Abbaye Royale de Chaalis

Chaalis, France

Background

The Cistercian Abbaye Royale de Chaalis was founded by Louis VI in 1136 and over the following 500 years expanded and developed to accommodate the changing tastes of the French aristocracy. In 1541, François I gave the abbey church to the Vatican’s ambassador to the King of France, Cardinal Hippolyte d’Este. The cardinal brought artists and craftsmen from Italy to refashion the interior of the twelfth-century Gothic abbot’s chapel. In 1902 the estate was sold to Madame Jacquemart-André who used the surviving abbot’s chapel to house her vast collection of artworks from around the world. Following her death in 1912 the abbey was bequeathed to the Institut de France. The partially ruined complex is currently open to the public as the Musée Jacquemart-André in Chaalis. Recently, the series of frescoes depicting prophets and apostles within the abbot’s chapel have been attributed to the sixteenth-century Italian Mannerist painter Francesco Primaticcio.

How We Helped

While the abbey is a well known museum and site of cultural heritage, poor drainage and water ingress over time had weakened the roof structure of the abbot’s chapel, where portions of the frescoed ceilings and walls began to crack and fall off. WMF assisted with the installation of a proper drainage system in the chapel and repair the roof. After the water ingress issues were addressed, the Primaticcio paintings were documented, stabilized, and conserved.

Why It Matters

While the nearby church of the Abbaye Royale de Chaalis was dismantled during the French revolution, the remodeled twelfth-century abbot’s chapel survives as an example of the Italian artistic influences in France during the 16th century. In addition, the crenellated wall around the abbey’s rose garden shows signs of influence by Serlio, the great Italian architect, who is known to have been active at the French court during the sixteenth century. Similar influences are apparent in the church frescoes attributed to Primaticcio. The paintings are an important example within Primaticcio’s oeuvre, as his other surviving in situ works in the region, at Fontainebleau, portray only secular and mythological themes.

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