dimanche 22 avril 2012

An exhibition at the château d'Ecouen – Musée national de la Renaissance


Les arts de la table in Renaissance France !



Close to both François 1er and later Henri II, Anne de Montmorency rased her family's medieval château to construct a more important château worthy of her new rank of Connétable (Constable). Construction lasted from 1538 to 1555 and the château stayed in her family until 1632. Since, it has had a somewhat checkered history until finally, in 1962, becoming the French museum of the Renaissance.


A model of the château d'Ecouen which is part of the museum collection.

 
Based on an exceptional silver treasure discovered accidentally in 2006 at Pouilly-sur-Meuse in Lorraine, the exhibition is curated by Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, conservateur en chef du patrimoine, who was also responsible for the accompanying catalogue. (See below).

 
Coupe sur pied à décor de moresques, argent partiellement doré. 14 cm h.
Châlons-en-Champagne, vers 1550
Trésor de Pouilly-sur-Meuse Nancy, Musée Lorrain
© Nancy, Région Lorraine - Inventaire Général - photo Gilles André et Ludovic Gury

The difference between French silver meant for display (orfèvrerie d'apparat) and silverware used for dining is evident. This latter type of silverware, exhibited at the château d'Ecouen is simpler as it was meant to be used, and is also much rarer than the former. Indeed our main sources of information as to the usage is through the study of contemporary tapestries and paintings. The catalogue accompanying the exhibition is rich in such documentation. One such example is a painting by Georges Flegel (1566-1638) illustrating coupes similar to the one shown above filled with fruits and 'sucreries'. They were in a sense the equivalent of the Italian 'tazze' used for sweets.

 
Partie d'une Série de douze cuillères, argent partiellement doré (extrémité du manche), 15.4 cm L.
Châlons-en-Champagne, XVIe s.
Trésor de Pouilly-sur-Meuse
Nancy, Musée Lorrain
© Nancy, Région Lorraine - Inventaire Général - photo Alain George et Gilles André

 
Le dîner du général
tapisserie de la tenture des Fructus Belli, d'après Jules Romain
Bruxelles, 1540
Ecouen, musée national de la Renaissance
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda

 
Le dîner du général (détail)
tapisserie de la tenture des Fructus Belli, d'après Jules Romain
Bruxelles, 1540
Ecouen, musée national de la Renaissance
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda

 
The publication that accompanies the exhibition is beautifully designed, with exceptional photographs and a series of texts explaining the technicalities of the silver, the arts de la table during the French renaissance, as well as descriptions of two other buried treasures from the medieval period and the renaissance.
« Trésors enfouis de la Renaissance autour de Pouilly-sur-Meuse ».
128 pages, well illustrated. Published by the Éditions de la Rmn – Grand Palais.
28 Euros (Available from www.rmngp.fr)

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Afterword : Ecouen is just 19 kilometres outside Paris and is easily accessible by train. The exhibition is well worth a visit, but will be more enjoyable if you allow for a twenty minute walk through the forest from the station, (5 minutes by bus). Also allow time to see the rest of the château, as well as time for a drink on the garden terrace to enjoy the view. Fortunately trains from Paris' Gare du Nord station are frequent and only take 22 minutes.

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