The Château d'Azay-le-Rideau was built on an island in the Indre River during the reign of Francis I. A subtle blend of French tradition and innovative Italian decor, it is an icon of the new art of building in the Loire Valley in the 16th century.
The Château d'Azay is considered one of the foremost examples of French Renaissance architecture.
While both wings were built in the early years of the 16th century, the château took on its final shape in the 19th century. In this respect, Azay-le-Rideau can be enjoyed as both a jewel of the Renaissance and as a representative example of the 19th century 's taste for Renaissance art.
In around 1510, Gilles Berthelot, adviser to King Louis XII and Treasurer of France, purchased the mediaeval fortress of Azay and the surrounding land. This seigneurial possession strengthened his new social position: son of an officer of the Chambers of Accounts, Gilles Berthelot became a nobleman on inheriting his father's responsibilities. He distinguished himself in the service of the king of France by creating new taxes, which resulted in filling the coffers of the kingdom.
Shortly after purchasing the land in Azay, Berthelot pulled down part of the old fortress to build a château in the style of the day. The work took a remarkably short amount of time: by 1522 the structure was completed.
Portrait of Francis I exhibited at the Château d'Azay
However, Gilles Berthelot had little time to enjoy his home. As with other financiers, his activities made him very rich, possibly at the expense of the crown. A general investigation ordered by Francis I revealed embezzlement. One of the financiers, Jacques de Beaune of Semblaçay, was executed. Gilles Berthelot, who feared the same fate, fled, abandoning his wife and his château. He died two years later in Cambrai.
Francis I seized the Château d'Azay and offered it to one of his loyal followers, Antoine Raffin, to the great displeasure of Philippe Lesbahy, the wife of Berthelot, who vainly tried to recover the property.
Firstly the property of the Raffin's, the château finished in the hands of the Gelais de Lansac family following successive marriages. On 27 June 1617, King Louis XIII stayed there. In 1651, the Marquis de Vasse received the château by marriage: he carried out some work to embellish the residence and built the portal. After his death in 1684, the domain fell into disrepair for lack of money.
Put on sale shortly before the Revolution, the Château was bought in 1791 by Charles de Biencourt, the Marquis of Biencourt. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Biencourt family undertook major restoration work, giving it its present form. They also transformed the park into a beautifully landscaped garden in the English style then in vogue.
Caption: Western façade overlooking the garden of the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau circa 1800
At the end of the century, the château passed into the hands of several owners before being purchased in 1905 by the State. The château was classified as a monument historique nine years later.
1510-1527 : Gilles Berthelot and Philippe Lesbahy
1537-1651 : Les Raffin
1651-1787 : Les Vassé
1791-1882 : Les Biencourt
1905-2015 : French State
Azay-le-Rideau, Chambord, Monsoreau, Chenonceau, Ussé: the Loire Valley has an exceptional collection of châteaux that were built or redesigned in Renaissance style. The Châteaux of Anjou, Touraine and Orléanais were thus a favoured place to stay for the itinerant Court of France.
While Chambord and Blois were royal residences, other architectural gems from the early 16th century were built for large financiers of the crown, such as Gilles Berthelot, the commissioner of the Château d'Azay.
These financiers and advisers who became rich during the reigns of Louis XII and Francis I, and sought to establish their status by owning a château and land. They wanted to show their success by the magnificence of their homes.
Caption: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau
These new constructions incorporated Italian architectural innovations. During the military campaigns in Italy, the French were impressed by the best in Alpine art and culture. Bolstered by their contacts, they recruited Italian artists: the latter introduced new building practices (regular and symmetrical plane, straight flight of stairs). These architects, sculptors and painters also provided an antiquarian vocabulary. The innovations from Italy were combined or were superimposed with contemporary French architectural and decorative tradition.
Known for the beauty of its natural setting and its rich historical heritage, the Loire Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Châteaux of the Loire Valley, including that of Azay, constitute one of the treasures of the region.
After the restoration of the park in 2014, the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau has undergone much restoration work to its façades sculptures and roofing.
This work has enabled restoring all its splendour to this remarkable monument of the Loire Valley.
Major restoration work was was carried out on the park in 2014. The work focused on the renewal and maintenance of its arboreal heritage in the spirit of a 19th century landscaped park: soil regeneration, restoration of alleys and bridges, upgrading of electrical equipment to standards and new lighting of the park, restoration of masonry works and implementation of an irrigation network supplied by river water.
The Centre des monuments nationaux chose to restore the ground floor of the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau to all the luxury and comfort of its previous owners, the Biencourt family, who, between 1791 and 1899, paid utmost attention to the furniture and furnishings of the château.
Restoration work has completed the reconstruction of the Château of Azay as it was the 19th century when it was admired by travellers and, in particular, by Prosper Mérimée and Honoré de Balzac.
The Biencourt Salon before refurnishing
The Biencourt Salon after refurnishing
The restoration project, lasting a total of 34 months, was focused on the roof structures, the overall roofing, the upper parts of the masonry, sculptures and woodwork.
Because of the amount of necessary working site installations and scaffolding, the restoration of façades and roofing has been schedules at the same time. Installation of the scaffolding, part of which is in water, was a complex issue. The umbrella covering the entire site enables the carpenters, roofers and stonemasons to work safely and provided perfect protection of the roof spaces and floors during the procedure.