Tuesday, 26 October 2021

A promenade at Betz

For a scholarly description of the garden at Betz and its creation, the English-speaking reader is referred to Gabriel Wick's article, which is available on H-Net. 

The following account is from an old guidebook by  André Hallys, translated into English in 1920 as
The Spell of the Heart of France.  I am reproducing it (from Gutenberg) mainly because I enjoyed the prose.  Hallys provides some record of the fabriques which still stood in the early twentieth century.  The rest of his text is is derived mainly from the poem by Joseph-Antoine-Joachim Cérutti  Les Jardins de Betz, written in 1785 (though published only in 1792). This is a verbose piece, so it is  nice to have a few snippets of English translation! 

Cérutti is an interesting character.  An inveterate writer and versifier, he started out his career as a Jesuit schoolmaster, but later became a prominent Revolutionary journalist.  (It was he who delivered the eulogy at Mirabeau's funeral in 1791) . In the 1780s he had various aristocratic patrons, and had clearly been charged with composing inscriptions and mottoes for the garden at Betz.  His poem, which was no doubt originally intended for the entertainment of the princesse de Monaco's guests, was modelled on the abbé Delille's highly popular Les Jardins, our l'art d'embellir les paysages (1782).  André Hallys has no difficulty in finding plenty of anti-clerical and anti-despotic sentiments in the text.  [Most prescient was the final comment in Cérutti's  notes to the poem: For two hundred year, France has been pregnant with revolution; she will give birth before the end of the century.]

André Hallys invites us to accompany Cérutti on his promenade through the gardens:  "Let us follow the sinuous ways which lead across the park to the different "scenes" invented for the amusement of the Princess of Monaco."

Chinese kiosk and bridge

The chateau which was inhabited by the Princess of Monaco stood on an island in the Grivette, quite near the village of Betz. Its towers were reflected in the river, on which floated white swans. Baskets of flowers ornamented the banks. Farther up, the Grivette formed another isle, embellished with exotic shrubs and an oriental kiosk. A Chinese bridge joined it to the park, and little junks were moored to the margin. Pekin gave this kiosk and Nankin these light boats. Nothing more remains of the château, which was sold during the Revolution and was totally demolished in 1817. There also remains nothing more of these Chinese fancies, by which the landscape artists of the eighteenth century endeavoured to recall the true origin of irregular gardens. The rotted planks of the Chinese bridge fell into the little river long ago.

The lake and bridge.  Plate from Gustave Macon, Les jardins de Betz (1908) 

A Druid Temple

In vain also would we seek some trace of the "Druid Temple." To erect this curious construction, this "little bosky oratory," there had been chosen for cutting young oaks of equal thickness and perfectly straight; they had been cut off at the same height and planted in a circle on an isolated mound; then this circular palisade was crowned by a wooden cupola, whence were suspended pine cones and tufts of sacred mistletoe. On beholding this spectacle Cérutti burst forth:

There formerly, frightening the shadows every evening,
The Druid, surrounded by a hundred funereal torches, 
Strangled a mortal at the foot of Theutatès
Was the cruel nest of superstition!
Who would believe it? This place so pure and peaceful
There formerly, frightening the shadows every evening,
The Druid, surrounded by a hundred funereal torches, 
Was the cruel nest of superstition!

It is probable that the vision of human sacrifices obsessed neither the Princess of Monaco nor her friends, when they came to rest themselves in this sort of belvedere. But Cérutti is a philosopher; and from the Druids his indignation spreads to all theocracies—Hebrew, Scandinavian, Roman. The priests of Theutatès force him to think of the fagot fires of the Inquisition, of the crimes of monasticism and of the massacre of Saint Bartholomew.... So much so that he can no longer restrain himself and passes to other structures:
Cursing the incense bearer, I leave the fatal hill

The Feudal Tower

Not far from the Druid Temple rose the ruin of a "Feudal Tower." It still stands.  Time has somewhat enlarged the breaches provided by Hubert Robert when he drew the plan. But the ivy has grown for more than a century and it has given an almost venerable aspect to this factitious ruin. Everything here is imagined to show the ravage of centuries: the battlements have crumbled; the interior is empty, and we still see the traces of the floors which separated the various stories; the stone fireplaces still remain attached to the walls. Over the lintel of a door, we may read in Gothic characters an inscription in the purest "old French" of the eighteenth century.  Below the tower there are dungeons. We love to imagine the blonde princess for whom this romantic ruin had been erected, coming to sit at the foot of her tower, and, in order to put her thoughts in harmony with the melancholy of this legendary site, reading, in a nice little book published by Sieur Cazin, bookseller of Rheims, some chivalrous romance by M. de Mayer, for example Geneviève de Cornouailles et le Dameisel sans nom. Even for us, this imitation is not without charm; its picturesqueness is agreeable; then we surprise here the first awakening of the romantic imagination, the birth of the modern taste for the Middle Ages, and we regret a little the time when people amused themselves by fabricating entirely new ruins, without thinking of restoring and completing the true ruins, those which are the work of time.... As to Cérutti, the spectacle of this false donjon cannot distract him from his folly:

Oh, castles of the oppressors! 
Oh, insulting palaces!
Walls of tyranny, asylum of rapine,
May you henceforth exist only in ruins!
Instead of those barons who vexed the universe,
We see on the remains of your deserted donjons
Cruel wolves wander, together with hungry foxes
:Under different names, they are of the same race.

