The castle in the 18th century
Conversely, the detail of the documents analyzed, especially the inventories of 1786 and 1787, enable us to reconstitute the lives of the château’s inhabitants in the years before the Revolution. First, let us climb the spiral staircase which divides the keep.
On the first floor, the impressive volume of the great hall lies before us. Everything here breathes tradition: the old tapestries adorning the walls and especially the crimson velvet dais embroidered with the arms of the Sully family, symbol of the dignity of a duke and peer. At the back of the room stands the theatre where Voltaire directed the fair Suzanne de Livry’s first steps on the stage. The neighboring “king’s bedroom” no longer fulfils the wholly symbolic function it had at the end of the 17th century. The sumptuous bed has disappeared, as has the tapestry depicting the Voyages of Jacques Coeur, to be replaced by panels of blue damask on which hang gilded picture frames. Numerous seats await the visitors who will arrive in the evening to enjoy themselves at the card tables in what became the “assembly room”. Alongside it, a passage leads to the new building, linked to the keep by a small pavilion built against the west side of the Villeroy Tower, today the Verrines Tower. The private apartments of the master and mistress of the house begin here with the first antechamber of the Duchess. With windows on the courtyard side, it served as a small dining room heated by a ceramic stove. We continue our walk, still on the courtyard side, through the second antechamber whose double door opens on to the duchess’s bedroom, the principal room on this floor, occupying the whole width of the block, but with windows only on the side overlooking the moats. A pier glass hangs between the two casements. Above the red marble fireplace, surmounted by another mirrored panel, hangs the portrait of a woman and child. The yellow damask lining the walls gives the room a warm atmosphere. The same material covers the bed, which is crowned by a little canopy resting on curved supports, echoing the model most favored since the middle of the century in what is known as the “Polish-style”.
Some cabinets, probably ordered from Paris, add the delicacy of their fine rose-wood marquetry. A small table in the center of the room displays porcelain cups. This impression of amiable grace is repeated in the boudoir, a small mezzanine room adjoining the bedroom which likewise enjoys the view over the greenery of the park. With their light tones, the toile de Jouy which lines the walls and the few chairs add to the cheerfulness of this refuge. Printed colonnades of this kind had been the most successful product of the Bavarian manufacturer Oberkampf since 1760.
The two bays of the “new building” adjoining the main entrance tower contain mezzanine rooms created for the couple’s private moments. The biggest rooms overlook the moats while the others, used only for service, overlook the courtyard. On that side, in addition to a small stone staircase leading to all levels, are wardrobes containing the commodes and bidets which were considered essential from then on. A door under a tapestry leads from the Duchess’s bedroom to the bathroom. Its stucco walls imitating marble, completed in 1771 by Gazetty, form a precious casket around the bath. A small alcove opposite the window overlooking the park frames the oval tub in tinplated copper, concealed beneath a wooden panel and a calico-covered mattress to form a day bed. The adjoining boudoir, for the Duke’s use, is similarly comfortable and decorative. It contains a welcoming sofa beneath the large mirror at the back of the niche opposite the window. An imaginary Orient inspires the décor of this room with the shimmering motifs of its beautiful “painted Peking” wallpaper.
At nightfall, the glow of candles would illuminate the porcelain flowers which bloom along the metal branches of the chandelier and the fireplace sconces. This was a world of fantasy and illusion, the essence of the late rococo style. Behind the niche of the boudoir, a secret staircase leads to the mezzanine where the Duke had his private domain, focused on an elegant “laboratory” hung with green satin. His bedroom occupies the first floor of the main entrance tower, a symbolic position with the additional advantage of a view over the central prospect of the gardens. It is now the only room to have retained its former size, if not its appearance.
Once again, the archives describe for us the décor introduced in about 1770. Compared with its former states, all notions of solemnity have been banished. The toile de Jouy hanging is interrupted, above the red marble fireplace, by a large vertical mirror crowned by a medallion portrait. The same material covers the Polish-style bed and the comfortable seats which furnish the room: Two writing desks and a pair of corner cupboards complete the furnishing. One cannot leave the room without casting an amused glance at the four Turkish ceramic figures which again betray the Duke’s penchant for the exotic. In the late 18th century, the château of Sully-sur-Loire succeeded in combining the prestige of its secular history and the convenience and comfort demanded at the time. The new block commissioned by the seventh Duke continued to be occupied by his descendants in the 19th century. It underwent some internal changes but they were less radical than those which affected the rooms in the little château where volumes and decors were reiterated in the taste of the 16th and 17th centuries.
A statement of condition produced in 1902 presents the image of a large family house where the contributions of successive generations could still be perceived. That fine harmony was destroyed by a fire in 1918. The 18th century then fell into oblivion. Thanks to the rehabilitation work undertaken by the Department of Loiret and the refurbishing now in progress, the château of Sully-sur-Loire once again represents a carefree and joyful era. Following in the footsteps of Voltaire and of the most likeable of its Dukes, the venerable residence is gradually returning to the days of the fête galante.