European Architecture Series
Jacques-Germain Soufflot

Biography of French Neoclassical Architect.

Pin it

The Pantheon, Paris (1756-97)
France's most famous example of
classicism in architecture.

Jacques-Germain Soufflot (1713-80)


Soufflot's Architecture
The Pantheon (Paris)
Other Leading Neoclassical Architects

For a short guide to terminology
see: Architecture Glossary.

Soufflot's Architecture

One of the greatest architects in 18th century France, Jacques Germain Soufflot was an early representative of the new school of Neoclassical architecture, which originated in France, where classical motifs had started to appear in designs at the end of Louis XVI's reign, in a bid to reintroduce the gravitas of Roman architecture after the indulgence of Rococo. He is best known for designing The Pantheon in Paris (1756-97), a major exemplar of late-18th century architecture and a highlight of the European Grand Tour. The building was designed as a church dedicated to Sainte Genevieve before being converted into a memorial for famous people. A contemporary of Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), Soufflot was also fascinated by the brilliant lightness of Gothic architecture, and in the design of the Pantheon he used medieval techniques to achieve Neoclassical ends. A hugely influential design, it helped to popularize classical designs (especially Greek architecture) in the New World.


Born in Irancy, Auxerre, Soufflot attended the French Academy in Rome (1731-38), where he also studied the classical monuments, as well as Renaissance architecture by designers like Andrea Palladio (1508-80), and examples of Italian Baroque architecture like St Peter's Basilica (1506-1626). He also met a number of fashionable Rococo artists and their patrons, including Abel-Francois Poisson de Vandieres (1727-81) - better known as the Marquis de Marigny - who happened to be the brother of King Louis XV's influential mistress Madame de Pompadour, and with whom he later toured Italy. In 1738 Soufflot left Rome and returned to Lyon, where he began practising as an architect. His simple, severe yet spacious designs, complete with their accurate rendering of classical detail (Doric columns, arcades, loggia) are exemplified in such works as the Hotel Dieu extension (started 1741), and the Loge des Changes (1751). In 1752 he was elected a member of the Lyon Academy.

In 1755, the Marquis de Marigny - who had taken over the position of Director General of the Royal Buildings (directeur general des Batiments du Roi), after the death of Le Normant de Tournehem in 1751 - called Soufflot to Paris and gave him the prestigious commission for the new Church of Sainte-Genevieve (1756-97) - intended to be Paris's largest church. It was to be built in the new Neoclassical style - a bold decision at the time. He was also elected a member of the Parisian Royal Academy of Fine Arts. A lesser-known but perhaps more individual work of Soufflot's is the Hotel Marigny (1768-71), built opposite the Elysee Palace. At the same time, he also continued working in Lyon. In 1756, for instance, he completed his redesign of the city's opera house.

The Pantheon (Paris)

The Pantheon's most famous feature, its 272-foot high dome - based on the dome above St Paul's Cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren (1632-1723) - towers above the Greek-cross floor-plan (360 feet long by 279 feet wide), while its strict neoclassical design is exemplified by the Corinthian temple-front (based on the Pantheon in Rome). Inside, Soufflot's basic idea was to combine monumental classical vaulting with Gothic-style slender supports and Corinthian columns. Conceived, designed and built as a church for St Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris - it was taken over during the French Revolution, and converted into a monument honouring famous French men and women. Sadly, during the conversion, the original windows were removed along with much of the decoration. This act of architectural vandalism succeeded in transforming a beautifully light and airy interior into a gloomy mausoleum. Soufflot died in Paris in 1780.

Other Leading Neoclassical Architects

In addition to those architects cited above, the best known designers of the Neoclassical movement (together with their building designs) included:

John Nash (1752-1835)
Designed numerous blocks in London.
Sir John Soane (1753-1837)
Bank of England.
Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867)
British Museum

Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806)
Designer of the Royal Saltworks, Arc-et-Senans.
Jean Chalgrin (1739-1811)
Arc de Triomphe, Paris.

Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808)
Designed Brandenburg Gate, Berlin.
Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841)
Altes Museum, Berlin.

Charles Cameron (c.1745–1812)
Pavlovsk Palace, Tsarskoye Selo.

Juan de Villanueva (1739-1811)
Designed Prado Museum in Madrid.

United States
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Designed the Virginia State Capitol and Monticello.
William Thornton (1759-1828)
One of the designers of the US Capitol Building.
Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820)
Designer of the Baltimore Basilica.
Charles Bulfinch (1863-1844)
Designed the Massachusetts State House.


• For more about neoclassical architecture in France, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.