themes: periods:

If you happen to be here by chance, please notice that this article is part of a series that explores the main stages of the fabulous Marie-Antoinette Tour 2019, created by Alice Mortali, President of Aimant, Italian Marie Antoinette Association (Here the complete series)

Guided Tour of Chantilly Castle (Part II)

Louis II de Bourbon-Condé (1621-1686), also known as the Great Condé, was a blood prince, cousin to Louis XIV the Sun King, and a war hero.

Ritratto de Grand Condé
Robert Nanteuil, the Grand Condé in 1662, Musée Condé.

The rivalry between the two royal cousins was well known, to the point that Chantilly itself reflects it, suffice it to think about the magnificent gardens that expanded together with Versailles’s.

Aerial view of Chantilly garden, designed by Le Nôtre, with the castle in the background (photo from domainedechantilly.com).

The prince had decided his castle he had inherited from his mother would have been a residence worthy of a fashionable king, with an unmatched park.

(Also read: “The Ghosts of Chantilly: the Montmorency Era“)

For such a task he called the same landscape architect who had designed the king’s gardens in Versailles, André Le Nôtre. Of all his works, Le Nôtre considered Chantilly his best one, so, let’s see what’s so special about this wonder.

André Le Nôtre
André Le Nôtre (1613-1700), the landscape architect, also known as “Europe’s gardener”

As soon as you get close to Chantilly castle, you can notice something strange: the complex’s and the garden’s arrangement doesn’t match the classical model of noble French residences!

Once you pass through the access of the honor court, unusually, the guest’s eye doesn’t meet the façade of the residence, but the clearing of a giant terrasse on which stands out the equestrian statue of Duke Anne de Montmorency (the one I told you about in the previous article.)

Statua Anne de Montmorency
Statue of Duke Anne de Montmorency, Constable of France, commander-in-chief of the royal army, (1493-1567), lord of Chantilly (photo from Wikipedia).

The castle is on the left, on the west of the perspective axis of the large French garden.

Vista Aerea Chantilly
Image from Google Maps shows Chantilly castle from the air (on a small island on the left). The perspective axis of the French garden develops towards the North-East, following the ancient road to Picardy that the castle defended during the Middle Ages.

Once passed the statue, the guest’s eyes are hit by the dizzying perspective of the parterre, the mix of flowerbeds and geometric ornamental details of the garden.

Chantilly Castle as seen from the parterre by André Le Nôtre (Northern side). In the background, you can see the large staircase that leads to the terrasse with the equestrian statue of Anne de Montmorency.

The French garden is a triumph of order over chaos, of civilization over wildness. A perfect example is the supply line of the Grand Canal, still, the one designed by Le Nôtre, let’s see it.

To create this enormous stream long 2,5 km, running perpendicularly to the axis of the garden, the architect diverted the stream of a tributary of the Oise river and created a large above-ground reservoir on the eastern end of the stream itself.

Bacino Chantilly
The reservoir supplying Chantilly’s Grand Canal, gathering the waters of the Nonette, tributary to the Oise.

The junction waterfall between the levels of the reservoir and the stream is still in perfect working conditions!

Cascata Chantilly Grand Canal
The waterfall supplying the Grand Canal is on the far end of the East part.
GrandCanal Chantilly
The Grand Canal as seen from the waterfall (looking westward).

Apart from the parterre on the North of the Castle and the Grand Canal, André Le Nôtre redesigned the western gardens, of which all that’s left are the Beauvais fountains, decorated by Jacques Houzeau (1682), the king’s sculptor.

During the visit of the Sun King in April 1671, the entire court was entranced by the water games, the arrangement of the statues, the thickets and the entertainments – including the inevitable maze – created by Le Nôtre.

The Beauvais fountains in Chantilly’s western park (photo from Wikipedia)

It was on that occasion that the famous François Vatel (1631-1671), general controller of the prince’s Maison – a sort of butler-chef – killed himself jumping on a sword for a delay on a fish delivery. The tragedy didn’t stop the guests from appreciating the wonders of the garden, of which they sang praises in their memoirs.

View of the gardens designed by Le Nôtre (XVII century, photo from Wikipedia). In the foreground, you can see the western garden of which all that remains are the Beauvais fountains (see further up)

Besides Le Nôtre, the Grand Condé also employed François Mansart (1598-1666) for the refurbishment of the Petit Château of Anne de Montmorency (XVI century).

Grand Château a sinistra, Petit Château a sinistra, visti dal lato nord
Looking at the complex from the north, on the right of the more ancient medieval part, also known as Grand Château, sticks out the Petit Château wanted by Anne de Montmorency in the XVI century and refurbished by Mansart’s design one century later.

Sadly, the prince couldn’t enjoy his new apartments, they were finished just one month prior to his death.

He couldn’t even cherish the gallery on the first floor of the western wing that should have exhibited the representations of his achievements. It was finished just later on, under his great-grandson, but this is a different story, a different owner and above all, a different century: the Age of Enlightenment!