Some families are lucky. The Hurault family of financiers and officials serving a succession of French kings has owned Cheverny for six centuries, with only a couple of short breaks.
The entire castle was built in one go, as the Brits would say, from 1604 to 1634. So it has a rare unity of architecture and decoration. Works for me!
The royal mistress Diane de Poitiers bought it as a place to make do while she had her consolation prize of Chaumont renovated. (Most of us would rent an apartment nearby. But after all, Diane was one of the great royal favorites, and only ended up with Chaumont after Catherine de Medici booted her from Chenonceau when the king died. Diane could afford to live in style no matter what happened).
Beautiful Renaissance details abound.
The architect was Jacques Bougier, who also worked on the chateaux of Blois and Chambord. He used a soft stone from Bourre, which is harder than the very soft tufa used elsewhere in the Loire. It has the advantage of actually lightening with age.
The Hurault family lost the chateau again in the 18th century, but then Anne-Victor Hurault, the Marquis de Vibraye, bought it back once and for all in 1825.
Here’s Anne-Victor as a young man in his robes as a Chevalier of France. Among other things, he was aide-de-camp to Charles X. I’m not sure of the artist.
He had a lot of titles and honors. Very impressive!
Upkeep on a place like this is never cheap. The chateau was one of the first to open to the paying public (like me) in 1922. When I visited, the formal dining room was decorated for Easter.
The dining room and hallway are decorated with 34 wooden panels depicting the story of Don Quixote.
The panels were painted by Jean Monier, who was also responsible for the ceilings and other wall decorations.
Every self-respecting chateau was built with a King’s Room, reserved at all times for the monarch. No monarch actually slept in this room as it stands today.
However, King Henri II reportedly slept in this bed, although not in this room. At the time of his visit, there was an older castle on the property.
Of course there’s a chapel, decorated in Louis XIII style (like most of the chateau).
The Grand Salon is grand indeed. The lovely lady above the fireplace is an early Comtesse who married into the family. She was painted by Mignard, whose day job was to be Queen Anne of Austria’s personal artist.
I believe the lady just above is Jeanne of Aragon, painted in the workshops of Raphael.
There are Aubusson tapestries not only on the walls, but also upholstering the furniture. Unlike many chateaux, Cheverny was never emptied of its treasures. The Hurault family is proud that although objects have been added over the years, almost none have been taken away.
Some of the most interesting rooms are in the family’s “private” quarters. (Since the chateau is open every day of the year, I have to assume the family retreats to the really private quarters during the day at least).
How about a nice cup of tea?
When I visited, each room had a Lego display illustrating one of the tables of Jean de la Fontaine, after the illustrations by Gustave Dore. Here’s “The Lion and the Rat.”
And “The Hare and the Tortoise.”
I think Gustave Dore appears in a Legos portrait. I confess I don’t exactly see the point, but I can understand that an old chateau needs to have new tricks up its sleeve. Presumably the Legos keep kids interested.
The nursery is stuffed with antique family toys.
Two Legos hound dogs stand guard. More on the hounds of Cheverny in a minute.
One room holds the wedding gown of the wife of the current Marquis.
And now for the hounds: the present Marquis and his friends hunt several times a week from around October to March, culling about 25 deer from the acres and acres of woodland.
Now, where I come from, hunting involves men in camouflage gear, camping out and most likely drinking a lot of beer.
At Cheverny, it’s a whole different kind of hunting. It’s way more elegant, don’t you think?
The Marquis maintains between 70 and 100 specially bred hounds. At five in the afternoon on most days, they gather for La Soupe des Chiens: a buffet of raw meat served on the spanking-clean kennel floor.
It’s a sight to behold. “Please do not excite the dogs.” Full disclosure: I don’t eat meat, and the thought of hunting wild animals makes me shake in my boots. I’d never have made it as a royal wife or mistress, expected to participate in the Sport of Kings. But I understand that wildlife must be managed and kept in balance.
The writer/artist Herve took Cheverny as the inspiration for his many TinTin books. There’s a separate exhibit about TinTin.
Cheverny is efficiently run, very user-friendly. Admission includes a very detailed little brochure about the chateau’s history and treasures.
I wouldn’t mind being there right now!