Château de Chenonceau

Château de Chenonceau
The Château de Chenonceau, situated on the Cher River.

The Château de Chenonceau (French: [ʃ də ʃə.nɔ̃.so]) is a manor house near the small village of Chenonceaux, in the Indre-et-Loire département of the Loire Valley in France. It 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 manor was designed by the French Renaissance architect Philibert Delorme.



The original second edition[clarification needed] manor was torched in 1411 to punish owner Jean Marques for an act of sedition. He rebuilt a castle and fortified mill on the site in the 1430s. Subsequently, his indebted heir Pierre Marques sold the castle to Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain for King Charles VIII of France in 1513. Bohier destroyed the existing castle and built an entirely new residence between 1515 and 1521; the work was sometimes overseen by his wife Katherine Briçonnet, who delighted in hosting French nobility, including King Francis I on two occasions.

Eventually, the château was seized from Bohier's son by King Francis I of France for unpaid debts to the Crown; after Francis' death in 1547, Henry II offered the château as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who became fervently attached to the château along the river. She would have the arched bridge constructed, joining the château to its opposite bank. She then oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens along with a variety of fruit trees. Set along the banks of the river, but buttressed from flooding by stone terraces, the exquisite gardens were laid out in four triangles.

Diane de Poitiers was the unquestioned mistress of the castle, but ownership remained with the crown until 1555, when years of delicate legal maneuvers finally yielded possession to her. However, after King Henry II died in 1559, his strong-willed widow and regent Catherine de' Medici had Diane expelled. Because the estate no longer belonged to the crown, she could not seize it outright, but forced Diane to exchange it for the Château Chaumont. Queen Catherine then made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens.

Chateau de Chenonceau reflection.jpg

As Regent of France, Catherine would spend a fortune on the château and on spectacular nighttime parties. In 1560, the first ever fireworks display seen in France took place during the celebrations marking the ascension to the throne of Catherine's son Francis II. The grand gallery, which extended along the existing bridge to cross the entire river, was dedicated in 1577.

On Catherine's death in 1589 the château went to her daughter-in-law, Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, wife of King Henry III. At Chenonceau Louise was told of her husband's assassination and she fell into a state of depression, spending the remainder of her days wandering aimlessly along the château's vast corridors dressed in mourning clothes amidst somber black tapestries stitched with skulls and crossbones.

Another mistress took over in 1624, when Gabrielle d'Estrées, the favourite of King Henry IV, inhabited the castle. After that, it was owned by Louise's heir César of Vendôme and his wife, Françoise of Lorraine, Duchess of Vendôme, and passed quietly down the Valois line of inheritance, alternately inhabited and abandoned for more than a hundred years.

Château de Chenonceau was bought by the Duke of Bourbon in 1720. Little by little, he sold off all of the castle's contents. Many of the fine statues ended up at Versailles. The estate itself was finally sold to a squire named Claude Dupin.

View of the arches and west facade of the Pont de Diane over the River Cher.

Claude's wife (daughter of financier Samuel Bernard and grandmother of George Sand), Madame Louise Dupin, brought life back to the castle by entertaining the leaders of The Enlightenment: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Buffon, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Pierre de Marivaux, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. She saved the château from destruction during the French Revolution, preserving it from being destroyed by the Revolutionary Guard because it was essential to travel and commerce, being the only bridge across the river for many miles. She is said to be the one who changed the spelling of the Château (from Chenonceaux to Chenonceau) to please the villagers during the French Revolution. She dropped the "x" at the end of the Château's name to differentiate what was a symbol of royalty from the Republic. Although no official sources have been found to support this legend, the Château has been since referred to and accepted as Chenonceau.

In 1864, Daniel Wilson, a Scotsman who had made a fortune installing gaslights throughout Paris, bought the château for his daughter. In the tradition of Catherine de' Medici, she would spend a fortune on elaborate parties to such an extent that her finances were depleted and the château was seized and sold to José-Emilio Terry, a Cuban millionaire, in 1891. Terry sold it in 1896 to a family member, Francisco Terry, and in 1913, the Menier family, famous for their chocolates, bought the château and still own it to this day.

During World War I the gallery was used as a hospital ward; during the Second War it was a means of escaping from the Nazi occupied zone on one side of the River Cher to the "free" zone on the opposite bank.

View of the château from the edge of the formal gardens to the west of the residence.

In 1951, the Menier family entrusted the château's restoration to Bernard Voisin, who brought the dilapidated structure and the gardens (ravaged in the Cher River flood in 1940) back to a reflection of its former glory.

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.

