Okay so this post I’ve had in my drafts for a year now! I started it ages ago and I’m now getting around to finishing it and posting it for you guys to see. So when my dad visited one of the things that we did before setting off for Roscoff was visit the Chateau d’Angers. Yep, you read that right. Angers has its own castle. Isn’t that awesome? Saint Mary’s certainly knows how to study abroad in style. Both Angers and Maynooth had their own castle. All the more reason to study abroad fellow smicks (hint hint nudge nudge).
Chateau d’Angers has been around a long time. It was originally built in the 9th century by the Count of Anjou and was added to in the 13th century to the castle that visitors see today. This happened when Philip II conquered the area in 1204 and the expansion took part at the beginning of the 13th century when Louis IX, Philip II’s grandson, was young. Louis IX later gave the castle to his son Charles in 1246. in 1352, the castle was passed from King John II to his son Louis who later became the Count of Anjou. This Louis is the one who later commissioned the Apocalypse Tapestry. It was designed by Hennequin de Bruges and woven into a series of tapestries by Nicolas Bataille and Robert Poincon.
Catherine de Medici returned the castle to its origin as a strong fortress in the mid-1500s but her efforts were later reversed by her son, Henry III, who stripped the towers and walls of their defenses and instead used the stone to develop the town of Angers. The castle had become a military post by the 18th century, withstanding attacks from the Huguenots and later the Venedean army. Though the castle has seen countless attacks and parts of it have been torn down and rebuilt (including a massive fire in 2009), the Chateau d’Angers still stands proudly today.
There is also a small courtyard within the castle walls as well as a small herb garden and what looked to be a tiny vineyard. And let’s not forget the beautiful flower designs in the moat that surround the castle. Visitors can wander along the top of the walls and see for miles around them. I thought that was cool because you can get a kind of bird’s eye view of the town of Angers. The castle is also situated directly beside the river Maine so you can watch the boats floating up and down the river. In what used to be the royal apartments stand miniature models of what the castle looked like during different centuries and in the chapel, you can still see some of the painted frescos and designs that used to decorate the walls. I’m not sure if it is still be there but when I visited the castle, a visiting exhibition was on display in one of the towers. It represented the number of souls that used to be housed in the jail if memory serves. The exhibition was a lot of hands and dark little figures cocooned in smoke or fire but everything was done on a gray and black scale. It was interesting.
Probably the coolest part of the experience (besides the castle itself) are the tapestries that hang in what used to be the castle’s kitchens and dungeons. I mentioned towards the top how King John II’s son Louis had commissioned the Apocalypse Tapestry. Created in the 1300s, the tapestry is actually a series of about 90 or 100 different scenes from St John in the new testament. I believe that the tapestries are switched out every so often because not all of them are on display at one time. Before you enter into the long, narrow corridor, you can watch a short video on the tapestries which is offered in a few languages including ASL. Once you enter into the corridor though, no photos and flashes aren’t allowed (there’s signs everywhere) and the area is also pretty dimly lit to help preserve the tapestries.
The tapestries themselves are pretty incredible. They still retain a lot of their color given their age and overall seem to be in pretty good condition (keep in mind that this is coming from someone who is not an expert). Each square or rectangle depicts a different scene while the backgrounds seem to alternate between red and blue. One of my favorite depictions was of the celestial town of Jerusalem.
Over time, the tapestries were set aside and eventually forgotten, only to be rediscovered by Jean Lurçat in the 1930s. The tapestries were restored and put on display where they are now in the Chateau d’Angers. Jean Lurçat, inspired by the piece, made his own set of tapestries which are on display across the river at the Musée Jean-Lurçat et de la tapisserie contemporaine. Lurçat’s tapestries are much more vibrant than the Apocalypse piece but Lurçat tried to emulate the general style of the original in his work. Now, technically, I saw the tapestries out of order as the general, unspoken suggestion is that you visit the Chateau and see Bataille’s tapestries before seeing Lurçat’s pieces. While not imperative to do so, I think that viewing the pieces in that order gives onlookers a better idea of what they are looking at and can better appreciate each artist and tapestry.
All in all, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon. And for anyone interested in visiting the Chateau d’Angers or the Musée Jean-Lurçat et de la tapisserie contemporaine, make sure that you check out the website beforehand not only for times but also to look at prices as admission may free (ex. anyone under 18, disabled persons, if you’re 18-25 and have proof that you’re studying or living in the area, etc.).