The Luxembourg Palace (Palais du Luxembourg), located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, north of the Luxembourg Garden (Jardin du Luxembourg), is the seat of the French Senate. The Senate (French: Sénat) is the upper house of the Parliament of France, led over by a president.
The Senate enjoys less prominence than the lower house, the directly elected National Assembly; debates in the Senate tend to be less tense and generally enjoy less media coverage. The Senate is housed inside the Luxembourg Palace in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, and is guarded by Republican Guards. In front of the building lies the Senate’s garden, the Jardin du Luxembourg, open to the public.
To the west of the Palais du Luxembourg, and communicating with it through interior courts, there is the 16th-century original hôtel of the duc de Piney-Luxembourg; it is composed of two main blocks, or corps de logis separated by a courtyard that is entered through a grand convex portal flanked by Tuscan columns. Since 1958, the Petit-Luxembourg has been the official residence of the President of the French Senate (président du Sénat).
The palace was built for Marie de Médicis, mother of king Louis XIII of France, just near the site of an old ‘hôtel particulier’ owned by François-Henri de Montmorency, duc de Piney-Luxembourg, hence its name (now called Petit Luxembourg, home of the president of French Senate). This place has a rich and long history.
Marie de Médicis desired to make a building similar to her native Florence’s Palazzo Pitti, and to this effect had the main architect Salomon de Brosse send architect Clément Metézeau to Florence to obtain drawings. Marie de Médicis bought the structure and its fairly extensive domain in 1612 and commissioned the new building, which she referred to as her Palais Médicis, in 1615. Its construction and furnishing formed her major artistic project, though nothing remains today of the interiors as they were created for her, save some architectural fragments reassembled in the Salle du Livre d’Or. The suites of paintings she commissioned, in the subjects of which she expressed her requirements through her agents and advisors are scattered among museums.
Marie de Médicis installed her household in 1625, while work on interiors continued. The apartments to one side were reserved for the Queen and the matching suite on the other for her son, Louis XIII. Construction was finished in 1631; the Queen Mother was forced from court shortly after, following the ‘Day of the Dupes’ in November 1631. Louis XIII commissioned further decorations for the Palace from Nicolas Poussin and Philippe de Champaigne.
In 1642, Marie bequeathed the Palais to her second and favourite son, Gaston d’Orléans. Upon Gaston’s death, the palace passed to his widow, Marguerite de Lorraine, then to his elder daughter by his first marriage, Anne, duchesse de Montpensier. In 1660, Anne sold the Luxembourg to her younger half-sister, Élisabeth Marguerite d’Orléans, who, in turn, gave it to her cousin, King Louis XIV, in 1694.
In 1715, the palace became the residence of Marie Louise Elisabeth d’Orleans, Duchess of Berry. The widowed Duchess was notoriously promiscuous, having the reputation of a French Messalina relentlessly driven by her unquenchable thirst for all pleasures of the flesh. The Luxembourg palace and its gardens thus became stages where the radiantly beautiful princess acted out her ambitions, enthroned like a queen surrounded by her court. In some of her more exclusive parties, Madame de Berry also played the leading part in elaborate ‘tableaux-vivants’ that represented mythological scenes and in which she displayed her appetizing young person impersonating Venus or Diana. According to various satirical songs which scurrilously evoked her amours „the Lady of the Luxembourg” hid several pregnancies, merely shutting herself up in her palace when about to give birth. Her taste for strong liquors and her sheer gluttony also scandalised the court. The tempestuous life of the Duchess soon met a premature end. On 2 April 1719, shut up in a small room of the palace, the young woman gave birth to a still-born daughter, allegedly fathered by her captain of the guards, the Count of Riom. Ill-prepared by her life ways, the delivery was harrowing and almost killed the labouring princess. Adding to the physical tortures of her long and difficult childbirth, the Church refused her the Sacraments. Hoping to regain her health and undeceive the public that she had been confined, Madame de Berry left Paris and the Luxembourg palace. She died in her castle at La Muette on 21 July 1719 and, according to Saint-Simon, was found to be again pregnant.
In 1750, the palace became a museum – the forerunner of the Louvre, and was open two days a week for the period of the next 30 years. In 1778, the palace was given to the Comte de Provence by his brother Louis XVI. During the French Revolution, it was briefly a prison, then the seat of the French Directory and later the first residence of Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul of the French Republic. It has continued its senatorial role, with brief interruptions, ever since.
In the 19th century, the palace was extensively remodelled, with a new garden façade by Alphonse de Gisors, and a cycle of paintings by Eugène Delacroix, added to the library.
During the German occupation of Paris in the first half of the 1940s, Hermann Göring took over the palace as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe in France, taking for himself a sumptuous suite of rooms to accommodate his visits to the French capital. The Palais was a designated ‘strong point’ for German forces defending the city in August 1944, but thanks to the decision of Commanding General Dietrich von Choltitz to surrender the city rather than fight, the palace was only slightly damaged. From 29 July to 15 October 1946, the Luxembourg Palace was the site of the talks of Paris Peace Conference.