For the current major conservation work at the Chateau of Azay le Rideau, the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (CMN) has appointed local firms. They include Hory-Chauvelin (stone cutting, scaffolding, masonry, plastering and tiling) from Avoine, the Rolland-Réau group (stone treatment, sculpture) from Montlouis and the joinery Guérin Brothers from Pouzay. The first two have worked together on previous heritage conservation projects such as the Hôtel Gouin in Tours. Of the 9 contracts 6 have been won by local Tourangeaux firms.
Openings in the screen allow materials to be hoisted up and visitors to get a glimpse of the work behind.
Chrystelle Laurent, the senior curator, is at pains to point out that this is not parochialism, but because they are the best. The Touraine is a land of abundant limestone and therefore has a high concentration of masons and other expert artisans, so the choice is extensive. The CMN wants the work to be a showcase of the local skills with a level of excellence that is reknowned world wide.
The mirror pond that the chateau sits in creates logistical problems, solved by a raised platform created to gain access to the works from the rear of the building.
Like Olivier Rolland, a sculpture conservator from Montlouis, many of the conservators and artisans have put their expertise to the test at the most prestigious heritage sites in France. Versailles, the Louvre and Chenonceau have all benefitted from the skills of these little known artisans who work in the background, unacknowledged except by fellow heritage professionals. They run businesses to be sure, but they also work for the prestige of gaining a contract such as at Azay. They are excited by the project and love the chateau.
I notice that they have planted bulrushes in the pond, presumably in acknowledgement of the restoration of Philippe Lesbahy's bedroom with its rush matting wallcoverings.
Olivier examines each stone carefully, checking if lichen is causing damage and needs to be removed or treated. His objective is to save as much original stone as possible and slow down further damage. Around him other teams of specialists are checking lead finials and treating wood. It's a huge restoration job.
Scaffolding across the front of the building, with a lifesize photo of the staircase printed on the protective screening.The screening also forms a weatherproof 'umbrella'.
Chrystelle notes that these artisans carry a particularly French know-how and present it to the world (she is, after all, a self-confessed 'child of Colbert'...) This work is also a means of ensuring these highly skilled individuals can earn a living.
Explanatory panel at the base of the chateau, talking about the slates and finials.
The work entails:
- 25.5 m high scaffolding.
- 4125 m² of stone repointed.
- 5425 m² of facade.
- 35 m³ of new oak carpentry.
- 1838 m² of new roof.
- 75 tonnes of slate.
I calculate that this means the roof alone (excluding carpentry) will cost at least €130 000.
The Biencourt's sitting room, as it was a few years ago.
Once the exterior is completed the next project is to improve the 19th century rooms on the ground floor. These rooms acknowledge the legacy of the Biencourt family, the last private owners of the chateau. In the next 2 years over a hundred objects from the CMN archive stores will be heading for Azay. Crockery and cookware owned by the Biencourt family will return to their old home and portraits from the 16th century hung to partially reinstate the family's collection. Textiles from the period will be conserved and rehung too, to return the feel of the rooms to how they were in the past. A highlight will be the velvet curtains set with gold lilies, with which these rooms were dressed at the time.Article about the restoration in La Nouvelle République newspaper (in French).