The Royal Château de Blois. Mediaeval architecture in France.

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Plate 7. Gateway of the Royal Château de Blois.

PALACE AT BLOIS.

The Royal Château de Blois.

From the year 1391, when Louis, duke of Touraine, and brother of the king of France, Charles VI., became possessed of the county and chateau of Blois, down to the reign of Henri Quatre, the history of this Palace forms an indispensable link in the chain of events which mark the history of France during the same period.

The duke Louis had purchased the property of Guy Chatillon, count of Blois, for two hundred thousand francs 1), which he was enabled to pay out of the dowry of his wife, the Lady Valentine of Milan. About the same time he also acquired the county and dukedom of Orleans, in exchange for those of Touraine; and taking up his residence at Blois, we find the chateau from that time connected with the house of Orleans until the third duke of that race became elevated to the throne of France, in the person of Louis XII., who, continuing to reside in the castle of his predecessors, ultimately raised the chateau of Blois to the dignity of a palace.

The edifice which previously occupied the site of the present Palace, and of which some few remains exist, was a castle of the twelfth or thirteenth century. Its arrangement was that of castles of the same epochs, having two courts, viz., the basse, or lower one, and that of the cour de logis, or upper court, and was built by the first count of Blois 2). Of the existing remains of this castle we find the salle des états, the pillars and arches of which are of twelfth-century work; the tour des oubliettes, which is now found masked by the constructions of Francis I.; the tour de foix, which Catherine de Medicis made into an observatory; 3) and the chapel of St. Calais, the foundation of which is also the work of the twelfth century.

1) An amusing story is given by Froissart of the sale of the property.
2) The Palace of Blois affords an example of successive changes in the buildings, from the original castle to the period of the Renaissance.
3) She built a pavilion on its summit, wherein is a stone table with a line drawn across the opposite angles; by applying the eye to one end of this line, the observer may see the grand fleur-de-lis which forms the highest point of the Chateau Chambord.

Some buildings near the observatory are the work of the first duke of Orleans of the house of Valois; but, besides these, no other works of the period remain, either of this prince or of his successor, Charles. It is, however, to the third duke, Louis, and son of Charles, when he ascended the throne under the title of Louis XII., that we owe the erection of the corps de logis, or that part of the Palace which forms the subject of the following notice.

This corps de logis stands upon the site of those buildings wherein Louis was born and is built of red bricks, with highly enriched dressings of stone. It consists of two staircase towers of different sizes, surmounted by high-pitch roofs and dormer windows, and connected together by an open arcade below and a corridor above. Some of the pillars supporting the arcade are diapered with fleurs-de-lis, and with ermine spots; others are ornamented with arabesque foliage. On the blank wall forming the opposite side of the arcade there was once painted a Danse Macabre or, a Dance of Death.

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Interior of the Palace at Blois. View of the Entrance.

The apartments on the ground-floor consisted of a kitchen, constructed with a single pillar in the centre to receive the vaulting, a small guard chamber, and sundry other apartments, the purpose of which is unknown.

The first-floor contained the bedchamber and sitting-room of the king. From the balcony of the window of the former room Louis was accustomed to converse
with Cardinal Amboise, whose hotel occupied one of the angles of the basse cour. The window is still shown from which the cardinal used to answer the inquiries of his master.

The entrance-gateway of this corps de logis, of which a view is given (Plate 7) has a large canopied recess over it. This recess, the back of which was decorated with gilt fleurs-de-lis upon an azure ground, once contained a bronze equestrian statue of Louis XII., which was of Italian workmanship. Above the doorway of the foot-entrance was sculptured the figure of a porcupine, now destroyed 4).

Below the statue of the king were these verses, composed by Fausto Andrelini, Louis’s favourite poet, who we are told was above composing in French:—

Hie, ubi natus erat, dextro Ludovicus Olympo
Sumpsit honoratâ Regia Sceptra Manu,
Felix qui tanti fulsit. Lux nuntia Regis.
Gallia non alio Principe digna fuit.

Faustus, 1498.

In the tympana of the dormer windows of the façade next the basse cour were the arms and ciphers of Louis and his second wife, Anne of Brittany. These memorials are destroyed, except those of the window over the entrance. This facade had, no doubt, at one time, a parapet, from the presence of the gargoyles, which are wanting on the opposite side, their place being supplied by water-pipes, for which the ornamental chases in the building still remain.

The roof is covered with the Angers slates; and the lead flashings upon the ridges of the main roofs, and those of the dormer windows, were historiated with the arms of France and Brittany, and with the badges of the cordelière and the porcupine. Traces of these remain, as also sundry small projections, from which it would appear that a lead ridge once completed the composition.

