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From Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, edited and translated by Esther Singleton; New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1901; pp. 174-178.


Château de Chenonceaux*


Black and white photograph of Château de Chenonceaux, France, with the river Cher in the foreground, taken in the late 19th century.


UNLIKE so many other châteaux of Blaissons and Tourraine, Chenonceaux awakens only gay and happy thoughts. Chambord possesses the calm gravity of a monastery; Amboise is a prison; Blois bears upon its face its blot of blood. All the other retreats of the royal Valois and all the châteaux of their courtiers, grouped in such number upon the banks of the Cher, the Vienne, and the Loire — Loches, Chinon, Plessis-les-Tours, Luynes, Saumur, Brissac, — speak of treachery, perfidy, revenge, conspiracy and all the wicked tendencies of human nature. Chenonceaux alone recalls only memories of youth, elegance, poetry, and love. There is no blood upon its stones. The gentlest and the most charming figures of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century, Diane de Poitiers, Mary Stuart, Gabrielle and Françoise de’Mercœur come in succession to animate that smiling nature and to reflect their fair faces in its clear waters. Catherine de Medicis, in passing through this beautiful place, here dropped a little of her cold and imperious gravity: she has left only the memory of that orgy-like and splendid banquet that cost more than a million of our money, and where Madame de Sauve, half naked, was the stewardess.


The widow of Henri III., promenading in her long robes of mourning, lent it another charm, — that of melancholy; and when Rousseau, at last raised that voice there which could gather together tempests, it was not philosophy, nor social conditions, nor the rights of man of which he spoke: it was still love and poetry.

Chenonceaux, by means of its position, its architecture, and its history, is so near the other châteaux on the banks of the Loire, neighbouring and contemporary pearls, that it is impossible to detach it from that jewel-case. However, it is not on the Loire, the river of severe horizons and majestic wearisomeness; it is on a less proud and more smiling little river, the Cher, three leagues from Amboise, that this palace of Armida was built. It rears itself upon the bosom of this charming stream which stops here in a lazy curve as if to linger and bathe its walls, delighting in reflecting those graceful towers and enchanted gardens in its liquid depths. No other palace that I know rises thus, like Venus from the breast of the waves, without any link to the earth save a single bridge at one of its extremities. It was a woman who had this charming idea that gives to the château a somewhat fairy-like and supernatural effect: for Chenonceaux is not, as is too often believed, the work of Thomas Bohier, but of his wife, who consecrated to this work, conceived in love, the treasures that her husband sent her from Italy. There are two other women, Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’Medici who completed while enlarging the thought of Catherine Briçonnet. It seems that women only could possess a sufficiently 176 light hand to touch such a delicate work and to design the plan.

It was at the north-east corner of the court of honour, between the stream and the gardener’s house, that MM. Sechan and Déplechein placed themselves to paint the picture used for the scenery in the second act of Les Huguenots. This choice proved a familiar general view. No other spot shows Chenonceaux in a more complete and picturesque aspect. Seen from this point the château presents itself obliquely, which enables the eye to embrace at the same time the principal façade and the entire construction of the western side, from the apsis of the chapel to the end of the gallery that crosses the Cher.

The foreground of the picture is charming.

At the right and in the corner, the court of honour precedes its royal avenue of plantains and ends with its stone balustrades. Behind this balustrade, stands the beautiful tower with a roof like a pepper box, which is used as the porter’s lodge, and which, built upon the firm ground, seems like a timid sister watching her big sisters bathing their feet in the river without daring to follow them.

In the middle distance, is the bridge with its three unequal arches and its heavy buttresses alongside of their half moons in brackets. Beyond the bridge, is the principal façade, flanked with two corbelled towers presenting under a flying buttress its large caryatides, its two balconies in hemicycle, and three charming dormer windows that crown it. Farther along in the centre of the picture, is the apsis of the chapel with its long lancets flaming in the sun, supported, 177 like the principal front, by those heavy courses of stone in which are the kitchen offices of the castle; then comes the beautiful eastern front that surmounts the great arch and occupies the centre of the stream which, as well as the whole corresponding western front, must certainly be attributed to Diane de Poitiers, for its windows, its architrave and all the details of its entablature bear the mark of the reign of Henri II.

Finally, to the left of the picture, are the five arches of the bridge built for Diane to connect the left bank of the Cher with the great pavilion and, above this bridge, the two stages of galleries constructed by Androuet du Cerceau for Catherine de’Medici, with their little turrets with arched windows corresponding to the peers, and forming so many terraces for the second gallery.

All this, with the river for the foreground and with the large trees on both banks for a frame, and the trees of the gardens for perspective, and the tops, formerly gilded, of the gallery and the large pavilion, the ornamented chimneys, the peaked roofs and the vanes of the turrets, peaks, dormer windows, chimneys and weather-vanes, vaporously melting into the beautiful sky of Touraine; all this, I say, forms a complete whole that would ravish any painter and one that in truth is worthy of the honour paid to it by M. Scribe at the Opéra. No false tone and no ungraceful nor violent line disturbs the harmony of this beautiful picture. Minds that love parallelism and symmetry may regret undoubtedly that the enthusiasm of political life did not permit Catherine de’Medici to complete that beautiful conception and build 178 upon the left bank of the Cher a large pavilion similar to that on the right bank: the gallery, which does not come to-day any further than the steep bank of the river, would then have occupied the centre of the building. But, perhaps, there is in this incompleteness of Chenonceaux, which permits everybody to finish it in dreams according to his pleasure, something that saves it from banality; perhaps it gains, instead of losing, by exciting that admiration mingled with regrets and also with criticism which the greater number of men, by an inherent weakness of nature, prefer to the enthusiasm without reservation that is the right of a perfect work.

Elf.Ed. Notes

*  Thanks to the kindness of my bon ami, Bernard Blumberg, of www.Bucovine.com, here is the page with his magnificent pictures of the Château of Chenonceaux.


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