© Fabulorum. José Medio

In the distribution of architectural space, galleries are long and dramatic corridors conveying a clear message as to why they are there and how they justify their existence. Like monumental staircases, they are poor in function and high in solemnity,  providing support to the civic ideals from which they spring  and to the power structure they serve.

None exemplifies this better than the Long Gallery or the Gallery François I at the château of Fontainebleau.  Its dimensions, 64 meters long (200 feet) and only 6 meters high (20 feet), are simultaneously splendorous and comfortable. It seems to propel us, upon entering, into exalted emotions: the walnut carvings and the three dimensional stucco figures framing the colorful frescoes, constitute an ensemble that later royal dwellings envied for harmony and balance. This iconography sustains a profound narrative rooted in classical mythology whose final sense escapes exegetes of all periods. In 1533, both the patron king and his appointed artists Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio staged this monumental show to dazzle friends and foes of France, an unforgettable display of royal triumph and dominance. Francois I was only too delighted to take them all around and immerse them in the glory he wanted to bestow upon himself even before his passing away.

This gallery embodies the introduction into France of the Italian Renaissance art and the transformation of the nobility of the sword into the nobility of the plume. The refined court that reached its apogee at Versailles has its embryonic beginnings here. It was the model to many that followed: the Gallerie des Glaces at Versailles, the Gallery at Chenonceau and the Gallery of portraits at the Chateau of Beauregard.

There are other galleries where there is no king honored or well designed spaces. Galleries where no admission ticket is required, although function retains a meager role. Urban trades used them centuries ago to transport goods into shops, studios or warehouses. Today they lie indifferent and silent, yet atmospheric, in the middle of our cities.