This post is part of my series on the châteaux of the Loire Valley and the second post on the Château D’Azay Le Rideau, this time covering the interior. Just as a reminder, the château was built between 1518 and 1527, by Gilles Berthelot, and later enhanced by Armand-François-Marie Biencourt in the 19th century. The center of the building stands out for its monumental entrance hall, as well as the grand staircase with its large banisters which disrupts the flow of the many windows: it connects three floors, each with bay windows, forming mezzanines. The interior is synonymous with an Italian Renaissance castle, with richly carved decoration. Traces of the Flemish Renaissance still remain, which are visible through 16th and 17th century tapestries, displayed in several places throughout the castle. The interior is made up of several drawing rooms and stately rooms, with the majority redecorated in the 19th century Neo-Renaissance style. The room shown above is the typical of the interior decor, the Biencourt Lounge.
The entryway, which resembles a Roman triumphal arch, is decorated with the initials of Gilles Berthelot and his wife, Philippa Lesbahy, while the pediments overhanging each window bay are carved with the salamander and ermine of Francis I and his wife, Claude of France, in honor to the monarch of the time. I am not sure how the initials MB refer to Philippa Lesbahy unless they refer to Madame Berthelot. It is also possible that they refer to the Marquis de Biencourt.
Just inside the doors is an entrance vestibule and stairwell with pendant keystones and initial “B” for Berthelot. The Grand Staircase features ornate decoration, inspired by Italian architecture, such as pillars, pilasters, carved shells and medallions of the Kings and Queens of France. The architect of the straight Grand Staircase, a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, is unknown. The staircase has three floors, each with a double bay window forming a mezzanine which looks out over the courtyard. The handrails are made of stone inset into the stone wall.
The Billiards Room Is decorated with Flemish tapestries from the mid-sixteenth century, the large and lush borders “crimp” short biblical scenes. All of the entrance rooms on the first floor were created by the Biencourts in the 19th century.
This is the same Biencourt lounge I showed at the beginning of this post, shown from another angle. It has a number of paintings which are not particularly memorable but interesting for various reasons. Following the Prussian troops’ retreat, during the Franco-Polish war (1870-1871), Azay-le-Rideau returned to the Biencourts. In this period, the château became well known for the collection of more than 300 historical portraits which the owners displayed there and which, unusually for a private collection, could be visited by the public. Many of the paintings could be in this room, the state received the château without furnishings but has gradually tried to re- imagine the interiors.
The most interesting painting in the room was this portrait of Diane de Poitier, the second mistress of Château Chenonceau and of King Henry II. It is not clear if this is a copy of the painting by François Clouet from 1571 or a study for the final painting, looking at the general style, my bet that this is by Clouet. It has not been maintained as well as the National Gallery version but it is still a beautiful painting.
This is the The Feast Of Belshazzar by an unknown painter from the 17th century. This painting is related to an engraving by Jan Harmensz Müller (1570-1625), which was widely known through its publication in a 17th century Bible. Versions by Frederick and Gillis van Valckenborch, Frans Francken II, Melchior Bocksberger and others are well known.
I included these three paintings just to give you a feeling for the type of art in the room. They also had a set of these beautiful Italian inlaid wood cabinets flanking the fireplace.
The Biencourt Dining Room was located on the first floor. They had this very cool little case with flasks and glasses in a locking case meant to be packed up for travel.
The kitchen has had the floor raised and served as a dining room in the 19th century. The large fireplace, well and stone sink had been covered with plaster and were uncovered during restoration by the state. Other than the raised floor, this was the appearance of the kitchen in the 16th century.
As you come out of the stairs on the second floor you enter the Great Hall, where balls and feasts were once given. The salamander of François I is painted on the monumental fireplace and frieze of foliage under the moldings let imagine what would have been the decoration of the room once completed. The great room has among the most beautiful tapestries in the château, dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the 16th century this room, in the corner of the castle, was used for parties and receptions.
Next to the great hall is the antechamber of the king. François I, Henri III and Louis XIII all stayed at the castle.
The Grand Bedroom was for those rare occasions when the King was in the neighborhood. It was occupied by Louis XIII when in 1619 he visited Francesca Souvré lady of Saint-Gelais of Lansac, future governess to the children of France. The bed, from the late seventeenth century, is a suspended canopy. There are also several amazing 17th century cabinets in the room.
They allow visitors in the attic where the charpente, or the hand-crafted wooden frame supporting the roof, has been recently restored (2010-2011) and can be viewed alongside an exhibition explaining the complex techniques of its construction. In the center of the above picture is a chimney.
I am going to close here. I have left out a few rooms but keep in mind that the state bought the château without furnishings and while the present assignment of room functions is generally historically accurate, the actual usage over time was different. Nonetheless the conservators have assembled an impressive collection of French Renaissance paintings and furniture and if you find yourself in the Loire Valley, it is definitely worth visiting.
Official Website: http://loire-chateaux.co.uk/19-Chateaux/Chateau-Of-Azay-Le-Rideau.html
Passions et Partage: http://passionsetpartage.xooit.com/t1173-Les-chateaux-de-la-Loire-Azay-le-Rideau.htm
Loire Valley: http://www.chateaux-valdeloire.com/Azay_le_rideau.html