On entering the Loir Valley coming from Paris, between Chartres and Blois, the huge silhouette of the castle of Châteaudun stands proud before visitors who approach it from the north.
Owned by Jehan, the Bastard of Orléans, Count of Dunois and a favored companion of Jeanne d’Arc, the famous architect of the French victory over the English, it was a solid fortress before becoming a delightful princely residence at the end of the 15th century and during the 16th century.The combination of its site and its geographical situation make Châteaudun an exceptional defensive location.
Around the main courtyard, from left to right, the various constructions that form the castle of Châteaudun are laid out chronologically: the big tower of the 12th century keep, the Sainte-Chapelle and the Dunois wing of the 15th century and the Longueville wing of the 16th century.
Set out in the thickness between the walls at arch level, two ring-shaped corridors form a circular path that allowed archers to move around and position themselves behind the arrow loops in order to neutralize attackers.
The big tower is the last remaining part of the keep or medieval castle. It is in a remarkable state of preservation and is a unique example of master towers. With its huge silhouette and its opaque walls, this cylinder measuring 17 meters in diameter and 31 meters in height stands on three levels, the first two of which are dome vaulted.
The entrance was on the first floor, 10 meters above the ground, and the ground floor was accessed via a "manhole". The upper floor housed the library of Jehan Dunois and apartments for members of his entourage.
Châteaudun is home to one of the eleven saintes-chapelles built in France between the 13th and 16th centuries. From 1451 to 1493, Jehan Dunois arranged for the construction of a Sainte-Chapelle, of Gothic style and asymmetric in shape, to house a piece of the True Cross given to him by Charles VII. This chapel was not just the expression of the remarkable devotion of Jehan Dunois: it was also a political act to assert his bloodline as a prince.
Intended for the lord of the castle, it consists of a choir ornamented by large openwork with small columns and a vaulted nave with three-quarter pointed arches.
Statues of Saints
After the pillaging of the Revolution...all that remains of the original opulent decor is a magnificent set of fifteen statues from the Loire workshops of the 15th century depicting the saints for which Dunois and his family had a particular devotion.
The wonderful Madonna and Child in the apse is a very pure example of Gothic art of around 1400.
Jehan Dunois statue
The famous statuette in the nave depicting an aged warrior, dressed in armor characteristic of the reign of Charles VII and adorned with a laurel crown, is, according to tradition, a portrait of Jehan Dunois.
Final Judgement Mural painting
The Saint-François chapel is adorned with a huge Last Judgment painted in watercolor on the south wall, attributed to Paoul Goybault. Dunois is likely to have commissioned it around 1466, for his son's marriage to Agnès de Savoie.
The floor was assigned to domestic staff, contrary to custom that intended the upper level to be the lord's religious space. It is covered by a barrel-vaulted paneled frame in opulent decor and sculpted in the middle of the 15th century: a Paschal Lamb and figures of angels.
Here the lord exercised his power of justice, in person or by delegation. Owing to its remarkable state of preservation, it is an exceptional example of the decor of a seigniorial jurisdiction of the Ancien Régime in the 17th century.
Two vast kitchens with vaulted beams house two fireplaces that take-up the entire width of the supporting wall. A large number of servants prepared food there. The extent of the kitchens demonstrates the importance of hospitality in the way of life that allowed the lord to assert his power.
Located on the first basement level, the bath apartment comprises two rooms. The first, fitted with a fireplace, probably a cloakroom or restroom, allows access to the garden. Accessed by a few steps, a vaulted room with stone benches was the hot room, opening out onto a small steam room.
The ground floor and the first floor form the noble part of the dwelling. The rooms are heated by large fireplaces with sculpted chimney pieces, the finest of them being located close to the multi-sided turret.
The south residence, the largest residence on the first floor, was probably occupied by Jehan Dunois.
On the site of the terrace there was a room, a chapel and an office that collapsed in the 18th century. From the facade there is an impressive view over the Loir.
The opulence of the decor of its south wing contrasts with the sobriety of its 15th century construction and demonstrates early evidence of the Italian influence at the northern end of the Loire Valley. The building’s verticality indicated by its high roofs helps to retain its medieval nature whilst the relative symmetry of the composition and ornamental repertoire of the stairwell heralds the Renaissance.
Great Renaissance Staircase
With its opulent and flamboyant decor, the staircase is the major decorative feature of the north wing: an installation preceded by landings that form a loggia. The internal decor of the stairwell is an introduction to the Renaissance, its white limestone core being decorated with candelabras. Columns crowned with capitals in various types of decor adorn the walls of the stairwell. Stone box beams punctuate the flat staircase ceilings. The door lintels are sculpted with Italianate motifs, framed by medallions.
Apartment of Catherine of Alençon
The main room on the first floor, known as the Catherine d’Alençon room, with a surface area of 300m², was where the Longuevilles received their guests. It was the setting for great merrymaking: dancing, music, poetry, stories and tales to accompany the banquets. It is now permanent home to the castle’s magnificent collections of tapestries.
This virtual exhibition has been put together by teams from the Centre des monuments nationaux, with the help of teams from the Château de Châteaudun, the support of teams from the images unit and coordination by the digital unit.
The images were taken from Regards - Banque d’images des monuments © Centre des monuments nationaux.