Thursday, 20 June 2019

New Apothecary at Chenonceau


To celebrate the 500 year anniversary of the birth of Catherine de Medici, the Chateau of Chenonceau has recreated the apothecary that once existed in the stable block. The Queen was always surrounded by scientists such as her doctor, Augier Ferrier, and Nostrodamus, her herbalist. The latter was so reknowned that the Queen called him to court in 1555.

A local furniture maker has worked for three years to restore a monumental set of cabinets for the apothecary. It took Fabrice Hulak, who has lived and worked in nearby Azay sur Cher for fifteen years, nearly two years to restore the individual wooden elements before putting the whole thing together, another year's work. He's very aware of how lucky he has been to work on this once in a lifetime project.

Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Laure Menier, the curator of Chenonceau, has wanted to reinstate the apothecary for a long time. Then three years ago she had the opportunity to buy the apothecary from a Florentine palace. The nine wooden cabinets, 3.8 metres high and 1.8 metres wide, were delivered with four boxes of bits -- a real jigsaw puzzle.

Hulak, and his old apprentice master Patrice Goulon, from Bléré, took on the task in the autumn of 2016. There were no plans, drawings or instructions. There wasn't even a photograph of the apothecary in situ in Italy. As he worked on the cabinets he discovered that they showed the signs of being altered over the course of their life.

Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The apothecary has been reinstated in the stables, where the original one was. The Florentine cabinets have been adapted to fit the space and the beams in the ceiling. Mouldings have been remade, suitable pieces have been found to fit and later modifications reversed so the apothecary is a Renaissance piece of furniture.

Hulak worked at least three days a week on the project, and sometimes two weeks straight. All the while he was engaged in honouring other commissions too.

The longest task was to take the cupboards apart and remove all the old varnish, then replace or reglue the little carved motifs and the broken acanthus leaves. It was very precise and fastidious work. He had to reconstruct the cupboards, remake 400 metres of mouldings and the doors. It took nearly two years to remake all the elements before he could put it all back together.

Everything was done in the workshop, then reconstructed in the room in the stables. All the carcasses of the cupboards are oak, and the facades walnut. The glass for the doors, artisan blown like in the period, were ordered from Lyon.

Hulak has also done all the other items of furniture in the display, including an enormous Renaissance three metre high by three metre wide buffet in rosewood and walnut. That only took him three months!

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2 comments:

  1. "Nostrodamus, her herbalist"....
    So, all his prophesies came from smoking whacky-baccy and eating hallucinogenic mushrooms, then?!
    Explains things a bit.....

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  2. He seems to have dabbled in a number of related 'arts' ('sciences'?) but self-trained, so he seems to have impressed some people, such as Catherine de Medici, and been dismissed as an amateur by 'professional astrologers'. I suspect he was quite a knowledgeable herbalist, and serious about trying to treat, even cure, the plague.

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