The château is classified as a Monument historique since 1840 by the French Ministry of Culture.[1]

Inside Chenonceau

The forecourt and the Marques tower

One of the main doors

In rebuilding the Chenonceau château in the 16th century, Thomas Bohier razed the castle-keep and the fortified mill of the Marques family, erecting the new château upon the piers of the former mill and keeping only the ancient donjon: The Marques Tower, which he transformed in Renaissance style. The forecourt reproduces the layout of the former medieval castle demarcated by the moats. Next to the tower, there is also a well decorated with a chimaera and an eagle - the emblem of the Marques family.

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".

The Guard's room

Originally this room was used by armed men, where they took time off their feet to rest.

Thomas Bohier's arms decorate the 16th century chimney, and on the 16th century oak door, beneath the figures of their patron saints (Saint Catherine and Saint Thomas), 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".

On the walls, a suite of 16th century Flemish tapestries represents scenes from castle life, a request for marriage and a hunt. The chests are Gothic and Renaissance. During the 16th century they contained silverware, crockery and tapestries with which the Court moved from one residence to another.

The ceiling, with exposed joists, has an intertwining "H" and "C" for Henry II. and Catherine de' Medici. However, to show his love for Diane de Poitiers, Henry had the ceiling created to look like a "D" and an "H". On the floor are the remains of 16th century majolica.

The Chapelle

The Stained Glass in the Chapel

From the Guards' Room, the Chapel can be reached through a door topped with a Statue of the Virgin. The leaves of this oak door represent Christ and Saint Thomas, and repeat the words of the Gospel according to Saint John "Lay your finger here" "You are my Lord and my God" (John 20:27).

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. Dominating the nave, the royal gallery where the queens attended Mass shows the date 1521.

To the right of the altar is a finely carved credence table which is decorated with the Bohier motto.

Inscriptions were left upon the walls of the chapel by Mary, Queen of Scots' Scottish guards: on the right, "Man's anger does not accomplish God's Justice" (dated 1543) and "Do not let yourself be won over by Evil" (dated 1546).

On the walls are several paintings with religious subjects: The Virgin in a blue veil by Il Sassoferrato, Jesus preaching before Ferdinand and Isabella by Alonso Cano, Saint Anthony of Padua by Murillo, and Assumption by Jouvenet.

The chapel was saved during the French Revolution by Madame Dupin, who had the idea of turning it into a wood store.

Diane de Poitiers' bedroom

Bedroom of Diane de Poitiers.

The room used by Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry II, has a 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 coffered ceiling also contains these initials.

The four-poster bed dates from the early 17th century and the Henry II armchairs are covered with cordovan leather. Over the fireplace is a 19th century portrait of Catherine de' Medici by Sauvage.

Two 16th century Flanders tapestries, of considerable size, portray :

- The triumph of Strength, riding on a chariot drawn by two lions, and surrounded by scenes from the Old Testament. The sentence in Latin running along the upper border can be translated as "He who loves the gifts of heaven with all his heart, does not shrink from deeds that Piety dictates".

Fireplace in Diane de Poitier's bedroom.

- The triumph of Charity, seen on a chariot, holding a heart in her hand and pointing to the sun ; she is surrounded by biblical episodes. The Latin inscription here can be translated as : "He who shows strength of heart in the face of danger, receives Salvation as a reward at his time of death".

To the left of the window, Virgin with child by Murillo.

To the right of the fireplace, there is a painting of the 18th century Italian school : Christ stripped of his clothes, by Francisco Ribalta, Jusepe de Ribera's master. Below this painting stands a bookcase holding the archives of Chenonceau ; one of the volumes, to be seen the showcase, bears the signatures of Thomas Bohier and Diane de Poitiers.

Green study

Catherine de' Medici, who became Regent of the kingdom during the minority of King Charles IX, ruled France from the study at Chenonceau. On the 16th century ceiling in its original state, you can make out two intertwining "C"s, and two 16th century Italian cabinets surround the door.

The exceptional 16th century Brussels tapestry known as "To the birthwort", both Gothic and Renaissance, is inspired by the discovery of the Americas, and their fauna and flora: it contains Peruvian silver pheasants, pineapples, orchids, pomegranates, animals and vegetables which until then were unknown in Europe. Its original green colour has been turning to blue with age.

On the walls, a collection of paintings of which the most important are:


The coffered ceiling in the library of Catherine de Medici.

The small room, which used to be Catherine de' Medici's, has a magnificent view of the Cher River and Diane's Garden.

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.

Above the door is the Holy Family by Andrea Del Sarto, and on both sides:

Two medallions Hébé and Ganymède, the cupbearers of the Gods, relieved near Olympia are of the 17th century French School.

