HISTORY OF THE ROYAL ABBEY IN CHAALIS
Chaalis made its first appearance in history in the 8th century (709) as a simple windmill "Cadolaicus" perhaps a place name of Celtic origin – which was to become "Chaalis".
- THE ROYAL ABBEY
Louis VI founded the Cistercian monastery of Chaalis on 10 th January 1137 in memory of Charles the Good, Count of Flanders who had been massacred at Bruges.
This abbey's church was consecrated in 1219 by the illustrious brother Guerin, then Bishop of Beauvais. Almost immediately after its foundation, the abbey became incontestably renowned largely due to the quality of its priors or abbots. It was certainly during the 14th century, however, that the monastery celebrated the period of its greatest splendor. The scrivener and secretary to the king, Jean de Montreuil wrote "The Abbey of Chaalis is a kind of earthly paradise inhabited by saints. It is surrounded by fountains, streams and small torrents, whose clear waters murmur softly as they flow. There are ten great ponds, very profitable, filled with an infinite number of fishes, which have such an exquisite flavor that I do not believe I have ever eaten better. I admire the beautiful forest that nourishes a quantity of wild boars, stags, hares and rabbits which emerge constantly from their lairs and burrows in great numbers. The abbey was surrounded by ditches and walls. The church was approached via a portico, and the author declares that the interior, with its 25 chapels, surpasses all those he had seen elsewhere, in beauty and brightness. The refectory, almost 55 meters long, occupies a whole wing of the cloister. The magnificent guest houses lodge visitors from the outside world. As for the abbot's house, he said that if he described it, he would seem to be evoking the palace of some prince of royal blood. The place is so conducive to study that it is easy to believe the muses have chosen to reside there and have often held their assemblies at Chaalis."
- COMMENDAM AND THE RENAISSANCE
Like most abbeys, Chaalis was placed in commendam. This means that the king conferred the abbotship on an outsider, who was entitled to collect his share of the abbey revenue, since this income was divided between the monks, where it paid for their upkeep (the monastery share), and the abbot. In 1554, the king gave the post of commendatory abbot to his cousin Hippolyte d'Este "Cardinal of Ferrara" who spent most of his time at the royal court of Fontainebleau. The prelate, with his love of luxury, was one of those who contributed to the flowering of Renaissance Art in France. He reaped the benefits from the surplus of the abbey revenue, and this enabled him to undertake some important renovation work in the spirit of the Italian Renaissance, for which he had already shown a taste in the building of his famous "Villa d'Este" in Tivoli. He had the abbot's chapel decorated with frescoes attributed to Francesco Primaticcio. These frescoes were restored during the 19th century. Behind the abbot's mansion, modernised in its turn, lay the former monks' cemetery. This was embellished in the manner of an Italian garden, and given a monumental portal bearing the Cardinal's arms, set in the middle of a crenellated wall attributed to Serlio. This part is today a rose garden. Inside the monastery enclosure, the park has been redesigned, and a view created by the digging of a grand canal, fed by the river "Launette". At the head of this canal is an ornamental pond, shaped like a half-moon.
- The 18th and the 19th Century
This part of the abbey grounds calls to mind the gardens of the "Villa d'Este" in Tivoli.
THE NEW ABBEY IN THE 18TH CENTURY
By the beginning of the 18th century, the abbey was in poor condition. Its upkeep had been neglected, and it was in urgent need of repair. This provided the opportunity to modernise the building. In 1730, the abbey was given in commendam to a prince of the blood, Louis de Bourbon, Count of Clermont. In 1736, the plans were entrusted to the architect Jean Aubert who, after constructing the beautiful hÃ´tel Biron in Paris, had just finished the great stables at Chantilly for the Duke, the abbot's brother. In June 1739, these plans were approved and the destruction of the gothic cloister began. At the same time, the interior renovation of the abbey church was going on, and the brothers Slodtz were entrusted with stalls and sculptures. In place of the former cloister, which was square shaped, an enormous rectangular one had been planned but only the north-facing building was built. After the revolution, the abbey was sold as a national asset, the work of art were put up for auction, the abbey was treated as a quarry and the stones were sold to serve as building materials.
