Ashley in Paris

Ashley, a member of the University Honors Program and a senior majoring in art history, was awarded a Richter International Fellowship to conduct independent, graduate-level research this summer in Paris, where she plans to examine primary documents and pieces of chinoiserie at the major libraries and museums. Chinoiserie was an 18th-century movement in Europe characterized by the production of goods that portrayed China as an idyllic utopia, with plump pagodes, mystic sages and enlightened philosophers.

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Exploring the Town of Whipped Cream?

The Sunday after Christy left I decided to make a trip to Chantilly, and Lety was nice enough to accompany me.

Before leaving the States, I had found a lot of literature regarding the Chateau Chantilly and its famous singeries. Singeries can be described as the decorative depiction of monkeys or singes in human dress, carrying out human activities. Singeries flourished in the late 18th century following the peak chinoiserie.

Perhaps the most famous artist associated with singeries was Jean Pillement, whose oeuvre contained many chinoiseries as well. Some of Jean Pillement’s most well-known singeries cover the paneled walls of one of the small chambers in the Chateau Chantilly.

Learning about singeries and their many connections with the imagery present in chinoiserie, I decided that a trip to Chantilly could further illuminate the forces behind 18th-century depictions of China. Besides who wouldn’t want to visit a town named whipped cream (that is the English translation of chantilly)?!?

Richter1.jpgSunday morning we got up early and were at the train station Gare du Nord (different than the gare I took to go to Besancon) by 9:30am. We bought our tickets (only 14 euro round trip) for the next departure to Chantilly at 11am.

Considering that we had some time to kill, we decided to grab coffee from one of the nearby cafes. I was thrilled to find out that this cafe served my favorite coffee in Paris: Florio by Cafe Richard. Many, but not all, cafes in Paris serve this brand, and it is divine! So, I ordered my usual cafe viennois and watched the morning pass.

If you haven’t heard, cafes are an institution in Paris. My line above about “grabbing a coffee” was probably very misleading. No one “grabs” a coffee in France. Instead you “take” a coffee. This means that if you go to a cafe and order a coffee, be prepared to sit for at least an hour. You don’t just drink your coffee and run. Even if you are alone, you sit and enjoy it (usually while reading Le Figaro or Le Monde, two of France’s most popular newspapers).

Next, it was back into the gare for the twenty-five minute train ride to Chantilly. It is funny how close Chantilly is to Paris because when you get there, you feel like you are deep into the French countryside, not in a suburb.

From the train station to the Chateau was supposed to be about a 30-minute walk, at least that is what the official Chateau Chantilly website had said. We considered taking the bus, but alas no bus or bus stop could be found. So, off we went a pied (on foot). We thought to ourselves, “Well, maybe the website says 30 minutes, but that is probably an overestimate for the out-of-shape touristy types. Considering that we are two young women, we can probably do it in 15 or 20.”

No. Thirty minutes meant thirty minutes in the hot sun. France does not compensate. In France, people at our fitness level are very much the norm. However, walking meant that we got to explore. Something that would have been impossible on the bus or in a taxi.

Richter2.jpgThe first five minutes into our walk, we had already taken a detour. We saw the city cemetery and decided to have a look. Both Lety and I have a strange affinity for cemeteries, and needless to say were a little “camera happy.” I absolutely loved this particular cemetery. It was completely deserted and unbelievably peaceful. The outside walls of the cemetery are surrounded by a densely wooded area, which is only broken to allow for a small pedestrian path that runs along side the main road (two fairly empty, narrow lanes). The cemetery itself gets a lot of light, and we could tell by all of the fresh flowers, many visitors as well. I enjoyed the silent beauty of many of the tombstones and family plots. This was a wonderful way to introduce us to this quaint and utterly charming town.

Continuing our walk, we passed the Living Horse Museum, which is home to a formidable number of purebreds. At first we mistook this HUGE structure, with its undeniably spectacular architecture, to be the Chateau itself. However, we soon discovered that the Chateau lay still further ahead. Another 10 minutes brought us to the completion of that 30-minute walk, and we had officially arrived at the Chateau.

Richter3.jpgChateau Chantilly is fairly small in comparison to the famous chateaux of the Loire Valley. However, what it lacks in size, it makes up in charm. First we toured the galleries of the first floor, then the chapel, and finally the library.

I was extremely excited because the Musee de Conde, housed in Chateau Chantilly, owns Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Barry (the famous 15th-century Book of Hours by the Limbourg Brothers). Unfortunately, due to conservation reasons, the book currently on display at the museum is a facsimile (a high-quality copy). However, the museum has graciously digitized much of this precious book, and museum visitors can examine it page by page using interactive computer software in the library.

After exploring on our own, we took a guided tour of the remainder of the rooms. Here, we learned some of the history surrounding the Chateau and also information regarding the artistic style in which it was executed. On this tour was the room containing Pillement’s singeries. I lingered a little and took pictures for my research. The iconography present in these images is definitely extremely interesting and hopefully will be useful to me as I continue in this project.

Finished looking around the Chateau, we decided to explore the extensive gardens. They have English gardens, franco-chinois gardens, a labyrinth, and much more. I really wanted to see the franco-chinois gardens. Much of the outside area was under construction and little seemed to have been done as far as upkeep. However, we did find one lovely spot with a large rock gathering and small stream.

We ended the day by grabbing some ice cream for the trek back to the gare. It had been a fun, but exhausting day, and we were ready for the solace of the apartment in Paris.

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