The Landscape Guide

Madrid, Chenonceaux, Anet, Verneuil and Tuilleries Gardens

A counterpart to this fine hunting-place was another much smaller rendezvous de chasse built by Francis in the Bois de Boulogne outside Paris. The name "Madrid" which it bore till it was destroyed in the course of the Revolution, gave rise to all sorts of tales, and it was said to be put there in remembrance of Spain, and even of the king’s imprisonment. No doubt he did bring from Spain the idea of its decoration, which filled the French with surprise. The façade of the castle was adorned with faience and enamel, which would remind the king of the tiles that Spaniards used for their villas and gardens. He had terracottas of Girolamo della Robbia put up, but of course by this time an international exchange of art treasures was quite common. When Evelyn visited "Madrid" in 1650, he said the material was mostly a coloured clay, and very brittle, though the colours were very bright, like porcelain or china ware. Whole statues and reliefs, chimneys and pillars, both out of doors and indoors, were made of this terra-cotta. The house had a moat round it, and there was a wonderful view of the river and the Bois de Boulogne. Chinese porcelain, which was destined to influence French taste so strongly for more than a hundred years and the style of French villas, had probably had no effect so far on the ornamentation of “ Madrid.” Unfortunately Evelyn says nothing of the garden, and Du Cerceau says very little that is satisfactory. But the fact that Francis intended the place to be used riot only for the chase but also for his love affairs, makes one suppose that there were gardens carefully tended in the charming parts outside the castle. After many changes and chances, the little castle did experience a sort of renaissance before its fall, for it was here that Madame Necker held her intellectual and much-frequented French salon.

A castle designed by Thomas Bohier, one of the generals of Francis, was indeed a whimsical fancy. The great castle of Chenonceaux was built on the piers of an old mill in the River Cher. This shows that the preference of the French for water castles was never satisfied without novelty and change. It was not till the castle had become a royal possession, and Henry II. had presented it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, that a long bridge was made connecting it with gardens on the opposite bank. The completion of the whole thing was due to Catherine de’ Medici, who after her husband’s death compelled her hated rival to give up the castle. Unfortunately Du Cerceau’s plans show little of the garden, though his descriptions are most eloquent. But since Chateau Chenonceaux is today one of the few French castles that show, at least in part, what their Renaissance gardens were like when restored, we are able to see that there was no ground-plan that blends the castle and the garden into one. The parterres, situated on the river bank, at the side of the kitchen-court, of trapezium form, which was never quite finished, have canals separating them on one side from the castle, on the other from the park.

Du Cerceau mentions another large garden beyond the river, which has entirely disappeared. The great parterre that exists to-day has a raised terrace round it, which may have had pergolas or galleries, though after its restoration in the nineteenth century it shows no trace of the architectural surround usual at the period. Du Cerceau speaks of an artifice in the middle that is meant for a surprise: there is a small flint with a hole in it that is closed with a wooden tap, and this conceals a waterspout, which dances up six feet into the air if the tap is taken out : this Du Cerceau calls “ une belle et plaisante invention.” On the other side where there is now an equally pretty sunk parterre, very charming with its flower-beds edged by box. Du Cerceau describes a fountain issuing from a rock (as the place is quite level, we must suppose that it is worked artificially) running into a large basin in several streams. A flower parterre is in front, with a terrace round it, enclosed by a trellis, also with a dividing wall which is ornamented with niches, columns, and statues.

After the second half of the sixteenth century this separation of garden from house is an exception unless there is a special necessity for it, and it only happens at Chenonceaux because of the eccentric character of its ground. France arrived much later than Italy at the deliberate treatment of the garden scheme, but her peculiarity lies in the fact that she came to this in her own way, and was less and less dependent on the ways of Italy. Du Cerceau says the Chateau of Anet (Fig. 325) was one of the finest of that day; it was built by a very famous architect, Philibert de l’Orme, at the command of Henry II., for Diane de Poitiers. 

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FIG. 325. ANET

No doubt de l’Orme had to use the old foundations of a mediaeval castle, but in his combination of house and garden he produced an architectural whole which ranks with the finest Italian masterpieces of his time, He knows how to make use of all traditional ideas, and also how to adapt them, both to the whims of a pleasure-loving day and to the caprices of the lady. The wide strip of water round the place, though it is furnished with walls, bastions, and towers at the corners, is only employed as an enlivening ornament. We step over a drawbridge to the entrance lodge, itself a cheerful building on pillars, with Benvenuto Cellini's nymph of Fontainebleau let into its lunette. On either side of the portal there are thickets, whose tree-tops cast shadow as we enter, and suggest to us—as does the stag with dogs on the top of the gate—that we are now in the domain of the namesake of the goddess of the chase, with whose trappings the king’s friend loves to be adorned. At the sides of a front court there are two others, each with a fountain in the centre, one of them being Goujon’s famous Diana. Through the middle gate, opposite the entrance lodge, the only part of this beautiful building which has been preserved for us, we pass into the garden, which extends the whole width of the three courts.

