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History of Château d'Oiron

Vue aérienne du château d'Oiron et de son parc

Located 40 km south of Saumur on the Angers-Poitiers axis, Château d'Oiron has been dedicated to art and culture from the outset. Today, with its remarkable historic decor and original contemporary creations, you'll be amazed by its curiosities and wonders!

From Guillaume to Claude Gouffier

Meet the Gouffier family

Château d'Oiron is the work of the Gouffier family
For three generations, the Gouffiers, lords of Bonnivet and several small fiefs near Poitiers, became one of the leading families in France

Guillaume Gouffier (1435-1495) received the land of Oiron from King Charles VII in 1449. His patronage enabled him to acquire several seigneuries in Poitou - including Oiron - and Roannais.

His two sons, Artus and Guillaume, in turn took advantage of their privileged position at Court. 
Artus (1475-1519) followed Louis XII to Italy, then became governor to the young François d'Angoulême. François I appointed him Grand Master of France in 1515, on his accession to the throne.

His brother Guillaume, Seigneur de Bonnivet, Admiral of France, died on the battlefield after François I's capture at Pavia in 1525.

Château d'Oiron
Château d'Oiron

© Samuel Quenault, Centre des monuments nationaux

Claude Gouffier, an avant-garde collector!

A generation later, the family reached its apogee when Claude Gouffier (1501-1570, son of Artus and Hélène de Hangest) acceded to the prestigious office of Grand Ecuyer de France in 1546.

This important position involved wearing the king's insignia during official ceremonies, as well as managing the king's stable.

He was also one of the greatest art collectors and connoisseurs of his time.

Heir to a considerable fortune inherited from his grandfather Guillaume and his father Artus, Claude Gouffier built up a collection that included paintings by Julius Romano and Perugino, as well as the portrait of King Jean Le Bon and Raphael's Saint John the Baptist, both now in the Louvre. 

A period copy of Raphael's Saint John the Baptist in the Desert, pointing to the Passion Cross, can be seen in the collegiate church adjacent to the château.

Heir to the title of Comte de Caravas given by François I to his ancestors, Charles Perrault immortalized Claude Gouffier in Le chat botté as the Marquis de Carabas.

The collegiate church of Oiron houses his tomb, as well as those of his father Artus, his uncle Guillaume, and his grandmother, Philippe de Montmorency.

Le cabinet de curiosités de Claude Gouffier réinterprété par Guillaume Bijl, artiste contemporain
Guillaume Bijl, Le Cabinet de Claude Gouffier, 1995 (commande publique, collection Cnap)

Photo Laurent Lecat ©Centre des monuments nationaux

The painting gallery or Galerie du Grand Ecuyer

The 55-meter-long 16th-century painting gallery, one of the largest in France, perfectly illustrates the ancient text of the Trojan story.

The painting gallery was commissioned by Claude Gouffier
It was completed between 1546 and 1549.

vue de la galerie de peintures du XVIe siècle
Vue de la galerie de peintures du XVIe siècle

© Samuel Quenault

The decline of the Gouffiers

The 17th century saw the decline of the Gouffier family
Louis (1575-1642), Claude's grandson, became duke and peer of France in 1620, but opposed Richelieu, who exiled him to Oiron.

The end of the Gouffier family presence at Oiron was marked when Louis Gouffier's grandson, Artus, ceded the monument to his sister Charlotte Gouffier.

Charlotte, the sole heiress, married François d'Aubusson aka Marquis de La Feuillade, who took an interest in Oiron for several years and undertook major works.

La chute d'Icare (un des caissons du plafond de la chambre du Roi, XVIIe siècle)
La chute d'Icare (un des caissons du plafond de la chambre du Roi, XVIIe siècle)

Photo Laurent Lecat © Centre des monuments nationaux

From Gouffier to Madame de Montespan

From Versailles to Oiron

Away from the Court, Louis XIV's former royal mistress returns to the region of her birth.

Madame de Montespan bought the château in 1700 on behalf of her son, the Duc d'Antin (Louis-Antoine de Pardaillan de Gondrin).

She completed the work on La Feuillade with the construction of the Tour des Ondes.

She divided her life between her property at Oiron and her cures at Bourbon-l'Archambault, where she died in 1707.