Postcard published on Geneanet
And he immediately adds a note of which I reproduce only these few lines: "I am very far from confounding modern castles with ancient ones, and the castellans of today with those of former times. The modern chateaux are not soiled with the blood of their vassals, but how many are still bathed in their tears!... The castellans of today are, however, distinguished for the most part by a reputation for humanity, philosophy, politeness. But let us plumb these shining exteriors. In these so human mortals, you will find... tyrants inflexible to their inferiors. Their philosophy is still less solid than their humanity.... As to this politeness so vaunted by them, it is in the final analysis nothing but the art of graduating and seasoning scorn, so that one does not perceive it and even enjoys it.... They seem to except you, to distinguish you from the common herd; but try to emerge from it, and they will thrust you back." The whole bit would be worth quoting. It is beautiful, this outpouring of venom on account of a garden pavilion!

The Monument to American Independence

In the midst of a thicket, in a place which was formerly open, a little pyramid stands on a high base. 
The inscription which it formerly bore in golden letters: L'INDEPENDANCE AMERICAINEhas disappeared. Reflections of Cérutti upon "the impetuous car of revolutions": events have combined to give them a certain opportuneness here.

Valley of the Tombs

The mingling of centuries and the diversity of allusions were one of the laws of the composition of an English garden. This is why, a little farther on, we penetrate to the "Valley of Tombs."  A Latin inscription invites visitors to meditation and silence.  An avenue of cypress, of larches, of pines, of junipers, "of all the family of melancholy trees," led to the tombs and disposed the soul to meditation. Sepulchres "without worldly pomp and without curious artistry," bore naïve epitaphs. Here were the tombs of Thybaud de Betz, dead on a Crusade, and of Adèle de Crépy, who, having followed her knight to the Holy Land, brought back his mortal remains and "fell dead of grief, at the last stroke of the chisel which finished ornamenting this monument." The epitaphs were engraved in Gothic characters; for "this Gothic form is something more romantic than the Greek and the Roman." It is needless to remark that these tombs were simple monuments intended for the ornamentation of the garden and that no lord of Betz was ever buried in this place. Some of the "melancholy trees" planted by the Princess of Monaco still remain among the thickets  which have since grown in the "Valley of Tombs," which valley was an "elevated esplanade": a pleasing incongruity of the friends of nature! As to the tombs, there remain only a few mutilated remnants of the statues of the two recumbent figures.  

Valley of the Tombs,  from Gustave Macon, Les jardins de Betz (1908) -


After the inevitable tombs, come the inevitable chapel and the inevitable hermitage. But the hermitage of Betz possessed this much originality, that it was inhabited by an actual hermit.

The hermitage (today there remains of it no more than the lower part) was composed of two little rooms, one above the other. The upper one was a sort of a grotto used as an oratory.
This monastic cave is a charming spot.
There we see shining in a little space,
Transparent nacre and vermilion coral.
A ray of sun which penetrates the grot
Illumines it and seems a ray of grace.

Cérutti immediately delivers to us the "secrets" of this illumination. The walls of the grotto were pierced by little crevices, closed by bits of white, yellow, purple, violet, orange, green, blue and red glass. When the sun passed through these glittering bits, its rays, tinged with all the colours, produced a magical light within the grotto. "One would believe that the hermit is an enchanter who brings down the sun, or an astronomer who decomposes light." Cérutti adds judiciously: "This curious phenomenon is, however, only child's play." Any other than Cérutti would perhaps have a word of pity for the poor man condemned to live in a home thus curiously lighted. But he does not love the "pale cenobites"; he approaches them only to scandalize them by his frank speech....

At the foot of the crucifix, the hermit in his corner
Celebrates his good fortune... in which I do not believe.