In the interior of the corps de logis no remains of coloured decorations have been preserved. The beams of the rooms were moulded; and the timbers of the attics, which are now so bare, appear as though they had once been lined with wainscot-work. There is a tradition, that the ladies of the court used these
attics.

4) The Porcupine, or Porc-épic, was an order founded by Louis, first duke of Orleans, who thereby sought to convince his rival, the duke of Burgundy, that he would be found armed at all parts. The motto of the order was, “Cominus et eminus,”— from far and near,— referring to the fabulous power attributed to the animal of darting out its quills.

From the description which has come down to us of the visit of the archduke and duchess of Austria to Blois, in 1501, we also learn that tapestry formed the
principal decoration of the walls of the rooms 5); that the fireplaces had dosselets of cloth of gold, frisé; and that, amongst other things, there was a gilt chain, fort bien menuisée, venant d’Italic.

It may be said generally of the work of Louis XII. at Blois, that there is a marked appearance of Italian influence in all its sculpture; and there can be little doubt but that the better-executed parts are the work of some of those artists whom, Philip de Commines informs us, Charles VIII. brought from Italy to decorate the chateau of Amboise.

Much of the foliage decorations consist of the acanthus, treated in a very graceful manner. The arabesques on the pillars of the arcade do not appear to be so well executed as the other parts; but in the little panel over the entrance door we see the Italian element, not only in the delicate sculpture, but even in some of the mouldings.

The basse cour, in front of the corps de logis, was formerly surrounded by the inferior offices of the palace, some hotels of the courtiers, and a large conventual church, in which latter building many royal personages had their obsequies celebrated before the final transit to the church of St. Denis. Louis XII. rebuilt the chapel of St. Calais,—of which two bays are destroyed,—and incorporated in its erection the remains of the former one before alluded to. From what remains of the chapel it appears to have been of some length, and terminated by an apse. The ribs of the vaulting interpenetrate upon round engaged columns, and the bosses which cover their intersection at the crown of the vault are circular medallions, containing the arms of Louis and his queen, Anne.

There was once within this chapel a tribune of wood, wonderfully carved, in which the king used to assist at the divine offices; also some very rich ornaments for the altar, and a picture of the Virgin, by Perugino. The whole of the open space, now called the Place des Jesuits, was once occupied by the gardens of the Palace.

These were much improved by Anne of Brittany, who had in her service several Italian gardeners in holy orders, which may explain the fact of a small oratory being attached to their residence. This oratory and residence still remain.

The area was divided into the higher and lower gardens, the latter of which were well furnished with trellised walks and small summer-houses. Of the latter, the most celebrated was in the shape of an octagon, with four niches in its sides, and was lighted from above by a lantern. Within, it was covered with beautiful menuiserie, and contained a marble fountain of three stages, some remains of which are preserved in the Museum.

5) The reader will find this fact confirmed by referring to the illustrations of Blois in Montfaucon’s “Antiquities of France.”

This little edifice was also extensively decorated with the cordelière; and it is said that to it Anne retired when the king, Louis, was excommunicated by the pope.

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Interior of the Palace at Blois. View of the Staircase.

It was in this Palace that Louis XII. received the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, and his duchess, in 1504 (De la Saussaye) and we learn that these guests arrived at Blois riding on haquenées *) harnessed in red velvet, with six hundred horses in their procession. The duchess of Vendome, who had gone to meet the archduchess, followed, with her female attendants, on a haquenée caparisoned in black velvet.

*) A haquenée is a horse or more frequently a mare of gentle pace, usually going to the amble, frequently ridden by ladies of the Middle Ages.

On the arrival of the cortège in the basse cour, the archduke was received with the sound of trumpets, clarions, and tambourines. From the entry of the basse cour to the door of the Palace were two ranks of archers of the guard, clothed in their hoquetons d’orfévrerie, with halberds in their hands; from this door to the grand staircase were placed the Swiss; and from the staircase through the great hall to the king’s chamber the space was occupied by four hundred archers.

The account of the reception is exceedingly curious, and relates how that the throne of the king was placed on a large tapis vein before the fireplace; how the king received the archduchess; and how she consented to kiss him, having declared before she came to Blois that she would not do so; then, how the archduchess visited the queen, and little Madame Claude, who would cry, and was obliged to be taken away; and how the archduke supped with les Sieurs de Nevers, whilst the king supped alone upon bread and water, as he was very pious.

All this, and much more, is told with great accuracy, especially about the various rich tapestries in the chambers, and the ceremony of taking the spicery into the chamber of the archduchess; with a description of the drageoirs, or comfit-boxes, and other vessels employed on that occasion.

Source: Illustrations of mediaeval architecture in France, from the accession of Charles VI. to the demise of Louis XII.; by Henry Clutton. London, Nattali and Bond 1856.

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