Villandry is one of the great chateaux built on the banks of the Loire during the Renaissance. It has the distinctive feature of being the residence of neither a king nor a courtesan, but of Jean Le Breton, Minister of Finance for François I.
At Villandry, Jean Le Breton drew on his exceptional architectural experience acquired on a large number of sites, including the Chateau of Chambord, which he supervised and directed on behalf of the Crown over many years.
When he arrived in Villandry in 1532, he had the old feudal fortress razed to the ground, except for the keep, a dramatic testimony to the conference held on 4 July 1189 at which Henry II of England (Henry Plantagenet) admitted his defeat before King Philip Augustus of France, signing the treaty known as “La Paix de Colombiers ” (The Peace of Colombiers) two days before he died.
In place of the fortress, he had three apparently simple main structures built adjoining the keep, to form a horseshoe opening onto the valley through which the Cher and the Loire flow. Arcades, mullioned windows surrounded by richly decorated pilasters, high lucarnes with sculpted curves and broad, steeply sloping slate roofs frame a main courtyard in proportions of rare elegance, the whole stamped with the architectural principle of the period: symmetry.
Despite being nearby and almost contemporary to Azay-le-Rideau, at Villandry the Italian influences and medieval references – turrets, pinnacles, decorative machicolations – completely disappeared to make way for a simpler, purely French style which, in particular as regards the form of the roofs, prefigured Anet, Fontainebleau and what was to become Henry IV style. Villandry’s originality lies not only in its avant-garde architectural design; it is also to be found in the use made of the site on which it was built, in complete harmony with nature and stone, with gardens of outstanding beauty.