The Gallery

The Gallery

From Diane de Poitiers' bedroom, a small passage returns to the Gallery.

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 metres long, six metres 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.

Each end holds a very beautiful Renaissance chimney, of which the one surrounding the Southern door (which leads to the left bank of the Cher) is only decorative.

The medallions on the walls were added in the 18th century and represent famous people.

During the First World War, Monsieur Gaston Menier, owner of Chenonceau, installed at his own expense a hospital whose different services occupied all of the Château's rooms.

During the Second World War, many people took advantage of the privileged location of the Gallery, whose Southern door provided access to the Free zone, whilst the Château's entrance was in the occupied zone.

The Hall

The hall 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.

At the entrance, above the doors, two recesses house the statues of Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Chenonceau and Italian Masdone in the style of Luca della Robbia.

Chenonceau kitchen stove


Chenonceau's kitchens are located in the huge bases which form the first two piers sitting on the bed of the river Cher. A bridge crosses from one pier to the other, leading to the kitchen itself. A platform where boats with supplies would draw alongside is, according to the legend, called Diane's bath.

The pantry is a low room with two intersecting vaults. Its 16th century chimney is the Château's largest, next to the bread oven.

The pantry serves:

  • The Dining room: reserved for Château staff.
  • The Butchery: in which you can still see the hooks for hanging game and the blocks for cutting it up.
  • The Larder.

During the First World War, the Renaissance Kitchens were fitted with the modern equipment that was needed for the Château to be transformed into a hospital.

Francis I's bedroom

Francis I's bedroom

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.

On the wall hangs a portrait of Diane de Poitiers as Diane the Huntress, by Francesco Primaticcio, a painter of the Fontainebleau School. The portrait was painted at Chenonceau in 1556; its frame bears the arms of Diane de Poitiers, duchess of Étampes.

On both sides are paintings by Mirevelt, Ravenstein, and a self-portrait by Van Dyck. Next to it is a large portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées as the huntress Diana by Ambroise Dubois. Surrounding the window is Archimedes by Francisco Zurbarán, and Two Bishops of the 17th century German school. To the right of the chimney, The Three Graces 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.

Louis XIV living room

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 - as well as the furniture covered in Aubusson tapestries and a Boulle style console.

The Louis XIV Living Room in 2005

On the Renaissance chimney, the Salamander and the Stoat conjure up the memory 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.). Above the console, "The child Jesus and Saint John the Baptist" by Rubens, purchased in 1889 at the sale of the King of Spain's Collection, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother.

The living room also offers a beautiful series of 18th century French paintings:

  • Van Loo's Portrait of King Louis XV
  • Nattier's Princess of Rohan
  • Netscher's Portrait of Chamillard, Minister of Louis XIV and Portrait of Man
  • Ranc's Portrait of Philip V, King of Spain

Also, a large portrait of Samuel Bernard, Louis XIV's banker, by Mignard.

Samuel Bernard, who was very rich, was also the father of Madame Dupin, whose grace and intelligence are underlined in her portrait by Nattier. Madame Dupin, grandmother by marriage to George Sand, was the owner of Chenonceau in the 18th century. Her kindness and generosity saved Chenonceau from destruction during the French Revolution.

The staircase

From the hall, an 16th century oak door provides access to the staircase. Its sculpted leaves represent Old Law (under the figure of a blindfolded lady, with a book and a pilgrim's stick) and New Law (with an uncovered face and holding a palm and a chalice).

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).

The staircase with two banisters is intersected by a landing forming loggia with a balustrade from which you can discover a view over the Cher.

Catherine Briconnet's hall

The First Floor hall is tiled with small baked clay tiles stamped with a fleur de lis crossed by a dagger. The ceiling has exposed joists.

Above the doors, marble medallions, brought from Italy by Catherine de' Medici, show Roman emperors : Galba, Claudius, Germanicus, Vitellius and Nero. The suite of six 17th century audernade tapesteries represents hunting scenes according to Van Der Meulen's sketches.

Five Queens' bedroom

Five queens' bedroom

This bedroom is thus 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 walls are covered with a 16th century Flemish tapestry suite representing : the siege of Troy and the kidnapping of Hélène, Circus Games in the Coliseum and the crowning of King David. Another tapestry shows an episode from the life of Samson.

The furniture made up of a large four poster bed, two Gothic credence tables topped with the heads of two women in polychrome wood and a studded travel chest.

On the walls are:

  • Rubens' Worshipping the Wise Men, a study for the large painting which today is in the Prado Museum.
  • Mignard's Portrait of the Duchess of Olonne.
  • 17th century Italian school Apollo at the home of Admete the Argonaut.