MADAME DE VATRY
In 1851 she bought Chaalis and decided to transform the former abbey into a permanent castel. Madame de Vatry was well received in fashionable society, and was friendly with princes of the house of Orleans, especially the Duke of Chartres, the Prince of Joinville and the Duke of Aumale who were her neighbours at Chantilly. Madame de Vatry entrusted to the architect Corroyer, disciple of Viollet-le-Duc, the restoration of the Abbey Chapel. After the death of the Baronne de Vatry, Chaalis passed to her nephew Hainguerlot, then to his widow who married Prince Murat.
In 1902, the estate was put up for sale, and Madame Jacquemart-AndrÃ© bought it, with all its outbuildings. She had known Chaalis in her youth, in Mme de Vatry's time.
NÃ©lie Jacquemart, born in 1841 into a modest family in Lorraine, was the widow of Edouard AndrÃ©, a very rich member of the protestant banking elite and a great collector of works of art. She had met him in her role of society portrait painter; she painted the banker in 1874 and then married him in 1882. After the death of her husband in 1894, Madame Jacquemart-AndrÃ© continued to show a passionate interest in this collection, but soon the hotel on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris was full. When she learned the chÃ¢teau de Chaalis was for sale, she did not hesitate to buy it, after a long travel
through India. She was free to accumulate furniture and works of art of all kinds, to travel a lot and brought back whole cargoes of works of art. Madame Jacquemart-AndrÃ© died in 1912, after making a will bequeathing her Parisian hÃ´tel and all the collections housed there, and also the Chaalis estate with all its outbuildings and its collections, to the INSTITUT DE FRANCE. She was buried in the former chapel at Chaalis, where she had arranged many of the sculptures she loved.
THE JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU COLLECTION
In 1921, the Count of Girardin sold his collection to the Institut de France. The Girardin collection comprises one of the most extensive assortments of documents of all kinds connected with J.J. Rousseau. The collection was composed of several hundred pieces; busts by Houdon, painted portraits etcâ€¦ Innumerable engravings, representations of the philosopher dressed in the style of the period or in the costume of classical antiquity, cast in bronze, in terracotta, in plaster, in biscuit-ware, on playing cards.
THE HENRI AMIC COLLECTION
In 1932, Henri Amic bequeathed a fine collection of boxes and other objects in Sainte-Lucie wood and Japanese "inros", paintings and drawings by Bastien Lepage and Dagnan-Bouveret.
TOUR THROUGH THE MUSEUM AND ITS COLLECTION
- The Hall
At the end is a very large and fine Beauvais tapestry, from a cartoon of 1749 by FranÃ§ois Boucher (Venus ordering weapons for Aeneas, from Vulcan); in front of this tapestry is a bust of Louis XIV in stone from the workshop of Coysevox. You can also find two large terracotta statues and a self-portrait in stone by A. Coysevox. The last statue represents Diana the huntress, probably from the studio of Lemoyne.
- The Medieval and Renaissance room
We call it monks hall, the number of objects in this room cannot be fully enumerated here. You can see three bishop's crosiers in copper and Limousin enamel from the 13th century, excavated in the abbatial church, two panels with a background in gold by Giotto and paintings from the workshops of Botticelli (virgin and child), , Signorelli, Jean Bellegambe, Van Cleve and some statues by Gagini.
- West corridor
In this corridor, pieces of porcelain and pharmacists'pots from Italy, England, Germany and France are exhibited.
- The great gallery of sculpted busts
The great gallery on the ground floor is 73 meters long, 4 meters wide, and 7 meters high. It displays a remarkable assortment of gothic and Renaissance coffers and numerous busts of the most famous sculptors from Italy ( Baccio Bandinelli, Vittoriaâ€¦) and from France (Pajou, Lemoine, Houdon â€¦) In the display cabinets, many works of antiquity and objets from Egypt, India, Siria, Burma, some Renaissance caskets and precious books with heraldic bindings of popes, kings, princes and bishops.
