Recently on the French news there was a story about the 180 million Euros of restoration work going on at the Domaine de Chantilly, which is an easy day-trip from Paris. So easy, in fact, that I can’t imagine why I haven’t done it before now. After seeing this clip, however, it’s definitely on my list.
The Château dates back to the Middle Ages, but only vestiges of the original structure remain. In the 17th century, it became the property of the Duc de Condé who hired André Le Nôtre to design the layout of the park. Under Condé’s hand, the château became a cultural center for people as diverse as writer La Fontaine and woman of letters Madame de Sévigné. Molière presented Tartuffe here at one of the Duc’s grand balls.
When the property passed to the Duc’s son, the Prince of Condé, he hired Jules Hardouin-Mansart to build a splendid new château. Magnificent stables followed, as well as an interior decor that was so lavish that the Prince created his own porcelain factory to supply the decorations. His son, in turn, carried out many projects, including creating a fake village that inspired the one that Marie-Antoinette created on the grounds of Versailles. When the Bastille fell, the Prince left with his family and created “the army of Condé.” The contents of the château were seized and placed in the Louvre and the château and its grounds were heavily damaged. When it was safe to live in France, the Prince returned, obtained the restitution of his property and started restoration work on the château and gardens.
The property then passed to the Orléans family in the 19th century. The Duc hired an architect to rebuild the main part of the château. He left the château to the French Institute (the group that includes the Académie Française as well as four others) to be turned into a museum. The museum closes every winter to allow for renovations and maintenance but it just reopened on February 1.
One of the rooms that you’ll want to see is the Grande Singerie (grahnd san-zjer-ee), or the Great Monkey Room. This room benefitted from a painstaking restoration and is now back to its original splendor. Twenty-five specialists scraped, painted, and gilded for six months. The small boudoir has six panels depicting monkeys dressed as humans and engaging in all of the activities that would have been typical for a resident of the château in the late 17th century. Chinese figures and motifs are an important part of the design because Orientalism was en vogue. Even the Prince de Condé shows up, dressed as an alchemist. The restoration is so precise that the monkeys have delicately painted whiskers and even eye-lashes.
As I mentioned, 180 million Euros are being expended on the château. The cost is being shared by two private organizations: a Foundation created by the Aga Khan, and the World Monuments Fund, an international organization that raises funds to preserve heritage sites as diverse as the temples at Angkor Wat and monuments in Venice.
To visit the château, take the train from the Gare du Nord to Chantilly-Gouvieux, then take the Keolis bus marked “Senlis.” Get off the bus at Chantilly-Église Notre Dame and walk past the stables to the château.
- 18th-century French chateau razed ‘by mistake’ (sfgate.com)
- The Aga Khan’s Earthly Kingdom: Vanity Fair Feature (ismailimail.wordpress.com)
- Chateau de Chenonceau (ireport.cnn.com)