At the dawn of new times

1453. The Hundred Years' War was coming to an end and peace returned to the kingdom of France. In the field ofcivil architecture, this was reflected inan extraordinary vitality: the last fortified castles soon gave way to more pleasant seigneurial residences. Later, thanks to the wars in Italy, these castles with their Gothic forms gradually integrated an antique decor, a sign of the first Renaissance.

From the castle of defence to the castle of pleasure: architecture in the service of power

In the 15th century, the increasingly powerful artillery and the strengthening of central power called into question the usefulness of castles. Many of them were redesigned to become residential castles. This was the case in Nantes, where the Duke of Brittany, François II, undertook major works from 1466. The defensive posts were sometimes abandoned or transformed into decorative elements such as the ditches which became pleasure gardens or the drawbridges replaced by fixed stone bridges. The trend is towards the demilitarisation of castles, which are gradually abandoned in favour of residences for pleasure, which becomes more widespread with the Renaissance.

The movement was born in Italy with the revolutionary evolution of the plans of urban stately homes. Until then, these were organised as fortified houses, which were transformed into palaces with an interior square courtyard lined with arcades. Examples of this were built in Florence (Medici Palace between 1446 and 1459). Roman antiquity influenced Italian architects such as Palladio. The modern architecture of the "Quatrocento" was discovered by the kings Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I during the Italian wars.

At the beginning of the 16th century, the Italian wars did not provoke an immediate conversion to Renaissance art. Only a few personalities in the service of the king began to show an interest in Italian art (nobles, ecclesiastics, financiers). The royal power of the time, Louis XII, remained relatively indifferent. No attempt was made to reproduce Italian buildings. Instead, the imported architectural forms were inserted and subjected to the pre-existing Gothic construction system, creating a synthesis.
A sign of the times, the facades of the buildings are monumental: there is a desire to dazzle and to mark the noble power regained at this time by borrowing from the architectural vocabulary of religious buildings. The durability of a military apparatus, deemed necessary for many reasons, dictates the opposition between the open, friendly world of the courtyard and the closed aspect of the exterior walls.

The Renaissance at the Château d'Ainay-le-Vieil

At the château d'Ainay le Vieil,the architectural changes are reflected in characteristic transformations. The curtain walls lost their military function and a dwelling and flats were built.

Aesthetic innovations further underline the changes to come: slender turrets with pepperpot roofs, a monumental spiral staircase with straight banisters replaces the narrow staircase. The staircase is placed in the centre of the building and serves the flats on the upper floors whose rooms are becoming larger. The presence of "loggias" on the façades of the Logis should also be noted, introducing new notions of comfort, modernity and hygiene.

In contrast to its feudal architecture, the facade of the "New" dwelling of the Château d'Ainay-le-Vieil is in search of harmony, balance and correct proportions. For example, the facades of the castle are organised in a more regular manner with the superimposition of openings in bays. This new architecture is also characterised by a "threefold" distribution of ornamental elements on the facades: mullioned windows, loggias and dormer windows. This characteristic lasted until the end of the Renaissance.

At the top of the "honor" tower is a "Tempietto" (small temple), inspired by the small temple by the architect Bramante in the courtyard of the church of San Pietro in Montorio in Rome.
In the early 16th century, the Château d'Ainay le Vieil served as a kind of laboratory for new ideas in ornamentation, embellishment and decoration. The man of court succeeded the man of war, now concerned with aesthetic considerations to the detriment of defensive ones.

Sources and bibliography

Jean - Pierre Babelon , " Les châteaux en France au siècle de la Renaissance " , 1989 , Flammarion.
Jean Guillaume , " L'invention de la Renaissance " , 2003, Picard.
Jean-Marie Pérouse de Montclos : " Histoire de l'architecture française " , 1989 , Mengès.
Olivier Mignon : " Architecture des châteaux de la Renaissance " , Editions Ouest France.