In a romantic park in the heart of the forests uniting Ile-de-France and Picardy lie the Abbey de Chaalis ruins.
From a woodland clearing, emerge the vestiges of this Abbey-Church. Completed at the turn of the 13th century, it was part of one of the largest Cistercian Abbeys and once had wide-reaching spiritual influence. Saint Louis himself sometimes visited the Abbey to partake in the monastic existence. The Capetians also had a particular liking for this church, which earned it the coveted title of Royal Abbey.
During the Renaissance, Cardinal Hippolyte d’Este, a friend of François I, drew many renowned Italian artists to the location, including the painter Primatice, whose recently restored frescos in the Saint Marie Chapel once again unveil their original splendor, and the architect Serlio, to whom is owed the design of the crenellated wall surrounding the rose garden.
In the 18th century, Jean Aubert, architect of the Grandes Écuries (Grand Stables) in Chantilly, was bestowed with the task of restoring the Abbey buildings. However, during the Revolution, the church and cloister were partially destroyed and only one classical building was left intact. Throughout the 19th century, its successive owners transformed this remaining building into a castle. It was here that Nélie Jacquemart, widow of the wealthy banker, Édouard André, amassed a portion of the artwork she collected alongside her husband. Upon her death in 1912, she left all her possessions to the Institut de France on the condition that her two residences be open to the public.
Fittingly, the last stop on the visit is the painting and sculpture museum. Here, works from early Italian painters such as Giotto are displayed alongside those of French, Flemish and Dutch artists from the 17th and 18th centuries in the refined ambiance of a richly-furnished aristocratic abode.
The museum also contains the mementos and manuscripts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, collected by the last of the Girardin Marquises, lords of the Ermenonville Manor. These were acquired by the Institut de France in 1923.
60 300 Fontaine-Chaalis (Oise).
+33 (0) 3 44 54 04 02.
A1, exit 7 Ermenonville.
11am-6pm every day from 03.1 to 11.11; 10:30am-12:30pm and 1:30pm-5:30pm on Sundays from 11.12 to 02.28 only.Park