I suggested to Murray that we should not leave Paris without visiting Montmorency. After all, I noted, Murray grew up in Watsonia and I grew up in Eltham. Only those living in the Sharpie zone of the Northern suburbs of Melbourne could appreciate them meaning of this observation.
Likewise, only those who grew up in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne could comment knowledgeably on the differences between the obscure and dingy suburb of Melbourne and the grand Château on Paris’ outskirts. For the life of me, I cannot understand how Melbourne’s straggle of secondary woodland ever came to share a name with an exemplar of the grandeur of absolutist France.
Seat of the Montmorency family
The Château d’Écouen is a historical building in Écouen, north of Paris, France. It was built in 1538–1550 for Anne de Montmorency, who was made connétable in 1538. He had inherited the château in 1515, and his building campaigns were informed by his first-hand experience in overseeing royal works at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Fontainebleau.Jean Bullant is likely to have been the architect, for he was commissioned to design the Grand Constable’s tomb, but it has also been suggested that Pierre Tâcheron had a hand in the château’s design. The colossal order is extremely rare in French architecture before Bullant; his characteristic use of it makes its first appearance in France here, on the pavilion on the court side. Anne de Montmorency was a major patron of the arts in France, and a protector of Huguenot artists, when the court was strongly Catholic: his chapel was decorated with sculptures by Jean Goujon, and Jean Bullant, Barthélemy Prieur, Bernard Palissy and some of the Androuet du Cerceau family found protection and work at Écouen. Unhappily, no building accounts survive, so the precise sequence of the construction cannot be closely followed; panels of grisaille stained glass in the gallery of the west wing are dated 1542 and 1544, and the east wing was paved in 1549-50. The building was frescoed and furnished during the 1550s, in the style of the School of Fontainebleau.
Écouen was illustrated in engravings in Jacques Androuet du Cerceau‘s Les Plus excellents bastiments de France, 1576.
In 1787 the east (entrance) wing was demolished by the owner, the Louis Joseph de Bourbon, prince de Condé; when he emigrated at the Revolution, Écouen fell to the State, as a "national property" ("bien national"). Many alterations were made to Écouen in the mid-19th century.
Museum of the Renaissance
"Clock of Charles V", Musée de la Renaissance.
Following an idea of André Malraux the castle was thoroughly renovated by architects of the Monuments Historiques, after having served as a school for daughters of chevaliers of the Légion d’Honneur, from 1807 to 1962, in order to house the "Musée de la Renaissance", comprising theRenaissance objects of the collections of theMusée de Cluny, in sympathetic surroundings. A series of small, highly focussed exhibitions have been staged at Écouen over the years since the museum fully opened in 1982.
Murray and I wandered the wings of this vast château almost alone, under the bored gaze of uniformed attendants who appear to have cultivated a deep hatred of the French Renaissance, not because the French Renaissance is particularly contemptible, but because their job requires them to empty themselves of thought and deny themselves physical movement.
Most of the furnishings are grandiose and gloomy. The paintings are didactic and solemn. The château is a theatrical set built for pleasure but its furnishings are a finger-wagging lecture. Boucher and Fragonard would have been chastened within these walls. No quivering, dewy buttocks or frilly upturned petticoats here.
But what else would one expect from the employees of a brainchild of André Malraux? M. Malraux was France’s first Minister of Culture. Before M. Malraux, one might suppose that culture did not require ministration. But, in the case of France, perhaps I am incorrect in this supposition.
M. Malraux achieved this unprecedented role by means of an invitation in 1959 from the newly-elevated President of France, Charles de Gaulle. This appointment was a huge vote of confidence in M. Malraux. or was this preferment in part recompense for Malraux opining “Chanel, General De Gaulle and Picasso are the three most important figures of our time.”?
In France, a ‘strong sense of cultural mission’ has, at least since the French Revolution, taken the form of direct state intervention. Throughout the Ministry’s forty-year history, this power has been intensified by two ministers in particular, André Malraux and Jack Lang, each of whom ran the Ministry for approximately a decade.
The main reason for the prominence of the state is the tradition of centralism dating back to the Revolution of 1789 and the ancien régime. Under the monarchy, kings were patrons of the arts for the sake of royal prestige. But after 1789, the revolutionary government seized the works of art and heritage formerly owned by Church and Crown and consequently found itself faced with the problem of what to do with them. It opted to preserve and open access to them, as important means of establishing a unified nation of citizens.
To achieve this, an administrative infrastructure was built up throughout the 19th century which was to form the core of today’s Ministry of Culture. The activity that infrastructure was concerned with was defined narrowly, as the fine arts.
However, things may have been different. During the Third Republic (1870-1940), the state saw its job as mainly to preserve France’s heritage in the fine-arts and provide specialist training in them. Where new works were concerned — state commissions for example — it was content to avoid extremes and be guided by the appropriate Academies and the High Council for Fine Arts created in 1875. This was because the production and consumption of new works of art, in the here and now, were seen as essentially private activities, in which state intervention was undesirable. This was, then, an arm’s length philosophy of sorts, embedded in the liberal ideology of republicanism. The disadvantage with it, at least in the view of some, was that liberalism simply meant neglect: neglect of the contemporary arts (particularly in their more challenging forms, which were often sacrificed to academicism), and neglect of the entire problematic of cultural inequality.
When De Gaulle came to power in 1958, establishing the Fifth Republic of today, two important things changed. First, a new constitution reduced the powers of Parliament and increased those of government and President. Second, in 1959 De Gaulle set up a full government department for the arts, under one of France’s most famous novelists and intellectuals, André Malraux. What these changes meant for the cultural sector was a new age of central-government voluntarism. Two new duties of the state were added to the original ones of preservation and training: encouragement to contemporary ‘creation’, the production and dissemination of new works; and democratization, putting an end to cultural inequalities by taking the arts to everyone.
The railway from Épinay-Villetaneuse to Le Tréport-Mers is a French 173-kilometre longrailway line, that connects Paris to Le Tréport on the English Channel coast. It was opened in several stages between 1872 and 1877.