When we visited Washington DC, we had the privilege of seeing the National Gallery of Art. Ever since Lafayette, some connection between America and France, however tenuous, has existed. One of the strongest bonds between the two countries is the American love of French art. When we think of French art today, we instantly imagine the Impressionists. Our National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, however, houses one of the finest collections of 15th to 18th century French art in the world, thanks in part to the benefactors who saw something of America in those French artworks. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century documents the rich and varied collection of artworks and shows how this French connection tells us as much about American history as it does about French history. The painting above, of Diane Poitiers topless, is one of the masterpieces of the collection. A replica hangs in the Château de Chenonceau and is a reminder of the beautiful mistress of Henry II of France, Diane de Poitiers. I would call this portrait the “Mona Lisa” of France.
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 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.
I thought I would break the post on the Château Chenonceau into three parts, the history and pictures of the Château, the interior, and the surrounding forest and gardens. As you might have guessed from the picture above, this is the last. Chenonceau is located in an absolutely beautiful forest and even the parking lot pictured above is lovely. From the map below, you can see that the entrance is a long city block from the château. As they say in the brochure:
“The beauty of Chenonceau imposes itself like a relationship that speaks to the heart: the harmony between the sky, water, gardens and architecture appeals to every visitor, no matter what their cultural background.”
We decided to rent a car and drive to the Loire valley to see some of the châteaux. The Châteaux of the Loire Valley are part of the architectural heritage of the historic towns of Amboise, Angers, Blois, Chinon, Nantes, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours along the Loire River in France. They illustrate the ideals of the Renaissance and the Age of the Enlightenment on French thought and design in the Loire Valley. The “Château des Dames” or Chenonceau was built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, and successively embellished by Diane de Poitiers then Catherine de Medici. Chenonceau was protected from the hardship of the revolution by Madame Dupin. The iron, but very feminine, fist in the velvet glove has always preserved Chenonceau during times of conflict and war in order to make it a place of peace. The château was built on the site of an old mill on the River Cher, sometime before its first mention in writing in the 11th century. The current château was designed by the French Renaissance architect Philibert de l'Orme. An architectural mixture of late Gothic and early Renaissance, Château de Chenonceau and its gardens are open to the public. Other than the Royal Palace of Versailles, Chenonceau is the most visited château in France with over a million visitors per year.