Catherine de' Medici's bedroom

Bedroom of Catherine de Medici.

This bedroom has beautiful 16th century sculpted furniture and is decorated with a series of 16th century Flemish tapesteries retracing Samson's life.

They are remarkable for their edges filled with animals symbolising proverbs and fables, for example the fable of The Crayfish and the Oyster or Skill is greater than Cunning.

The chimney and the floor tiles are Renaissance.

To the right of the bed The teaching of Love by Correggio painted on wood, of which the London National Gallery has a version painted on canvas

Estampes exhibition room

These small apartments decorated with a ceiling and chimney dating from the 18th century in one part and from the 16th century in the second, bring together a collection of drawings and engravings of Chenonceau of which the oldest dates back to 1560 and the most recent to the 19th century.

Cesar of Vendôme's bedroom

This room reminds us of Cesar of Vendôme, son of King Henry IV and Gabrielle d'Estrées, who became owner of Chenonceau in 1624.

The following are worth noting :

  • A most beautiful ceiling with exposed joists which support a cornice decorated with canons.
  • The renaissance chimney was painted in the 19th century with Thomas Bohier's coat-of-arms.
  • The window opening to the West is surrounded by two 17th century wooden caryatids.
  • The walls are hung with a suite of three 17th century Brussels tapestries illustrating the ancient myth of Demeter and Persephone.
The journey of Demeter and Persephone to Hell gives its fruits to Mankind, Persephone returns to spend six months on Earth, a mythological symbol for the alternating seasons.
The most beautiful edges, typical of Brussels, represent the garlands of fruits and flowers coming from the cornucopia.
  • The four-poster bed and the furniture in this room are from the 16th century.
  • To the left of the window is a painting by Murillo, Portrait of Saint Joseph.

Gabrielle d'Estrées' bedroom

This bedroom evokes the memory of Gabrielle d'Estrées, King Henry IV's favourite, and mother to his illegitimate son César of Vendôme.

The ceiling with visible joists, the ground, the chimney and the furniture are Renaissance. Near to the four-poster bed, a 16th century Flemish tapestry.

Hanging on the three other walls is a very rare suite of tapestries known as The Lucas months:

  • June - Cancer.
  • The shearing of sheep.
  • July - Leo.
  • Falcon hunting.
  • August - Virgo.
  • Paying the Harvesters.

Their sketches are by Lucas van Leyden or Lucas Van Nevele. Above the cabinet, a 17th century Florence school canvas represents Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. Above the door, Francisco Ribalta Child to the Lamb.

Second floor hall

This hall has kept intact the restoration work carried out during the 19th century by the architect Roguet, one of Viollet-le-Duc's disciples. Note the 19th century Neuilly tapestry symbolizing the Cher, on which a Venetian gondola is portrayed; the gondola was actually brought to Chenonceau in the 19th century, with its gondolier, by Madame Pelouze, the owner at that time. The two credence tables as well as the floor stones are Renaissance

Louise of Lorraine's bedroom

Louise of Lorraine's bedroom

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.

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". Her bedroom has been reconstructed around the original ceiling. It is decorated with mourning objects : silver tears, widows' cordons, crowns of thorns and the Greek letter - l - lambda, Louise's initial, intertwined with the H of Henry III.

The devout and mournful atmosphere of this room is highlighted by Christ with a crown of thorns and the religious scene – a 16th century painting on wood – which decorates the chimney. The furniture is from the 16th century.


Catherine de Medici's gardens

On the right, Diane de Poitiers' garden, the entrance to which is overlooked by the Steward's house: La Chancellerie, built in the 16th century. In the centre of the garden, there is a fountain described by Jacques Androuet du Cerceau in his book entitled Les plus Excellents Bâtiments de France (The most Excellent Buildings in France - 1576).

This garden is protected from flooding by the Cher by elevated terraces from which there are beautiful views over the borders and over the Château. On the left, The more intimate garden of Catherine de' Medici, with a central pool and from which we discover the West façade.

The Gardens' floral decoration changes in the spring and in the summer needs 130,000 bedding plants grown on the Estate to be planted. Lining the Court of Honour, the domes building, from the 16th century, formerly housed the Royal Stables and the silk worm farm introduced into France by Catherine de' Medici. Also, the 16th century farm and the 70 hectare park can also be visited.

Alongside the Grand Avenue of Plane trees, in the centre of the arbour and facing the caryatides, a maze with two thousand yews has been planted in the spirit of Catherine de' Medici's time, according to an Italian plan dating from 1720.


See also

External links

Coordinates: 47°19′30″N 1°04′14″E / 47.3250°N 1.0706°E / 47.3250; 1.0706

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