The interior of Chenonceau is full of history and a remarkable collection of art. The entrance hall, shown above, is covered with a series of rib vaults whose keystones, detached from each other, form a broken line. The baskets are decorated with foliage, roses, cherubs, chimeras, and cornucopia. Made in 1515, it is one of the most beautiful examples of decorative sculpting from the French Renaissance period. The entire interior is full of inventive architecture, art treasures and above all the history of France.
The monumental entrance, dating from the period of Francis I, is made from sculpted and painted wood. It has: on the left, the coat of arms of Thomas Bohier, on the right those of his wife Katherine Briçonnet – the builders of Chenonceau – topped by the salamander of Francis I and the inscription “François, by the grace of God, King of France and Claude, Queen of the French”. On the 16th century oak door, the motto of Thomas Bohier and Catherine Briçonnet: “S'il vient à point, me souviendra) meaning: “If I manage to build Chenonceau, I will be remembered”. For me, this thought is particularly poignant, history has certainly confirmed the sentiment of the motto.
To your left as you enter is the chapel which was saved during the French Revolution by Madame Dupin, who had the idea of turning it into a wood store. The original windows in this room were destroyed by a bombing in 1944, the modern stained glass windows were made by the master glassworker Max Ingrand in 1954. In the loggia on the right rests a Virgin and Child made from carrara marble by Mino da Fiesole. I was particularly impressed with the Virgin of the Blue Veil (La Vierge au Voile Bleau) by Giovanni Battista Salvi Sassoferrato. He was born at Sassoferrato in the Marches, from where he took his name. Sassoferrato places emphasis on the softly modeled draperies, the white veil and brilliant blue cloak, painted in ultramarine. The face remains partly in shadow, the eyes downcast, and this has the effect of highlighting the hands joined in prayer. This particular design showing the Virgin at prayer is one of at least four evolved by the artist.
In the Salon of Louis XIV, on the Renaissance chimney, the Salamander and the Stoat remind us of Francis I and Queen Claude of France. Surrounding the ceiling with exposed joists, the cornice has the initials of the Bohier family (T.B.K.). Just to keep everyone in the loop, Claude of France (1499-1524) was queen consort of France and duchess regent of Brittany. She died at the early age of 24. Because her mother, Anne, Duchess of Brittany, had no surviving sons, Claude became heiress to the Duchy of Brittany. The crown of France, however, could pass only to and through male heirs, according to Salic Law. In 1506, the child Claude, was betrothed to Francis I of France and in 1514 when her mother died, she became duchess of Brittany. She was the eldest daughter of Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany, as well as the first spouse of Francis I of France.
When Francis became king in 1515, after the death of Louis XII only months after his wedding to Mary Tudor of England, Anne Boleyn stayed on as one of Claude's household. It is assumed that Anne served as Claude's translator whenever there were English visitors, such as in 1520, at the Field of Cloth of Gold. Anne Boleyn returned to England in late 1521, where she eventually became Queen of England as the second wife of Henry VIII. Diane de Poitiers, another of Claude's ladies, was a principal inspiration of the School of Fontainebleau of the French Renaissance, and became the lifelong mistress of Claude's son, Henry II.
In memory of the visit he made to Chenonceau on July 14, 1650, Louis XIV much later offered his uncle, the duc de Vendôme, his portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud, with an extraordinary frame by Lepautre, made up of only four huge pieces of wood. Since Rigaud's paintings captured very exact likenesses along with the subject's costumes and background details, his paintings are considered precise records of contemporary fashions. According to the French art historian Louis Hourticq:
“On his death, Rigaud left behind a gallery of major figures with whom our imagination now populates the galerie des Glaces. Rigaud was necessary to the 'gloire' of Louis XIV and participated in this shining of a reign whose majesty he fixed in paint.”
Rigaud's works today populate the world's major museums including his most famous work, Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre from 1701 at the Louvre.
They also have a portrait of the young Louis XV by Jean-Baptise Van Loo. Jean-Baptiste van Loo (1684-1745) was a portrait painter who did several portraits of the young Louis XV. His son, Louis-Michel van Loo (1707-1771) painted many portraits of Louis XV of France beginning around 1753. In 1765 he succeeded Charles-André as director of the special school of the French academy known as the École Royale des Élèves Protégés and painted the famous portrait of Denis Diderot in 1757. Louis XV (1710-1774), was King of France and Navarre from 1715 until his death. He succeeded his great-grandfather Louis XIV at the age of five.
In the same room the have this remarkable Pierre-Paul Rubens painting, purchased in 1889 at the sale of the King of Spain's Collection, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother. Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), was a Flemish Baroque painter, and a proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality. He is well known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects. In this painting of Jesus and Saint John (the Baptist) (L'Infant Jésus et Saint Jean) he revisits the familiar theme of Jesus and Saint John the Baptist. I have included a painting from the Wallace collection for comparison.
The bedroom of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry II, is dominated by the fireplace by Jean Goujon, a French sculptor of the Fontainebleau School, which bears the initials of Henry II and Catherine de' Medici: interlaced Hs and Cs that could be considered as forming the D of “Diane”. The ceiling molding also contains these initials. Over the fireplace is a 19th century portrait of Catherine de' Medici by Sauvage. The painting to the right is Virgin with child by Murillo. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) was a Spanish Baroque painter. Following the completion of a pair of pictures for the Seville Cathedral, he began to specialize in the themes that brought him his greatest successes: the Virgin and Child and the Immaculate Conception.
