Le Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Luxembourg Garden, located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, was created beginning in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France, for a new residence she constructed, the Luxembourg Palace. The garden today is owned by the French Senate, which meets in the Palace. It covers 23 hectares and is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, flowerbeds, model sailboats on its circular basin, and picturesque Medici Fountain, built in 1620.
In 1611, Marie de’ Medici, the widow of Henry IV and the regent for the King Louis XIII decided to build a palace in imitation of the Pitti Palacein her native Florence. She purchased the hotel du Luxembourg (today the Petit-Luxembourg palace) and began construction of the new palace. She commissioned Salomon de Brosse to build the palace and a fountain, which still exists. In 1612 she planted 2,000 elm trees, and directed a series of gardeners, most notably Tommaso Francini, to build a park in the style she had known as a child in Florence. Francini planned two terraces with balustrades and parterres laid out along the axis of the chateau, aligned around a circular basin. He also built the Medici Fountain to the east of the palace as a nympheum, an artificial grotto and fountain, without its present pond and statuary. The original garden was just eight hectares in size.
In 1630 she bought additional land and enlarged the garden to thirty hectares, and entrusted the work to Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie, the indendant of the royal gardens of Tuileries and the early garden of Versailles. He was one of the early theorists of the new and more formal garden à la française, and he laid out a series of squares along an east-west alley closed at the east end by the Medici Fountain, and a rectangle of parterres with broderies of flowers and hedges in front of the palace. In the center he placed an octagonal basin with a fountain, with a perspective toward what is now the Paris observatory.
Later monarchs largely neglected the garden. In 1780, the Comte de Provence, the future Louis XVIII, sold the eastern part of the garden for real estate development. Following the French Revolution, however, the leaders of the French Directory expanded the garden to forty hectares by confiscating the land of the neighboring religious order of the Carthusian monks. The architect Jean Chalgrin, the architect of the Arc de Triomphe, took on the task of restoring the garden. He remade the Medici Fountain and laid out a long perspective from the palace to the observatory. He preserved the famous pepiniere, or nursery garden of the Carthusian order, and the old vineyards, and kept the garden in a formal French style.
During and after the July Monarchy of 1848, the park became the home of a large population of statues; first the Queens and famous women of France, lined along the terraces; then, in 1880s and 1890s, monuments to writers and artists, a small-scale model by Bartholdi of his Statue of Liberty and one modern sculpture by Zadkine.
In 1865, during the reconstruction of Paris by Louis Napoleon, the rue de l’Abbé de l’Épée, (now rue Auguste-Comte) was extended into the park, cutting off about seven hectares, including a large part of the old nursery garden. The building of new streets next to the park also required moving and rebuilding the Medici Fountain to its present location. The long basin of the fountain was added at this time, along with the statues at the foot of the fountain.
During this reconstruction, the director of parks and promenades of Paris, Gabriel Davioud, built new ornamental gates and fences around the park, and polychrome brick garden houses. He also transformed what remained of the old Chartreux nursery garden, at the south end of the park, into an English garden with winding paths, and planted a fruit garden in the southwest corner. He kept the regular geometric pattern of the paths and alleys, but did create one diagonal alley near the Medici fountain which opened a view of the Pantheon.
The garden in the late nineteenth century contained a marionette theater, a music kiosk, greenhouses, an apiary or bee-house; an orangerie also used for displaying sculpture and modern art (used until the 1930s); a rose garden, the fruit orchard, and about seventy works of sculpture.