings often relate to the Grand Prix programs and projects with which he was closely involved in the 1780s, commented in his “Essay on Art” only that courthouses must be majestic and imposing, and did not invoke any religious or basilican prototype in his own design for a parlement. If his courthouse design dates to the 1782 competition, as Pérouse de Montclos suggests, then Boullée was clearly unpersuaded by the basilican prototype promoted by his colleagues, for he intended to circulate engravings of his own alternative project. Boullée, L’architecture visionnaire et néoclassique (Paris: Hermann, 1993), 115–16; Jean-Marie Pérouse de Montclos, Etienne-Louis Boullée (Paris: Flammarion, 1994), 129 (on the dating), 184 (on the intent to publish engravings), and figs. 140 and 141.
Interestingly, the architect who drew up the 1791 model, Charles Norry, did not submit an entry in 1794, although he was active in Paris architecture circles at the time.
Werner Szambien, Les projets de l’an II: Concours d’architecture de la période révolutionnaire (Paris: École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 1986), 119–25, esp. 120.
Leroy was interested in the ancient secular basilica insofar as it formed the model for the Christian church, and he borrowed Palladio’s reconstruction of it for his own plates charting the history of religious buildings: Julien-David Leroy, Histoire de la disposition et des formes différentes que les Chrétiens ont données à leurs temples (Paris: Desaint & Sallant, 1764), 8–10 and its plate; Leroy, Les ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce (Paris: Musier, 1770), plate I.
Pierre Pinon has intriguingly proposed a channel through which practice may have reinforced academic doctrine. He observes that the frequent renovation of expropriated monasteries for courthouses, starting before the revolution when monasteries were already facing closures because of financial decline, coupled with the habit of inserting the courtroom into the former chapel with the judicial platform in the chancel or apse, provides a practical match to the apsidal seating for the judges in the basilican courtrooms of the 1782 projects. But for the several early renovation projects he cites, Pinon does not publish the drawings, and some of the projects he describes do not concern chapels with apses. More important, we have seen how easily an existing apse could be incorporated into a circular seating layout, giving the courtroom a ritual character unlike that of the church, as at Melun. I suspect this literal conflation of chapel and courtroom did not gain full symbolic significance for the courts until the Napoleonic period. See Pierre Pinon, “L’appropriation judiciaire: La conversion des couvents en palais de justice,” Monuments historiques 200 (Jan.–Feb. 1996), 34–38; Pinon, “Le palais de justice d’Orléans,” in Association Française pour l’Histoire de la Justice, La justice en ses temples, 221.
Szambien, Les projets de l’an II, 184 and 206. Szambien concludes there were only three entries for tribunals and ten for justices de paix, although he observes that competitors were confused by that distinction and he does not himself take stock of the difference between the jurisdictions. Of the six extant projects he has located, he identifies five as justices of the peace and one, by Durand and Thibault, as a tribunal. Szambien confuses the generic term “tribunal” with the extraordinary Revolutionary Tribunals created during the Terror to try treason cases (119); more likely, Durand and Thibault’s tribunal project is for an ordinary courthouse.
Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, Précis des leçons d’architecture données à l’École Polytechnique (Paris: chez l’auteur, 1802–5), vol. 2 (1805), 49.
Thouret explains this idea in his “Discours sur la réorganisation du pouvoir judiciaire (24 mars 1790),” in Furet and Halévi, Orateurs de la Révolution française, vol. 1, Les constituants, 1130–31. The justices of the peace tried cases without procedural formalities or lawyers, and they did not need to tie their verdicts to statutes as professional judges did, leaving them discretionary leeway. Moreover, parties were obliged to attempt conciliation at a justice de paix before they could take a case to a tribunal, a practice that was retained in the Napoleonic Civil Code of 1806. Jacques Guillaume Thouret, Projet de décret contenant règlement pour la procédure en la justice de paix (Paris: Baudouin, 1790); Woloch, The New Regime, 307–20; Guillaume Métairie, Le monde des juges de paix de Paris (1790–1838) (Paris: Loysel, 1994), 21–124; Jacques-Guy Petit, ed., Une justice de proximité: La justice de paix (1790–1958) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2003), 19–64; Claude Coquard and Claudine Duran-Coquard, Société rurale et justice de paix (Clermont-Ferrand: Presses Universitaires Blaise-Pascal, 2001), 17–40.
Duvergier, Collection complète des lois, 1:475, law of 18–26 October 1790, title 7, article 2.