- The dining room
Four canvases decorate the walls, hanging, on your left by Oudry, and on your right by Desportes. Between the doors, you can see a painting for a tapestry by Boucher. Opposite is a bust of Lebrun, first painter to the king, in painted plaster according to Coysevox, and an exceptional Louis XVI wall clock in gilded bronze. On the console is a collection of lidded vases and flowerpot holders in porcelain of the style "de la compagnie des Indes" bearing the royal arms. A large Moghan carpet is on the floor. Before the door of the library, a marvellous folding-screen painted by Huet, with monkeys-games.
- The library
There are several fine examples of furniture : desk, chairs, deckchair, armchairs In front of you is a very nice Boulle style piece of furniture, a watercolour by Eugene Lami and two Chinese vases. A part of the books come from the collection of the king Louis-Philippe.
- The central hall
This entrance is chiefly devoted to the Medici family and the Italian Renaissance. Four panels of Italian tapestry bear the arms of the Medici family as well as armchairs, amphoras and bronze mortars and the original model of the statue of Ferdinado de' Medici standing up again the city of Pisa, by Giambologna.
- The billiard room
In the centre of the room is a large rosewood billiard table with a cue-holder, from the Charles X period. Down the sides, there are two screens; one in Savonnerie tapestry with four panels, patterned with vases and birds and another in genoese velvet. On the wall are five large canvases by "Martin des Batailles"of the mlilitary campaigns of Louis XIV and a portrait of the king. The museum houses a great many pieces of Chinese enamel : vases, flowerpot holders, tall bottles..
- The living room
On the walls, there are some very fine portraits. On your left is a portrait of Puan (King's secretary) by TocquÃ© and a portrait of an architect, about 1670, by Kneller; on your right, there is a portrait of Mr de Beaujon by Van Loo and another of the Marquis de Razilly by LargilliÃ¨re. In this room, you have furniture of renown stamped with the maker's name.
- The Oriental or Indo-Burmese room
This room is divided into two parts :
Â· The carpets on the opposite wall, the chest and the Buddhas are from Burma.
Â· The other objects are from India.
On the left handside of the wall, hangs a carpet from an elephant palanquin. In front of it stands a marble replica of the, "Grand Mogholâ€™s" throne, a copy of the original ivory one. Many objects have been offered to Mrs AndrÃ© by the Maharadjah of Kapurthala. In the display cases, one can see some objects acquired during her trip to the Orient in 1902, the same year that she bought Chaalis. Ancient altars made of stuccoed and gilded wood, images of devout people and people bearing gifts, gilded wooden chests, radjahsâ€™ banners, gongs and bronze temple lamps, pieces of furniture embossed with silver, variety of Indians and Cinghalese weapons and armour. In this very "salon" she once received a visit from the Maharadjah de Kapurthala and his son whom she had previously met during her visit to the Punjab.
- The east staircase
You can see several paintings on the right hand wall : the portrait of the Regent by Santerre, two large pictures, "the Turkish Embassy in Paris" and "the Siamese Embassy in Paris" by Duplessis. High up on the wall is "Suzanne et les vieillards" (Suzanne with the old men) from Palma the Young workshop and four views of antique ruins by Pannini. On the landing is a large Boulle precision timepiece and a very fine verdure tapestry with flowers (Brussels, mid XVIth).
- Madame AndrÃ©'s boudoir
The furniture in the room is mostly Louis XVIth style : lyre-chairs, glass-canopy, children pedestal tables, armchairs and divans. The Louis XVth bureau is stamped Dubois. On the left-hand wall, is a Beauvais tapestry from an original design by F. Boucher : the country concert. The folding screen bears attributes to the Arts and Sciences. Between the two windows, a chest-high piece of furniture in ebony and Chinese lacquer, is stamped Mewesen. On the easel, the portrait of NÃ©lie Jacquemart, at the age of 25, from Henri Regnaultâ€™s 1866 drawing, made in Rome. On the floor, a Savonnerie carpet. The wooden panelling dates back to Louis XVIth, saved in the nineteen thirties and forties from Parisian mansions that were being demolished.
