21 July 2024

Eclectic France

Observations on the sites, sounds and events around France


Faces from History at Chateau de Beauregard

There are many good reasons to visit the Chateau de Beauregard in the Loire Valley but the stand out feature – the one you’ll probably remember – has to be the portrait gallery. This room is unique in Europe. It is home to 327 portraits of notable people from the medieval and renaissance periods. These kings, queens, dukes, popes, cardinals, explorers, scientists, and artists show who was who in the old world. It’s not just people from France: there is someone from most major European countries.

Most of the portraits are the same size, allowing a simple layout to the display.

A walk along the gallery is like taking a new type of history lesson because the portraits are arranged – more or less – in chronological order. The period covered by the portraits spans the reigns of fifteen kings of France. Moving from one famous person to the next, you can perhaps remember why they were important. But it’s also interesting to discover someone you’ve not heard of before. Thankfully the gallery hasn’t fallen into the trap of providing information about each portrait and spoiling the overall effect. You will need to do your own research if you want to find out about the people featured.

The portraits were collected and commissioned by Paul Ardier. He had been the Controller General of War and Grand Treasurer of The Savings, important and high offices in France at the time. After serving various Kings of France, including Louis XIII, over 55 years he moved to the chateau only when he was 72 years old in 1619. He remodelled the building, created the gallery and compiled his collection over the following 18 years. His son and grand-daughter continued the work which in total took around 60 years.

He clearly wanted to show his unique collection in a stunning setting. Look up and you’ll see an excellent example of the ornate ceiling that was so fashionable – and expensive, no doubt – at the time. The ornate and intricate decoration includes lapis-lazuli with a deep and luxuriant blue colour. The ceiling is still bright and vibrant, which is amazing considering it has never been restored. Don’t forget to look down too. The floor comprises 5600 Delft earthenware tiles. These were all made specifically for the chateau and each one has a unique design, depicting a person or scene, all made to order.

The portrait gallery is the most interesting part of the chateau but the other rooms are also fascinating. The adjacent room, called The Library, features large contemporary photographs of dogs’ faces. Perhaps the aim is to contrast the dogs’ expression with those on the much older portraits. Whatever, it’s a good bit of fun. You can also visit other parts of the house including an unusual oak-panelled study and the large kitchen. However, the house is still occupied as a day-to-day home by the current owners and it’s not possible to visit most other parts of the building.

Chateau de Beauregard

The park surrounding the chateau is also well worth a look. There is a good mix of formal settings and more expansive landscaped areas. You will have plenty of space to walk and relax. The Garden of Portraits comprises square sections surrounded by tall hedges which include plants in a variety of coloured themes – red, white, yellow, blue etc. Each area features one of the famous people from the portrait gallery. Similarly, there is a walk through a wooded area – Le Sentier du Savoir – that incorporates copies of many portraits with information about their lives and the significant events of the time. It’s a nice way to learn more about them.