What better way to celebrate your 21st birthday than to win a battle which will make you famous for the rest of your life ? This is what François 1er, brand new king of France, did on September 13 th and 14 th (his birthday was on the 12th) 1515, in Marignano, near Milan. This is the only date that all French school children remember and we are celebrating this year its 500 th anniversary. Thanks to the Venitians, France was victorious against the Pope and his Swiss army. With 16 000 deaths over a two day battle, François 1er regained the Duchy of Milano and Lombardy.
My friend Olivier de Rohan, who was President of the Friends of Versailles for 25 years, and knows everything about Royals and Courts, invited me to join him in Chantilly, to the opening of the exhibition, « Le Siècle de François 1er ». And I could not have dreamt of a better guide to take me around this exquisite show .
In the first room of the Jeu de Paume, a sculpture and a few portraits of the King immediately give you a burst of adrenaline. « François 1er’s grand mother was Marguerite de Rohan » declared Olivier, and he went on describing all the family connections of the Valois, the Navarre and the Montmorency.
Musée Condé in Chantilly is, of course, the perfect place for this exhibition since so many works of art collected by the king or his cousins, are kept in the famous library and in the galleries. Superb drawings and paintings by Jean and Claude Clouet are shown here and that was expected, as were the enamels from Ecouen, but there were two absolute surprises : a huge, 4,80m by 9 m, tapestry in wool and silk, lent by the Spanish Patrimonio, which came by truck from Madrid in a special wooden case. It hangs in majesty in the second room and « La Bataille de Zama » is spectacular ! It is a twin tapestry to the one owned by the King.
The second surprise is the important number of paintings lent by the Louvre. And this is probably thanks to Henri Loyrette’s huge talent and power, (he used to be President of the Louvre for 12 years and is a member of the Académie des Beaux Arts as well as a member of the board of the Chantilly Foundation). He is rumored to now be in charge of curating exhibitions at Chantilly for His Highness the Aga Khan. But of course his name is nowhere to be seen.
A “cabinet de curiosités” with many objects lent by Deyrolle and mostly the beautifully illuminated books of the Duc d’Aumale’s collection complete this small but brilliant exhibition which runs till December 7th. One perfect occasion to visit it, is the “Journées des Plantes de Courson” a garden show, which will take place again on October 16-18 th in Chantilly. A good time to choose new trees or rhododendrons to plant in your garden…
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