of Chaalis Abbey
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
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 splendour. 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 flavour
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
COMMENDAM AND THE
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 1541, 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 of 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
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 hôtel 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
MADAME DE VATRY
In 1850 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
In 1902, the estate
was put up for sale, and Madame Jacquemart-André bought it, with all its outbuildings.
She had known Chaalis in her youth, in Mme de Vatry's time.
Nélie Jacquemart, born in 1841 into a modest family, was the widow of Edouard André, 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-André 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 château 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-André died in 1912, after
making a will bequeathing her Parisian hôtel 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.
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 etc
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
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
At the end is a very
large and fine Beauvais tapestry, from a cartoon of 1749 by François 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
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.
corridor, pieces of porcelain and pharmacists'pots from Italy, England, Germany and France
The great gallery of
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, Vittoria
) and from
France (Pajou, Lemoine, Houdon
) 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
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.
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 Tocqué
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 Largillière.
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 :
The carpets on the opposite
wall, the chest and the Buddhas are from Burma.
The other objects are from
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 Moghols" throne, a copy of the original ivory one.
Many objects have been offered to Mrs André 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, radjahs
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 André'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 Nélie Jacquemart, at the age of 25, from Henri
Regnaults 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 apartmen
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 André's bedroom, formed by the knocking down of two rooms
into one, next comes a harming and intimate bathroom panelled 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
Eight cells open onto the gallery, which became guest bedrooms for Madame
Jacquemart-André, 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 Glück and Tronchin complete the
collection. Certain cases display autographed manuscripts of the philosopher and his
"wife" Thérèse 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
The Statue room
In this vaulted room
a certain number of statues have been regrouped, from the chapel and Madame
Jacquemart-André'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
The park extends
right round the abbey ruins and the château. 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. A
garden 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
garden, 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 Francesco Primaticio with the task of painting the vaulting and the reverse
side of the facade with frescoes. Nélie 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).