Vue sur la tour des ondes du château d'Oiron
Tour des ondes, château d'Oiron

© Samuel Quenault, Centre des monuments nationaux

Un long sommeil

An abandoned château

After a long period of abandonment - with successive owners from the 18th to the 20th century either not having the same interest in the estate or simply not being able to maintain it- the castle falls into oblivion and lacks maintenance.

As early as 1840, Prosper Mérimée, Inspector of Historic Monuments, drew attention to the endangered frescoes in the Renaissance gallery, and the need to safeguard this exceptional ensemble.

The château was listed as a Monument Historique in 1923 and purchased by the State in 1941.

The first conservation work (waterproofing) began in the 1950s.

Vue galerie XVIIe et tour des Ondes en 1991 à travers un vitrail
Vue galerie XVIIe et tour des Ondes, en 1991, avant restauration à travers un vitrail

© Keiichi Tahara / Centre des monuments nationaux

The château towards new horizons

At the same time as thinking about the château's future and designing a contemporary art collection inspired by the personality of Claude Gouffier, a full-scale restoration program was launched in the late 1980s.

This program continues today, with the completion of an exemplary 7-year project on the Trojan War and Aeneid cycle in the painting gallery (2002 to 2009) and the restoration of the King's Pavilion (2020, 2021).

The Curios & Mirabilia collection

In 1989, the French Ministry of Culture decided to enrich the château's historical heritage by creating a collection of contemporary art, mainly through public commissions, specifically designed for the château.

Jean-Hubert Martin was appointed artistic director of the project, and in 1993, the collection Curios & Mirabilia collection was inaugurated. It represents the most important experiment in France to integrate contemporary creation into an ancient heritage.

The works assembled by Jean-Hubert Martin seek to revive the spirit of curiosity of the Renaissance, based on the idea of the ancient collections that were the cabinets of curiosity

This historical reference, treated freely by the artists, creates a link with the monument, giving the impression of a place inhabited today, while reactivating the memory of Claude Gouffier's prestigious collections (16th century). 

Curios & Mirabilia is based on the idea of a different relationship to the world, one that in the Renaissance favored a sensitive approach to knowledge.

Hearing, smell, touch, sight and soon taste are all called upon to transform a visit to a historic monument into a sensory experience. The scents of Wolfgang Laib's wax wall, the sounds of Gavin Bryars' music, John Armleder's armchairs to relax visitors, visual games such as Felice Varini's corridor of illusions, and all the creations created for the château combine to create a journey full of surprises and wonder.

détail de l'oeuvre de Georg Ettl représentant un cheval dans la galerie des chevaux
Georg Ettl, Les chevaux d'Oiron (détail), commande publique, collection Cnap.

Photo Laurent Lecat ©Centre des monuments nationaux

A contemporary art collection created for the château

The dialogue with history is strongest in the rooms that have best preserved the memory of their historical function.
Daniel Spoerri, in the King's room, where power and might are asserted, responds ironically to the princes of the 17th century with his Corps en morceaux, reintroducing everyday life and banality as a new source of wonder.

In the King's Chamber (Louis Gouffier's 17th-century ceremonial apartments), the symbolic presence of royal power, Claude Rutault 's monochrome canvases are embedded in the wall surface, becoming mere traces of paintings that may once have been there.

In the horse gallery, Georg Ettl revives ancient iconography and history.

Today, this collection enables Château d'Oiron to welcome you with a sense of authenticity that other historic sites have abandoned.

In the 16th century, Claude Gouffier made it the home of his collections: his personality and the private nature of the château gave meaning to their presence.
Since then, open to the public, the château's rooms have not only been used to display works of art, but have also been refurnished, refurbished and updated for a view that can only be contemporary. What's more, the logic of collection that unites these works increases the sense of their belonging to the place.

The subject at Oiron is indeed that of creation in its relationship to the setting provided by history, architecture and ancient décor.

Sculptures de Daniel Spoerri accrochées sur les murs de la salle d'Armes. Composées d'objets divers de récupération, celles-ci composent des corps comme des trophées
Daniel Spoerri, Corps en morceaux. Commande publique, collection Cnap

© Laurent Lecat, Centre des monuments nationaux