500 years ago, Chateau de Chambord’s birth, Leonardo’s death – Meanderings through France n° 190
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
If leaving today no doubt that François 1er would have made tabloids headlines very often. In 1519 the 25 year-old French King was a tall and attractive man, cultured and brave, who also was an art lover and a patron of many artists, the most famous one being Leonardo de Vinci. His reign marks the beginning of the French Renaissance and under his impetus no less than twelve chateaux were built including Chambord, the most astonishing one of them all. All through 2019 special events celebrate this very special anniversary.
Although Leonardo died only a few months before Chambord’s construction began in September 1519 he undoubtedly left an indelible mark in this castle. After the 1515 Italian campaign François 1er fell in love with the Italian Renaissance style and he invited Leonardo to come and work in France. All the archives concerning the construction of Chambord were destroyed during the French Revolution and the name of its architect is gone with them. But there are so many indications of Leonardo’s ingenious inventions in its architecture such as the Greek cross plan, the unique double spiral staircase or even the sealing system of the terraces, that it is obvious that he took an active role in its conception. An extensive exhibition set on the third floor of the chateau tells us this amazing story with rare illuminated manuscripts, sketches, paintings, scale models and original pages of Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus.
World famous designer Jacques Garcia has been asked to re-create several rooms of the chateau in a French Renaissance style. In François 1er’s time the King and his court used to travel from one castle to another without staying very long in each place. This is the reason why castles were not furnished in between two visits and all the furniture, tapestries and works of art were taken from places to places by an army of servants. Amazingly Renaissance style decoration has never been made in Chambord. That has now been done! Jacques Garcia has achieved a perfect evocation of what the King’s bedroom, his study or the reception rooms might have looked like in the 16th century. Precious velvet and silk wall hangings have been created especially for the occasion, Renaissance furniture and decoration objects are now back where they belong.
Three years after the re-installation of the classical perspectives and their French borders in the chateau’s garden, a brand new vegetable garden is now opening in Chambord. Over 40 different organic fruits and vegetable will grow in the garden and be on sale in a dedicated shop. They will also be available in the estate’s restaurants and in the nearby villages and towns. The very first harvest is expected this June if weather allows!
To commemorate the beginning of the construction works 500 years ago a block of stone will be following the same trip as the stones used to build the castle. For five days it will be taken by boat from the city of Tours to Saint-Dié-sur-Loire that used to be Chambord’s port where all the materials were sent before getting to the construction site. The stone trip will end on September 26 with a big evening party where everyone is invited (free of charge).
This year to celebrate the link between Italian and French Renaissances the Chambord Music Festival is inviting Italian music and musicians. Classical or contemporary, Italian music will be the guest of honour from 28 June till 13 July.
On the occasion of the 500th anniversary special Chambord Souvenirs have been created and will be on sale in the chateau’s shop. Since a few years Chambord has a vineyard and produces its own organic wines. A special 500 years vintage will soon be available (30 Euro for a bottle of white wine, 17,50 Euro for a bottle of red). The “Faiencerie de Gien” is a famous earthenware factory created on the bank of the Loire River 200 years ago. They produce fine crockery with classical or modern design. This year they have created a “Chambord” collection ornate with black and white pictures of wild animals from the Chambord forest such as deer, boar, hare or pheasant… Elegant and useful it will be available next September.
Unique, astonishing, mysterious, enchanting, fun… there are many words to describe Chambord and all through its 500th year this beautiful old lady will be more appealing than ever!
More at www.chambord.org/en
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes