The court chapel’s position in Early Modern Europe: a methodological approach

By Manos Vakondios

The “court chapel across religious boundaries” is my PhD project, part of the wider MSCA project PALAMUSTO (Palace Museum of Tomorrow)[1]. Together with nine other PhD theses, palatial spaces, concepts, and infrastructures are addressed and explored by colleagues in universities and museum institutions across Europe.[2]

Figure 1. The court chapel in Frederiksborg. Image Credit: Manos Vakondios.

The research focus of my doctoral project lies on the examination of the connection between the architecture of the Early Modern court chapel and its function in different political and doctrinal systems. Cases from the regions of France, England, Denmark, and the Germanic part of the Holy Roman Empire, are chosen.

In this post I present a part of my methodological approach, how I structure it, and the reason for opting for this method. A fundamental part of this approach is to examine the chapel’s position in relation to other  palatial rooms, such as the hall or the living quarters of the ruler and the consort. This is related to the fact that the court is a complicated and multi-faceted space with many interconnections among different rooms on a functional and symbolical level.

First of all, investigating the position of the court chapel in Early Modern Europe includes the examination of unexecuted chapels, which were part of ideal or unrealised palaces,  designed by court architects in treatises or preliminary plans. Such examples can be found in the works of Jacques I Androuet du Cercau (1510–1584), Inigo Jones (1573 –1652), Pierre Le Muet (1591 –1669), John Webb (1611 –1672), Antoine Le Pautre (1621–1679), and Paul Decker (1677-1713).[3]

Figure 2. Title page of Manière de bastir, pour
touttes sortes de personnes, par Pierre Le Muet’ (1623).
Image Credit: Gallica.

In these examples, questions concerning how the residence’s chapel is positioned with regards to living quarters or the hall emerge. These questions address the issue of what space is usually adjacent to the religious space, the way they are directly or indirectly linked, and the accessibility, namely if there is one way or additional ones to enter the chapel.

Based on these observations, this examination starts a discussion around the development of a pattern in these unexecuted designs. It intends to study the chapel’s ideal spatial configuration, to identify any similarities or differences, and reach a conclusion regarding the way the chapel was envisioned in these treatises. The results of the discussion from each treatise are compared to each other in order to conclude how the court chapel’s position was conceived in French, German, and English treatises.

Delving into the court chapel’s position requires the study of its actual position in preserved, or, in some cases, lost palaces. As in the above-mentioned examples in the architectural treatises, the aim at this point of the methodology is to identify the chapel’s spatial connection to other palatial rooms and discuss how it was linked to them, and from which spaces it was usually accessed.

For that reason, original drawings and reconstruction plans are examined. From examples of both non-existent and surviving palaces, aside from the reconstruction plans and architectural drawings, the examination of primary sources, such as inventories, in conjunction with archaeological reports and topographical evidence, enable us, not only to track the (re)position of court chapels in different chronological periods and in different territories, but also the rooms that are connected to them.

The analysis of these plans start from the Catholic region of Early Modern France and, among other examples, includes the court chapel’s spatial configuration in the palaces of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Fontainebleau, Chambord, Amboise, and Versailles. After the examination of these cases, further insights will be made regarding the chapel’s spatial development aiming to provide with an answer regarding the way it was spatially linked to other spaces.

Figure 3. Photo of the court chapel in Kronborg.
Image Credit: Manos Vakondios.

The findings from this analysis can be compared to the examination and discussion deriving from cases in Catholic court chapels in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire, such as in the Munich Residence and the Hofburg palace in Vienna. The intention is to discuss questions addressing differences or similarities among chapels in the same doctrine but across different regions and political systems.

In addition, this analysis needs to be expanded to other doctrinal systems. One notable example is the Torgau chapel in Hartenfels Castle, inaugurated by Martin Luther in 1544. This chapel exercised a great architectural impact on other court chapels and churches in North Germany, but also in Denmark (such as the Palaces of Kronborg and Frederiksborg) after the expansion of Lutheranism in this region.

The last part of this approach includes English palaces, such as Windsor, Whitehall, Hampton Court, and St James’ in order to identify how differentiated the chapel’s spatial connections and accessibility were compared to the aforementioned examples. 

The function of this comparative approach is to open a discussion regarding the ideal and actual pattern, namely to address the issue of how the ideal pattern deriving from treatises correspond to the conclusions coming from the analysis of the realisation of religious projects within the palatial complex.

The development of a network of various court chapels and their spatial configuration in different chronological periods, regions, and doctrinal systems are stepping stones towards important issues such as ceremonial processions and the daily routing of the ruler for the mass, issues of private and public spheres, and last but not least, gendered differentiations as well.

Manos Vakondios is a MSCA PhD fellow of PALAMUSTO project based at Utrecht University. He holds a Master of Letters (MLitt) from the University of St Andrews, department of Art History, and an undergraduate degree from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, department of History and Archaeology. His research interests focus on the Early Modern art and architecture, and more specifically on the function and architecture of court chapels in Europe. Moreover, through the doctoral network he is working on aspects of cultural heritage management.


[1] This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 861426.

[2] For more information, visit PALAMUSTO’S website: https://www.palamusto.eu/consortium/aims-objectives

[3] Jacques I Androuet du Cercau, Trois Livres d’Architecture, (Paris: 1559, 1561 & 1582) ;Inigo Jones et al, The designs of Inigo Jones : consisting of plans and elevations for publick and private buildings, (London: 1727);Pierre Le Muet, Manière de bien bastir pour toutes sortes de personnes, (Paris: 1681); John Bold, John Webb: Architectural Theory and Practice in the Seventeenth Century (Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press ; Oxford University Press, 1989);Antoine Le Pautre, Les œuvres d’Architecture, (Paris: 1645-1655); Paul Decker, Fürstlicher Baumeister: Oder Architectura Civilis, (Augspurg: 1711-1716).


Cover Image and Figure 1. The court chapel in Frederiksborg. Image Credit: Manos Vakondios.

Figure 2. Title page of ‘Manière de bastir, pour touttes sortes de personnes, par Pierre Le Muet’ (1623). Image Credit: Gallica.

Figure 3. Photo of the court chapel in Kronborg. Image Credit: Manos Vakondios.

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