Arts & Tradition

Honoring the Past Through Art and Beauty: The Château de Chantilly

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages
BY Ariane Triebswetter TIMESeptember 17, 2022 PRINT

Formerly owned by the son of the last king of France, the Château de Chantilly, located north of Paris in the town of Chantilly, is an homage to France’s rich culture and past.

Throughout eight centuries, the grounds of Chantilly belonged to noble families, close to royal power. The domain was maintained and embellished by its several owners, according to the fashion of the time. In the Middle Ages, it was a fortified castle that successively belonged to the Bouteiller, the Orgemont, and the Montmorency families. In the 16th century, Constable Anne de Montmorency (the first officer of the crown) renovated the castle in a Renaissance style with a simple exterior. In the 17th century, the chateau hosted the greatest writers of the day: Racine, La Fontaine, Molière, and others. Legend says that whipped cream (Chantilly cream) originated at the château.

The last owner was Henri d’Orléans (1822–1897), the Duke of Aumale, one of the sons of the last king of France, Louis-Philippe. In 1886, the duke gifted his Chantilly estate to the Institut de France, a group of five academies of learning. The château kept its French Renaissance style, which incorporates Gothic and classical elements, though the duke had added a series of rooms organized into art galleries, a reading room, and suites. The suites follow the 18th-century styles popular at the time, including rococo architecture, Louis XVI furniture, and Asian-inspired wallpaper. The rooms are further ornamented with rare manuscripts, decorative arts, and old master paintings by Raphael, Van Dyck, and Delacroix.

 

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Over 284 acres, the grounds of Chantilly display three types of gardens fashionable at European courts throughout the 17th and 19th centuries: the large French-style flowerbed garden, the Anglo-Chinese garden, and the English-style garden. Ponds reflect the sky with mirrors of water in the French garden, which is also decorated with a large collection of sculptures. Louis II de Bourbon-Condé (1621–1686) commissioned André Le Nôtre to design this garden. Le Nôtre was also the designer of the Versailles gardens, but the Chantilly garden was known to be his favorite.

 

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One of the houses in the Anglo-Chinese garden’s hamlet, designed in the 18th century, later inspired the hamlet of Queen Marie Antoinette in Versailles: the Petit Trianon. Designed in 1773 by the architect Jean-François Leroy, the garden originally held seven small rustic houses, and currently hosts five. (Pierre Poschadel/CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

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The English garden, designed by Victor Dubois in 1817, is located between the stables and the château and is enhanced with romantic structures such as the temple of Venus, built in a classical style. Swans and waterfowl inhabit it, emphasizing Chantilly’s peaceful and idyllic charm. (Daniel Villafruela/CC BY 3.0)

 

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One of the art galleries designed by the Duke of Aumale displays his extensive art collection, in what he called the Condé Museum, to honor his predecessors. The Duke was one of the greatest art collectors of his time. This specific gallery, at the heart of the museum, provides a great example of 19th-century museography. The 85 exhibited paintings are laid out at several heights, frame by frame, with no chronological order. The rotunda at the head of the room follows the classical style, which was much loved by French Renaissance architects for its marble columns, white façade, and elegant statues. (Pierre Poschadel/CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

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The stag gallery is a typical French-Renaissance style room, with a prominent chimney as a focal point, a coffered ceiling with carved motifs, and eight tapestries woven in the Royal Gobelins Manufactory, based on a famous 16th-century hanging “The Hunts of Maximilian.”  This room was created in the late 19th century as a dining and reception room. Here, every Sunday, the Duke of Aumale received the intellectual and artistic elite of his time. (Daniel Villafruela/CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

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The large corner room was where the Princes of Condé held audiences. The seats and chairs are neoclassical, from the reign of Louis XVI. The fireplace screen belonged to the future King Louis XVII. The white and gold woodwork is also an example of the typical 18th-century French décor used at court in ceremonial rooms. The Duke of Aumale collected this furniture and decorative arts from the royal family as well as from the royal châteaux to recreate the opulence of his ancestors. (Zairon/CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

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This public room in the large suites is typical of the early Rococo style with its white and gold panels and ornamentation. The paneling was designed by the architect Jean Aubert around 1720 for Louis-Henri de Bourbon, one of the princes of Condé and minister of King Louis XV. The chest of drawers by Jean-Henri Riesener was commissioned for the bedroom of King Louis XVI in Versailles. These were acquired by the Duke of Aumale for Chantilly. This room follows 18th-century fashion of the grandeur of the Condé princes. (Zairon/CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

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The music room, which houses the 19th-century English harp belonging to the wife of the Duke of Aumale, also follows the Rococo style with detailed white and gold paneling. The gilded wood furniture by Georges Jacob was commissioned by King Louis XVI for the Château de Saint-Cloud, and the Duke of Aumale purchased it for Chantilly. (Pierre Poschadel/CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

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The boudoir displays the attraction that the European court had for Asian fashion in the 18th century. The murals, decorated by painter Christophe Huet in 1737, depict monkeys imitating human actions.  (Zairon, CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

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The bedroom of the Duchess of Aumale is typical of the decorative arts style of the July Monarchy (the reign of Louis-Philippe between 1830 and 1848). This is a rare example of this style, with a four-poster bed with an overhang, a dressing room, and green Louis XV-style padded chairs. (Mel22/CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

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The reading room, located in the private suites, was designed by architect Honoré Daumet in the French-Renaissance style. The duke was one of the greatest bibliophiles of his time, and the Château de Chantilly has one of the most extensive libraries and collections of rare manuscripts in France. One of the most precious manuscripts contained is the “Très riches heures du duc de Berry” (“The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry”), reputed to be one of the most beautiful manuscripts in the world. The room, with wood shelves on a two-level metal structure and a fireplace, is simple yet functional, and is typical of 19th-century library architecture. (Pierre Poschadel/CC BY-SA 4.0)
Ariane Triebswetter is an international freelance journalist, with a background in modern literature and classical music.
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