- The private apartment
Opening off a long corridor, it forms a series of three linked rooms down its length, in succession : a bedroom known as the "eagles room" because of the magnificent Empire bed held up by large eagles then Madame AndrÃ©'s bedroom, formed by the knocking down of two rooms into one, next comes a charming and intimate bathroom paneled in green and gold. These rooms are exactly as the owner conceived them, and where she accumulated a quantity of valuable furniture and rare paintings (especially from the 18th century).
- The great picture gallery
The great picture gallery on the first floor is devoted to paintings, but it also contains numerous chests and coffers from the 16th and 17th centuries, and several braziersâ€¦Eight cells open onto the gallery, which became guest bedrooms for Madame Jacquemart-AndrÃ©, each one containing fine furniture from different periods.
THE JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU GALLERY
The collection gathered by the de Girardin family between 1778 and 1920 represents one of the most important parts of the museum. It was bought by the Institut de France when it went up for sale. The gallery displays numerous representations of the Geneva philosopher : busts, statues, pastels drawings (including the one supposedly drawn by Liotard), engravings and countless objects in a variety of materials. The original busts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and of Voltaire by Houdon are facing each other in one display case. Those of GlÃ¼ck and Tronchin complete the collection. Certain cases display autographed manuscripts of the philosopher and his "wife" ThÃ©rÃ¨se Levasseur, and also some originals but above all some very rare musical manuscripts as well as sets of plant illustrations. Besides an important and varied illustration collection, the gallery also contains some exceptional documents which prove that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a multi talented character. The first room on the left is devoted to Ermenonville and the de Girardin family, the second one is the library the Girardins have assembled on their famous guest, the third room deals with the Jean-Jacques Rousseau-cult, some personal objects and projects of monuments dedicated to his glory.
- The Statue room
In this vaulted room a certain number of statues have been regrouped, from the chapel and Madame Jacquemart-AndrÃ©'s collection (14th to 16th century). These statues date from the XVth and XVIth C. Most of them are French and Italian. One can recognise Saint-Peter and Saint-James on both sides of the window, Saint-Barbe and her tower, a Virgin and Child as well as an Annunciation. The three statues between the windows are the only ones which belonged to the Royal Abbey of Chaalis.
- The park and the rose garden
The park extends right round the abbey ruins and the chÃ¢teau. It is completely encircled by a loop of the river Launette. The general layout must have been traced in the mid-16th century by the Cardinal d'Este, with a beautiful perspective, behind the monastery building, towards the canal leading away from the half-moon shaped ornamental ponds. The former monks' cemetery was situated behind the abbot's chapel, leading into a third cloister which no longer exists that used to be the site of the infirmary and guest lodgings. He had this cemetery enclosed, giving
it a crenallated wall for a facade, with a portal bearing his arms. Inside, an Italian garden was installed; now replaced by a rose garden. The park and its plantations were renewed during the 18th century. Then again in the mid-19th century, when some of the magnificent trees which still exist were planted, and when the French-style garden, decorated with vases of flowers and marble statues, was extended by the addition of a park landscaped in the English fashion, with winding paths and follies.
- The abbot's chapel
The chapel is the only building which survives practically intact from the former medieval Abbey of Chaalis. The Cardinal Hippolyte d'Este undertook to redecorate the chapel (16th century) and entrusted Bagnacavallo Ramenghi with the task of painting the vaulting and the reverse side of the facade with frescoes. NÃ©lie Jacquemart insisted on being buried in the chapel choir. Her tomb includes a commemorative plaque recalling her donation of the estate to the Institut de France (bronze statue).
AccÃ¨s : 40 km de Paris par l'autoroute du nord (A1), sortie nÂ°7, direction Saint-Witz et Ermenonville, face Ã la mer de Sable ou 10 km de Senlis en provenance de l'A1, depuis Lille, sortie NÂ°8, direction Ermenonville. Navettes Ã partir de Roissy-Charles de Gaulle.