The annual national almanacs list the address of the meeting place for each of the city’s forty-eight justices de paix and the home address of each juge de paix. Those for 1791–93 list the justices de paix as meeting in churches, whereas by 1795 they are listed only by street name, without house number; few of the sites are identifiable as former churches. Twenty-five percent met on the same street the judge lived on, suggesting they may have met in the judge’s home. Later, Napoleonic formality notwithstanding, that figure rose. By 1800–1801, it was 50 percent and in 1812, 75 percent. During the revolutionary decade, home-based hearings were still more common outside the capital. For the Auvergne, see Coquard and Duran-Coquard, Société rurale, 34–35; Quentin Duquesne has found the same in the Isère (personal communication, August 25, 2010). My thanks to Quentin Duquesne for his help with this question.
Szambien, Les projets de l’an II, viii. The jury report, reprinted by Szambien, does not comment specifically on the judicial projects.
See Szambien, ibid., for illustrations of projects by Jean-Jacques Lequeu (fig. 114), Charles-Etienne Durand (fig. 118), and a certain Florence (fig. 119).
Durand, Recueil, plate 17, “maisons de ville palais de justice etc.” and plate 15, “basiliques.” The explanatory text for the plates by Jacques-Guillaume Legrand, Essai sur l’histoire générale de l’architecture pour servir de texte explicatif au Recueil et parallèle des édifices de tout genre, later published separately (Liège: Avanzo, 1842), is unilluminating on our question, although it does supply another, early nineteenth-century instance of the claim that ancient judges sat in the apse of the basilica. Ledoux’s plans are also reproduced by Vidler, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, 198–99.
Françoise Boudon, “Une architecture sous influence? Au crible des principes des bâtiments civils,” Monuments Historiques 200 (Jan.–Feb. 1996), 39–41; Lauren O’Connell, “Architecture and the French Revolution: Change and Continuity under the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils, 1795–1799” (PhD diss., Cornell University, 1989), and “Redefining the Past: Revolutionary Architecture and the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils,” Art Bulletin 77 (June 1995), 207–24. O’Connell overestimates the impact of the new penal code of 1795 on courthouse design, however; earlier revolutionary laws were more significant and affected courtroom design before the advent of the Conseil. A valuable supplement to these studies is the unpublished atlas of drawings by the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils veteran Guy de Gisors, “Recueil de 95 esquisses produisant tant en plans que coupes et élévations, 325 dessins composés dessinés et lavés depuis 1788 jusqu’en 1833,” 1835, vol. 1, Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France, MS 1044, which describes his work process and includes corrective sketches for courthouse projects he reviewed.
The traditional role of the prosecutor as the broker between the judiciary and the government on architectural matters, dating back to the ancien régime, is confirmed in a nineteenth-century manual for prosecutors that instructs them on how they should transmit architectural requests and on the building standards to maintain. Joseph-François-Louis Massabiau, Manuel du Ministère public près les cours d’appel, les cours d’assises, et les tribunaux civils, correctionnels et de police (Paris: Cosse & Marchal, 1856), vol. 1, p. 109, para. 206.
See note 61 above.
Durand, Précis des leçons, vol. 2 (1805), pt. II, plates 6 and 7.
Woloch, The New Regime, esp. 297–307, 339.
Guadet, Eléments et théorie, 2:451–52.
In 1795, just after the competitions of the year II, the Convention decided to construct its first purpose-built chamber for its lower house at the Palais Bourbon; completed in 1798, it was rebuilt in situ with essentially the same form in 1828–32. A purpose-built chamber for the upper house was begun at the Palais du Luxembourg under the Directory, but the change of regime delayed inauguration until 1804.
Attestations, often simultaneous, of the sacral aspect of justice and of its demise were widespread in both the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods and thereafter. For an overview of the effects of the revolutionary secularization of justice on its functioning, identity, and reputation, but with a somewhat different argument from mine, see Frédéric Chauvaud, ed., Le sanglot judiciaire: La désacralisation de la justice, XVIII–XXe siècles (Grane: Créaphis, 1999). Concerning the egalitarianism of the codes: although they were to be equally applied to all individuals, the penalties were notoriously harsh on some, for instance, on the poor for minor property offenses.
A pattern of purges of supposedly tenured judges at changes of political regime certainly damaged the credibility of judicial independence. Nonetheless, the installation of the new judiciary could become an important political rite for the new regime. See Katherine Fischer Taylor, “The Festival of Justice: Paris, 1849,” in Law and the Image, ed. Costas Douzinas and Lynda Nead (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 137–77.