In front of the castle a broad terrace gives a fine view, and from it we step down to the garden. This has on three sides a rustica gallery, “ qui donne au jardin un merveilleux éclat à la vue,” as Du Cerceau says. There are two fountains orientated to the wings of the castle, and these adorn the fine beds, and also give to the garden, which is a good deal widens out into a semicircular basin with a garden house in front that may perhaps have been used as a bath.

Unfortunately in the matter of these further gardens Du Cerceau’s engravings leave us uninformed. But he says there were two parks behind the flower-garden, quite separate from one another and fenced in. In one of them there was not only a semicircular grotto, but a falconry, fowl-houses, and above all an orangery, small and pretty, of which Du Cerceau also made a drawing. This park with its rustica façade, corner pavilions, and fountains among the beds is a kind of picture in miniature of the whole garden. The separate parts of the park are called “ parquet “ by Du Cerceau, as are also the square beds, and probably the word may be taken to mean any piece of garden that is square. These separate parts included “some of them meadows, others bushes, others again shrubberies, or warrens, orchards, or fish-ponds. They were also set apart by avenues with little canals between them. In fact there was everything that could make a place perfect.” This verbal description of Du Cerceau's gives us an exhaustive picture of the park of that time, and enlivens the formal sketches of parks that we get in the engravings. Two castles reached the highest point of development in this style, but they were never quite completed and have since vanished from the face of the earth. These were Chateau Verneuil and Charleval. Our information about them comes from Du Cerceau’s pictures, and though they may never have been carried through, they rightly hold their place, because in all probability Du Cerceau was himself the architect who designed them both. At Verneuil (Fig. 326) there was a nobleman, a connoisseur—Philippe de Boulinvilliers— who owned a large castle in the charming valley of the Oise. 

In 1558 he decided to build another on the hills near by, and this lofty erection was equipped with bastions and trenches. The former served as a castle terrace, and in the fashion of the day were paved with mosaic, like the other terraces of the same sort at Anet and at Gaillon. Towards the garden on the terrace, which widened at the court, there was another gate-erection, an exedra flanked by two pavilions. Stairs led down to a sunk parterre, which had a two-shelled fountain in the centre of its sixteen finely ornamented beds. Narrow and higher side-terraces made a shade for this flower-garden with their avenues of trees. More steps led down to a decorated wall, and encircled a path of grottoes leading to a second parterre, which was perhaps another shrubbery, or possibly a kind of labyrinth. On the side there were also two raised terraces planted with woodland trees, and these, being of the same breadth as the middle parterre, gave considerable width to the garden. A wide canal runs round the whole plot, and bridges cross the canal on either side, leading from the middle parterre to a narrow terrace, which is enclosed right and left by a trellis covered in greenery. A second arm of the canal separates this narrow terrace also from the last one, which brings the garden to an end. In the middle there stands a pavilion approached by the connecting bridge over the canal. On both sides the last two terraces are united, on the right by a gallery, on the left by a pergola with trellis, The view must have been very imposing from these lowest terraces over the different parterres with all their waters reaching to the high exedra ; and from the height of the exedra (looking in the other direction) the eye took in the beautiful expanse of garden, while on the left hand there was the old castle at the foot of the hill, which was itself connected with the new castle by a series of not insignificant garden plots coming up close to the hill.

This abode of a private person was excelled by the royal castle built by Charles IX. in “Normandy,” between Paris and Rouen, if not in its variety of parts, certainly in the splendid execution of one coherent scheme. It was in a valley, called by the king “Charleval,” after himself (Fig. 327).

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 We know nothing of this castle except from the drawings made by its founder, and very likely only a small part of his plan ever materialised. But the laying out of the garden began at once, so that when the building was completed the full impression might be given. In this instance also the ground-plan of the whole is indicated by the lines of the canals which passed round and through the castle and garden; through a forecourt surrounded by water we pass over a drawbridge to the great kitchen part with four smaller courts round it. The square of the castle that comes next has a garden parterre on each side, and these are treated as giardini secreti. They have galleries on three sides, and at the castle side are bordered with two fine pergolas.

In the middle of the castle front is a very large garden-room from which there are horseshoe steps up to the bridge over the third arm of the canal, and leading to the extensive garden parterre. This has not only canals round it, but is also cut by four basins rather like canals in the middle. The central path is marked out by covered walks. The ornamental beds are arranged four on each side with a fountain, while clumps of trees by the arcades that accompany the edges of the canals supply a note of solemn shade to this garden of brilliant colours. The garden behind the four basins in the cross-path is treated in the same way, but there are no fountains, and one of the divisions is a labyrinth. The lower end of the garden is a rather long, large piece with a bow at the farther end where the canal is rounded off. This region is noticeable for several rows of arcades, and very likely there was a small pavilion in the middle.