The four-poster bed dates from the early 17th century and is placed in front of a 16th century Flemish tapestry. The bookcase holds the archives of Chenonceau ; one of the volumes, to be seen the showcase, bears the signatures of Thomas Bohier and Diane de Poitiers.
Catherine de' Medici, who became Regent of the kingdom during the minority of King Charles IX, ruled France from the Green Study at Chenonceau. On the 16th century ceiling in its original state, you can make out two intertwining “C”s. The painting is Samson and the Lion by Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1617), a Flemish painter with an admiration for Michealangelo.
Just beyond the Green Study is a small room overlooking the Cher which is called the Library. The Italian style oak coffer ceiling dating from 1525, with small hanging keys, is one of the first of this type known in France. It has the initials of the Château's builder's T.B.K. for Thomas Bohier and Katherine Briçonnet.
The ceiling of the Francis I bedroom is also ornate, with an “F” strategically placed between joists.
This room has a beautiful Renaissance chimney, and on the mantelpiece is the motto of Thomas Bohier – “S'il vient à point, me souviendra” (If the building is finished, it will preserve the memory of the man who built it) – which echoes his coat of arms above the door.
The furniture consists of three 15th century French credence tables and a 16th century Italian cabinet, exceptional with its mother-of-pearl and fountain-pen engraved ivory incrustations, a wedding present offered to Francis II and Mary, Queen of Scots.
To the right of the chimney, The Three Graces (Les Trois Grâces) by Jean-Baptiste van Loo represents the “Mesdemoiselles” from Nesle, three sisters who were successive favourites of King Louis XV: Madame de Châteauroux, Vintimille, Mailly.
On the wall hangs a portrait of Diane de Poitiers as Diane the Huntress, by Francesco Primaticcio, Le Primatice, a painter of the Fontainebleau School. Diane was educated according to the principles of Renaissance humanism which was popular at the time, music, hunting, manners, languages, the art of conversation, and dancing. She learned how to read Latin and Greek, and became a keen hunter and sportswoman, remaining in good physical condition well into middle age. The portrait was painted at Chenonceau in 1556, its frame bears the arms of Diane de Poitiers, duchess of Étampes. Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570) was an Italian Mannerist painter, architect and sculptor who spent most of his career in France.
The ground floor Medici gallery starts in a passage from Diane de Poitiers' bedroom in the Château and takes you across the Cher river to the beautiful forests on the other side. In 1576, according to the plans of Philibert de l'Orme, Catherine de' Medici built a magnificent ballroom gallery upon the bridge of Diane de Poitiers. It is sixty meters long, six meters wide, lit by eighteen windows, with a sandy chalk tiled and slate floor and exposed joist ceiling. It was inaugurated in 1577 during festivities hosted by Catherine de' Medici in honour of her son Henry III. The medallions on the walls were added in the 18th century and represent famous people.
On the first floor the Five Queen's Bedroom is named in memory of Catherine de' Medici's two daughters and three daughters-in-law. Queen Margot (wife of Henry IV), Elisabeth of Valois (wife of Philip II of Spain), her daughters and Mary, Queen of Scots (wife of Francis II), Elisabeth of Austria (wife of Charles IX), Louise of Lorraine (wife of Henry III), her daughters-in-law.
The 16th century coffer ceiling displays the Five Queens' coats-of-arms. The chimney is of the Renaissance period.
The Catherine de Medici bedroom has beautiful 16th century sculpted furniture and is decorated with a series of 16th century Flemish tapesteries retracing Samson's life.
To the right of the bed, The Teaching of Love by Antonio da Correggio painted on wood, of which the London National Gallery has a version painted on canvas.
This bedroom reminds us of Cesar of Vendôme, son of King Henry IV and Gabrielle d'Estrées, who became the owner of Chenonceau in 1624. The four-poster bed and the furniture in this room are from the 16th century. The renaissance chimney was painted in the 19th century with Thomas Bohier's coat-of-arms.
The first floor Medici Gallery is a replica of the ground floor gallery which is being used as a museum of the Château.
Following the assassination of her husband King Henry III by the monk Jacques Clément on August 1, 1589, Louise of Lorraine retired to Chenonceau in meditation and prayer. Her bedroom is on the second floor of the Château. Surrounded by nuns who lived in the château as in a convent, and always dressed in white in compliance with the etiquette of royal mourning, she was known as “the White Queen”.
On the way down the staircase leading to the first floor is remarkable because it is one of the first straight staircases – or banister on banister – built in France based on the Italian model. It is covered with a pitch vault with ribs intersecting at right-angles, the joints are decorated with keystones, the coffers are decorated with human figures, fruits and flowers (certain designs were hammered during the Revolution).
I know this has been a long post, as always I hope you enjoyed. These photo-essays are meant to prepare you for an enjoyable visit. Please leave comments to let me know what you think.
Restoration of Diane des Poitiers painting: http://ateliermarcphilippe.com/?page=1&article=19
Château Chenonceau: http://www.chenonceau.com/index.php/en/le-chateau/tour-of-the-chateau
Château de Chenonceau: http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/49768
Diane de Poitiers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_de_Poitiers