The hermit believed in it. He even believed in it so well that he lived in his hermitage through the whole time of the Revolution and died there in 1811, aged seventy-nine years,—having observed to the day of his death the rules set for him by the Princess of Monaco. In accordance with these rules, he was required to lead an edifying life, to appear at mass in the habit of his estate, to preserve seclusion and silence, to have no connection with the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, to cultivate flowers and give his surroundings a pleasant appearance, finally to exhibit the hermitage, the grotto and the chapel to curious visitors and to watch that no one touched anything. He received a hundred francs a year, the use of a little field and a little vegetable garden, every Saturday a pound of tallow candles, and in winter the right to collect dead branches to warm himself. He was furnished in addition the necessary tools for kitchen and culture, two small fire pumps, a little furniture, a house for his chickens and the habit of a hermit. The tailor of Betz—his bill has been discovered—asked ninety-nine francs, five sous for dressing a hermit. Finally two cash boxes were placed, one in the chapel and the other in the hermitage, to receive the offerings of generous souls who wished to better the condition of the recluse.


By passing from ruins to tombs and from tombs to hermitages, we have reached the end of the park. Let us retrace our steps along the banks of the Grivette. Under the trees which shade its banks, the little river forms a little cascade, and the picture composed by the landscape architect has here lost nothing of its pristine grace. Cérutti thus describes it:

A vast mass of rocks arrests it in its course
But, soon surmounting this frightful mass,
The flood precipitates itself in a burning cascade.
Then, resuming its march and its pompous detours,

Poor little Grivette!

The Temple of Friendship

Photograph from André Hallays's book, showing the Temple  in 1906

Upon the right bank of the stream stands a ravishing edifice. It is the Temple of Friendship, the most beautiful and, fortunately, the best preserved of the structures of Betz, which alone, the chateau having been destroyed and the park disfigured, is sufficient to immortalize here the memory of Madame de Monaco. Among the great trees which make an admirable frame for it, it presents the four columns and the triangular gable of its Neo-Greek façade. It is the most charming and the most elegant of the Hubert Roberts—a marvellous setting for an opera by Gluck. As we ascend the grassy slope, we savour more vividly the exquisite proportions of the architecture, the sovereign grace of the colonnade, the nobility of the gable, and also the strange beauty of the pines which enframe the masterpiece. (These trees with red trunks and twisted shapes made an important part of the decoration of all English gardens. Introduced into Europe for the first time in the gardens of Lord Weymouth, in Kent, they are called by the landscapists of the times Weymouth pines, or more briefly, Lord pines.)

Formerly, a wood of oaks extended on both sides of the temple; it was cut in the nineteenth century; the hillside is now partly denuded; this is very unfortunate, for the picture conceived by Hubert Robert has thus been altered. Nevertheless, the essential feature of the landscape is intact, for the Weymouth pines still shelter the access to the peristyle.

Old postcard offered for sale on French ebay

Under the colonnade, between two statues, opens a door of two leaves on which are sculptured fine garlands of flowers. Within the temple, along the naked wall, Ionic columns alternate with truncated shafts which once supported the busts of the heroes of friendship, and nothing is more original than the oblique flutings of these pedestals. Coffers of singular beauty decorate the ceiling, in the midst of which an opening allows light to enter. About the edifice runs a cornice, the design of which is at once rich and delicate. A charming marble bas-relief decorates the top of the doorway. The rear wall curves back between two columns to form a little apse, raised by two steps: its curve is so pleasing, its dimensions are so just, the arch of the demi-cupola which shelters it is designed with so much grace, that we experience, in contemplating these pure, supple and harmonious lines, that ravishment of eye and soul which only the spectacle of perfect architecture can produce. Before the steps is placed a round stone altar. In the little apse, we might have admired until recently a plaster reproduction of Love and Friendship, the celebrated group which Pigalle carved for Madame de Pompadour, the marble of which—much damaged—belongs to the Louvre. M. Rocheblave, who saw the statue in the place where the Princess of Monaco had placed it, and who has written very interestingly about it affirms, and we can believe it, that this cast of the original, made and lightly retouched by the sculptor Dejoux, was a unique work, infinitely precious. It has been removed from Betz; but it will soon be replaced by another cast of the same group. The divinity will recomplete its temple.

On the pedestal of the statue appeared this quatrain:
Wise friendship! love seeks your presence;
Smitten with your sweetness, smitten with your constancy,
It comes to implore you to embellish its bonds
With all the virtues which consecrate thine.

And on the wall of the apse this was engraved:
Pure and fertile source of happiness,
Tender friendship! my heart rests with thee;
The world where thou art not is a desert for me;
Art thou in a desert? thou takest the place of this world.

This last motto is by Cérutti.

Pigalle's L'Amour et l'Amitié, was commissioned by Madame de Pompadour in 1754, and acquired after her death by the prince de Condé.   The plaster cast, sculpted by Claude Dejoux, which once stood in the Temple of Friendship at Betz is now in the  Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The inscription translates:

Wise Friendship, Loves searches for your presence, 
  inflamed with your sweetness, inflamed with your constancy.
Love comes to supplicate you to embellish its bounds 
  with all the virtues which are consecrating yours.