All this fine garden, Du Cerceau says, was only half of what the king had planned, and on the other side of the oblong there ought to have been an equally large flower-garden. He was right in calling the place “ worthy of a monarch,” adding, “ If this building had been finished, it would have ranked with the first in France.” With the plan of Charleval the French art of gardening, joined with the castle scheme, reached the first stage of its growth. Here was the tradition of the Middle Ages at work—not at all in the same way as in Italy—gradually and uninterruptedly effecting the change, which was to bring into being, from the starting-point of the strong mediaeval water-castle, this magnificent offspring of the Renaissance, through the blending and union of house and garden. Apart from direct progress there are various gardens belonging to this time that bear witness to the great skill of their architect. In the garden of Montargis (Fig. 328) the difficulties in carrying out a formal plan seemed all but insuperable. 

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Apart from direct progress there are various gardens belonging to this time that bear witness to the great skill of their architect. In the garden of Montargis (Fig. 328) the difficulties in carrying out a formal plan seemed all but insuperable. When Renée, Louis XII.’s clever daughter, after the death of her husband Hercules II. d’Este, left Ferrara in I :560, Montargis was assigned to her for her home as a widow. On the steep mountain- top she found a neglected, ill-arranged castle within the turreted walls, with two little gardens afl telling of the forgotten Middle Ages. But Renée, after a time of bitter trouble and subjectio n, which she had suffered in Italy at the hands of a church she hated, felt disposed to make herself the centre of a Protestant community in her own beloved home. This friend and protectress of Calvin, so highly praised by Goethe, was not only, in the words of her daughter Leonora, "in wisdom and right thinking such that none of her daughters equalled her," and one of the ablest women of her time, but she was also a friend and patroness of art. To the special art of the garden she was already friendly from her long stay in Italy. She summoned Du Cerceau, that he might rebuild the castle and lay out the gardens :; and in a curious fantastic way (suited to the nature of the place) he acquitted himself of the task.

He set out the gardens in two concentric terraces round the semicircular walls of the castle, which in spite of the steep slope had moats with plenty of water. On the first terrace was the flower-garden with two rows of beds, box ornaments, and flowers in the middle and clumps of trees at the side, which every here and there were interrupted by leafy paths in trellis (berceaux) (Fig. 329). The great difference in level was counteracted by very high  supporting walls, which held up the terraces with small crossway walks between. In two places sloping paths led to the second terrace, and these were bordered by fine wooden pavilions and arched ways, in which the master produced his best work. This second terrace was a vegetable and fruit garden, which covered the foot of the hill in regular rows of avenues and formal beds of trapezium shape.

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The symmetry of the large garden which Catherine de’ Medici made at the royal seat in Paris, the Tuileries Gardens, was almost too stiff. Catherine had the castle built by Philibert de l’Orme, with a wall round its garden, so that not only was this separated from the castle by a street outside, but had practically no relation with it, though both were in the same axial line (Fig. 330).  [Evelyn's description of the Tuileries is on the CD]

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The entire evenness of the ground and the little use of water rendered the garden very uninteresting in its first state. Visitors made for the place of echoes at the end of the garden, a semicircular region where voices at certain spots seemed to come from the clouds or perhaps from under the earth. They also found a labyrinth and a sundial in the shrubbery, and best of all a grotto that was made by Palissy—a master- piece to be spoken of later. In Henry IV.’s time the parterres received particular notice, for the king planted the great mulberry avenues at the side of the garden. The chief important changes really became apparent in the great period of French gardens, at a far later date, under Louis XIV.

Although after the middle of the sixteenth century the complete regularity of the ground-plan became a matter of course everywhere, only to be yielded through sheer practical necessity, it was quite permissible to indulge any sentimental fancy within these limits. Every geometrical form was allowed, such as a triangle at Azay-le-Rideau, and a pentagon at the charming little castle of Maune, which is rather like an attempt at Caprarola in miniature. The plan seems really to have been made inside a circle, so regular is it with its perfect rounds and lines of connection. There is a pretty little garden, but only on one side : it leads out from the front of the house, and contains a sunk basin. Central buildings in any kind of geometrical form are to be found in the large “ Ideal-plans” which architects set out on the drawing-board, indulging their fancy untrammelled by fact, and here de l’Orme and Du Cerceau are especially prolific, the latter allowing himself a number of toute sorte de jardins on every side, and then treating them separately as giardini secreti.