The French Renaissance in the Loire Valley

Written by on January 31, 2019 in Centre

Enormous white stone chateau with many towers, a formal garden in front

2019 sees a major celebration of the French Renaissance heritage in the Loire Valley and the Centre-Val de Loire region.  We look at what sparked the French Renaissance and how the key date of 1519 marks the 500th anniversary with a rich programme of events and celebration…

What is the French Renaissance?

The finale of the 15th century saw the end of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. It was a period during which Joan of Arc had travelled to the heart of the Loire Valley to persuade the Dauphin to give her an army and to take his place as King of France and become Charles VII. With constant attacks by the English on French soil, the homes of the royals and nobility were more like fortresses. They were designed to fend off invaders and keep people, animals and belongings safe.

In 1494, Charles VII waged war in Italy and though unsuccessful, he gained a love of Renaissance art and culture and returned to France taking with him Italian craftsmen and artisans. Thus began the French love affair with all things Renaissance. It was a time of economic and social change, when the arts, literature and culture flourished. And we can see the legacy of the French Renaissance to this day, forever recorded in the architecture of many chateaux and towns in the Loire Valley where the French Renaissance began…

1519 was a key year

A fairy tale like chateau with pointy towers by a river, viewed within an empty painting frame

Leonardo da Vinci the, the very definition of a Renaissance man, died in the Loire Valley on 2 May, 1519 at the Chateau du Clos Lucé.

Catherine de Medici was born in Florence that year and grew up to be a major figure of the Renaissance. A patron of the arts, her legacy lives on in the Loire Valley.

And, the first stone of the magnificent Chateau of Chambord was laid. It was commissioned by King Francis I, known as the father of the French Renaissance. The chateau is a perfect example of all that the Renaissance came to be.

In 2019, the Centre-Val de Loire region celebrates 500 years of Renaissance since this key date. There are more than 500 events taking place throughout the area.

Exhibitions, workshops, concerts and much more will take place, in what is surely an ongoing French love affair with the arts and culture…

Celebrating the French Renaissance in the Loire Valley

Chateau with turrets and towers under a starry night sky, a pink haze surrounds it

Chateaux and towns galore reflect the huge impact that the French Renaissance made in the Loire Valley.

The Chateau de Chambord is one of the finest examples of French Renaissance architecture with its turrets and towers, flamboyant carvings and magnificent roofline. Inside is no less impressive with a double helix staircase said to be inspired, if not designed by Leonardo da Vinci “the Renaissance man”. Read more about the Chateau de Chambord

A guest of the King of France in the early 16th century, da Vinci lived in the Chateau du Clos Lucé. It has been wonderfully restored to the style of his day. You feel as if the great man had stepped out to enjoy a walk and will return any moment. There are dozens of life size models of his designs and gorgeous gardens. Read more about the Chateau du Clos Lucé

Next to this bijou castle is the glorious Chateau d’Amboise, where da Vinci’s patron, Francis I lived. It is an incredibly pretty chateau with beautiful gardens. It’s also home to a chapel which Leonardo da Vinci is buried. Read more about the Chateau d’Amboise.

Nearby the Chateau de Blois, underwent a Renaissance style renovation at the same time as Amboise. It has a stunning exterior stair case and includes styles of several centuries. In the summer hosts a super son et lumiere show which tells the tale of the life and times of some of the main characters of the French Renaissance including Catherine de Medici.

The Italian Queen

White castle in a field of blooms, it's slate towers and roof gleam in the sun

Born in 1519 in Florence, Catherine de Medici was married in 1533, aged 14, to the son of Francis I. He became Henri II of France in 1547. It wasn’t the happiest of marriages. Henri was in love with his mistress Diane de Poitiers, Catherine’s cousin. Their passionate affair lasted until his death in 1559.

It was Diane who wielded political influence when her lover the King was alive. She who was showered with jewels and gifted castles including the stunning Chateau of Chenonceau, a Renaissance jewel. Read more about the Chateau de Chenonceau.

In 1559, Henri was fatally injured at a jousting tournament at which he was wearing the colours of Diane. His sons were too young to rule, so it was Catherine de Medici who became effective ruler of France, making Blois her key royal base. Read more about the Chateau de Blois.

Diane de Poitiers was ordered to return the crown. Catherine took Chenonceau from her but gave her the pretty Chateau de Chaumont to soften the blow. Read more about Chaumont here.

Diane also had her beautiful chateau d’Anet to retire to. Probably the most beautiful chateau you never heard of it. It is an incredible jewel of the Renaissance and contains Diane’s bed and several belongings, including a love letter from the King, her hand mirror and all sorts of fabulous objects. Read more about Chateau d’Anet.

A Renaissance woman

An exterior staircase spirals up the wall of a chateau in a cobbled square

Catherine de Medici’s 30 year rule through her sons was at a time of turbulence. Tarnished by the bloody turmoil of religious wars. It’s claimed that she would despatch teams of beautiful young women to calm down aggressive noblemen and to find out their secrets. The 1572 St Bartholomew massacre of thousands of Protestants happened on her watch. The infamous assassination of the Duke de Guise, leader of the Catholic League took place at the Chateau de Blois in 1588 while she lay sick in bed. She died a year later, aged 69. Buried first at Blois before her remains were re-interred at the Basilica of Saint-Denis, Paris, with the husband she had loved.

During her time she became an influential patron of the arts. She made a significant contribution to the French Renaissance for three decades. The queen spent vast amounts of money on monuments and chateaux, employed Italian artists and architects, patronised French artists and became a renowned collector. She was famous for her lavish parties, known as “magnificences” as well as championing the theatrical arts, ballet and opera.

When did the French Renaissance end?

However, it could be argued that it has never ended. Technically the period is said to have lasted from the 14th to the 16th centuries. But, go to the Loire Valley today and you’ll see that the arts and culture are just as revered now as they were then. New galleries and cultural centres are opened regularly. Take the Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré (CCCOD) which opened in 2017 in Tours. Contemporary art it might be but this cultural space has at it’s heart the same ethos of the Renaissance – artistic movement…

In 2019 the Loire Valley will celebrate 500 years since the key year of 1519 of the French Renaissance with “Viva da Vinci”. There will be hundreds of events, concerts, exhibitions and entertainment. See the website for details: www.vivadavinci2019.fr

More on the Loire Valley: www.valdeloire-france.com

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