The cast of Love and Friendship is not the only object which has disappeared from the temple of Betz. There was also there a "circular bed," where meditation invited "Romantic Love and Ambitious Hope" to be seated.
Another stage, and the last, to the "Baths of the Princess." This rustic retreat had been constructed in the midst of the woods. The woods have been cut and now there remains no more than a single clump of trees in the midst of a meadow, overshadowing the basin of a spring. Here were formerly placed remnants of sculpture in the antique fashion 

This "circular bed" was also a poetic invention. A document, discovered by M. de Ségur in the archives of Beauvais, shows us that Cérutti was commissioned to "furnish" the Temple of Friendship. As his archaeological knowledge was insufficient, he addressed himself to the author of the Voyage du jeune Anacharsis. We possess the reply of Abbé Barthélémy. The latter seems quite embarrassed: he states that the ancients prayed standing, on their knees or seated on the ground, and that there were no seats in the temples; he thinks that one might take as a model either the curule chair of the Senators, or the throne on which the gods were represented as seated, or even a bench, a sofa.... "Besides," he ended, "I believe, like M. Cérutti, that as friendship is a goddess of all times, we may furnish her as we will." Quatrains, sensibilities and puerilities, all these do not prevent the temple of Betz from being one, of the most perfect works of the Greco-Roman Renaissance of the last years of the eighteenth century. 27 In the gardens of the Little Trianon, Mique produced nothing more exquisite than this work of Le Roy. And how adorable they are, these little monuments, supreme witnesses of classic tradition, suddenly revivified by the discoveries of the antiquaries, by the Voyages of the Count de Caylus, by the first excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii! With what surety of taste, with what subtlety of imagination, have the lines and the forms of ancient art been accommodated to the adornment of the northern landscape! It is the last flower of our architecture.

It is necessary to hearken to and meditate upon the instruction, the eternal instruction given us by this temple so gracefully placed before the verdant meadows of a valley of the Ile-de-France. The caprice of a sentimental princess dedicated it to friendship. Let us dedicate it in our grateful thought to the strong and charming god whose decrees were respected and whose power was venerated for three centuries by poets and artists without an ingratitude, without a blasphemy. This sanctuary was doubtless the homage of a disappearing piety: already those who built it celebrated in the neighboring groves the rites of a new cult; there they deified disorder, ruin and melancholy; there they abandoned themselves to childish and dangerous superstitions; already romanticism and exoticism mastered hearts and imaginations. The more reason for admiring and cherishing the last altars where men sacrificed to reason, order and beauty. Besides, behold: a century has elapsed; the false ruins are ruined; the false tombs are no more than rubbish; the Chinese kiosks have disappeared; yet, upon the hillside, the four Ionic columns still show the immortal grace of their spreading bases and their fine volutes. 

Baths of the Princess 

Another stage, and the last, to the "Baths of the Princess." This rustic retreat had been constructed in the midst of the woods. The woods have been cut and now there remains no more than a single clump of trees in the midst of a meadow, overshadowing the basin of a spring. Here were formerly placed remnants of sculpture in the antique fashion 

Marbles broken and dispersed without arrangement.
The Graces sometimes came to rest themselves there
Seated near these benches, we easily forget ourselves;
Voluptuousness follows the shadow and melancholy....

Melancholy was not the only visitor to this charming retreat. Let us rather listen to the Prince de Ligne describing the "baths" of an English garden. His prose will console us for the verses of Cérutti: "Women love to be deceived, perhaps that they may sometimes avenge themselves for it. Occupy yourselves with them in your gardens. Manage, stroll with, amuse this charming sex; let the walks be well beaten, that they may not dampen their pretty feet, and let irregular, narrow, shaded paths, odoriferous of roses, jasmines, orange blossoms, violets and honeysuckles, coax these ladies to the bath or to repose, where they find their fancy work, their knitting, their filet and especially their black writing desk where sand or something else is always lacking, but which contains the secrets unknown to lovers and husbands, and which, placed upon their knees, is useful to them in writing lies with a crow's plume."

With this pleasing picture, let us leave the gardens of Betz.


André Hallays, The Spell of the Heart of France (1920)

Antoine-Joachim Cerutti, Les Jardins de Betz, poème (Paris 1792)

Gabriel Wick, "The Princesse de Monaco, Hubert Robert and the invention of the ‘Vieux château’ of Betz", Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes (2017), vol.37(4): 304-320. [Open Access article]  https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:19217/

The entry for Betz on Dominique Césari's website,  Jardins anglo-chinois du XVIIIe siècle dits parcs à fabriques, includes a good collection of old postcards
And here are some high-quality photographs of the Temple of Friendship: 

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