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Condé nest’s magical chateau interiors

The private apartments and library at Château de Chantilly provide a fascinating insight into the piety and learning of its former residents

The Private Apartments (Petits Appartements) were the result of the first major construction work carried out at Chantilly by the young Duke of Aumale. Having just married his cousin, Maria Carolina Augusta of Bourbon–Two Sicilies, in Naples in November 1844, he ordered that renovations begin in early 1845.

The project was assigned to Eugène Lami, an interior decorator who also worked on the Palais des Tuileries, alongside architect Victor Dubois, who was quickly ousted, however. Lami and the duke came up with an interior in the latest fashion, full of references to the history of Chantilly while conducive to the installation of the ducal couple as the new owners of the premises.

These apartments, endowed with all modern conveniences, were placed in the only surviving part of the chateau, the ground floor of the Renaissance wing.

The duchess’s apartments were done in a lavishly feminine, eighteenth-century revival spirit. The antechamber, with white and gold woodwork like those in the upstairs rooms of the princes of Condé, combined Louis XV and Louis XVI styles.

Called the Guise Salon (Salon de Guise), it is named after the title of the duke and duchess’s younger son. The lavish furniture, mostly made by the Grohé brothers (as elsewhere in the apartments), was done in the same spirit.

The bedroom next door is impressively theatrical – the duchess’s monogram can be seen on the bedhead and fireplace mirror, as well as on a garland held by two parakeets painted on the ceiling by Narcisse Diaz. The room is dominated by a superb canopy bed reflecting the taste in fabrics of the day, accompanied by rosewood furniture and Louis XV style chairs that were given padded upholstery by Victor Cruchet.

The pale blue satin on the walls has been reconstructed to correspond to the fabric ordered by the duke after his return from exile in 1876 (his wife had died in 1869), replacing a flowery white-andpink wall fabric.

The duchess’s Gothic-revival prie-dieu (prayer stool) – which had graced her apartment in the Palais des Tuileries – evokes her devout piety, as do the various paintings of religious subjects and a small table (also used as a prie-dieu) decorated by Gabriele Capello with a tiny mosaic of Mount Etna erupting.

Yet it was ultimately this tragedy-filled history that resulted in the unique, almost complete, preservation of these apartments in their 1840s state: the duke wanted to retain the atmosphere of those happy years, prior to the revolution of 1848 and his long exile in England.

These private apartments are in fact France’s only completely preserved princely dwelling from the period known as the July Monarchy (1830-48). By harking back to the days of Chantilly’s splendour from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, they constitute a unique record of the history of grand French interiors, all the while being forerunners of the comfortable revival style known as “Second Empire” (1852–70), which in fact emerged – notably right here – between 1845 and 1847.

The library

Architect Honoré Daumet designed the Duke of Aumale’s Library (Cabinet des Livres) in the spirit of those found in British stately homes, featuring an upper gallery, warm wood panelling, and a ceiling decorated with the coats of arms of companions of the Grand Condé, whose bust overlooks the room.

The Library of nearly twenty thousand volumes, including fifteen hundred manuscripts, is a treasure hoard for booklovers, whom Aumale often invited to share his passion. He was proud to be a historian among others, valued for his recent, scholarly publications, in an equality that he had experienced at public school and was pleased to find again at the Institut de France.

Exhibitions are held in the Library to display the riches of a collection that includes illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, incunabula, and original, often unique, editions of authors the duke appreciated.

He brought an expert eye, sensitive to the refinement of paintings in medieval manuscripts, to books, whose history he sought to trace back through major collections. When it came to printed books, he was alert to the quality of printing and the rarity of bindings. His was the rarest and most valuable private library of the day. A second, larger library was built in 1889 on the spot where a theatre stood in the days of the duke’s godfather.

It contains thirty thousand volumes and now also houses the drawing collection. As a working library, it holds many history books as well as documents from the days of the Fronde, the Wars of Religion, the French Revolution, and the French Empire, not to mention more recent works by the likes of Victor Hugo, the Goncourt brothers, and Émile Zola, occasionally bearing a handwritten dedication by the author.

Get the look

Recreate that Chantilly chic with some astute decorative choices for your own ‘chateau’. Here we present online or high street buys... 

Bergère folly

Bring out your inner aristocrat by snapping up a red velvet, faux Louis XVI-period bergère (style of armchair). This one in beechwood (hêtre) is 106cm tall and costs €399.

Into the blue

Give the refined four-poster bed (Un lit à colonnes) look a modern twist but retain its elegance with this Thao model, constructed in durable acacia wood. Priced at €599.

Bust boom

Keen to give your library (okay, sitting room) a properly regal feel, all while being watched over by French royalty as you read? Measuring 36x23x15 cm, this Louis XIV buste (bust) is an elegant reproduction made from a mould taken from a print of the original work exhibited in the Louvre. Priced at €350.

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