Sunday, 10 November 2013

Choiseul's pagoda at Chanteloup

The "pagoda" at Chanteloup with its huge semi-circular basin is all that now remains of Choiseul's magnificent chateau.  Always a strange architectural fantasy, deprived of all frame of reference it is now positively surreal - a forty-four metre tall oriental cum neo-Grecian dream set in wide open, and in most photographs, deserted, parkland with the Forest of Amboise stretching beyond.  Choiseul originally conceived the edifice as a monument to posterity to those friends who had come to Chanteloup during his four years of exile from Paris.  For, in the closing years of the old reign, flock to him they had; this miniature Versailles had contrived to combine an aura of domestic intimacy with a round of receptions and entertainments on a truly lavish - and ruinous - scale.  

On his return to Paris at Louis XV's death in 1774 Choiseul commissioned his architect Louis-Denis Le Camus to create the pagoda at the centre point of his park by the great basin where the rides through the Forest converged.  It is usually said to have been inspired by Sir William Chamber's pagoda at Kew, though in fact it is more French neoclassical than oriental in style; the chinoiserie is mostly in the decorative detail.  Forty-four metres in height, it is supported by a peristyle of  fourteen columns and pillars. Chinese ideograms, still visible today, on colonnades signify "gratitude" and "friendship".

Inside, a wrought iron staircase decorated with intertwined "C"s - "Choiseul" and his wife's family name "Crozat" - leads up to seven stories, each with its salon, and finally out onto the roof. The large salon on the first floor is  encased in marble panels.  On one of them still resides the inscription Choiseul commissioned the abbé Barthélemy to compose, dedicating the pagoda  to his many friends and supporters.

 In the same room, on marble tablets set into the walls, once featured in gilt letters the names of those, from the comte d'Artois downwards, who had defied Louis XV's express wishes, to visit Choiseul in exile. They included, from England, Lady Churchill, the sister in law of Horace Walpole, and the Count of Oxford and his daughter.  Arthur Young described the panels on his visit to Chanteloup as late as 1787 and it was long thought that they had been reversed and turned to the wall during the Revolution.  However when a panel was removed in 1957 the back proved entirely blank and it is more likely that the inscriptions are simply lost.  Fine chinoiserie furniture once graced the room, including chairs commissioned from George Jacob (1739-1814), the greatest furniture-maker of the age.

 In Choiseul's day, for summer fêtes, the pagoda would be illuminated from lamps set around the park, its contours shimmering in the basin, and a set of bells installed on the summit ringing out across the water. The abbé Barthélemy described floating in a barge laden with musicians on one such magical evening; "This life", he remarked, "is without doubt the life of heaven, for it is so very happy".


Chanteloup park website  - the pagoda

AMBOISE, le duc de Choiseul à la pagode de Chanteloup(Indre-et-Loire)

For a flavour of the charmed life of Chanteloup, see Melanie Clegg's beautiful "Madame guillotine" blog

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