Château de Goulaine, Haute Goulaine
In 1492, a decade after the setting of Victor Hugo’s novel, the Marquis de Goulaine began to build his chateau. Construction lasted until 1533 resulting in two architectural styles being melded together, as at Notre-Dame Cathedral. This was a pivotal time, at the transition between high Gothic and Renaissance with this change clearly displayed in the country residences of the aristocracy in the Loire Valley. In fact Louis XI who features in Notre-Dame de Paris as a learned but fearful and heartless monarch spent time in one of these chateaux, now the hotel, the Relais Louis XI. The Chateau de Goulaine is the best preserved example of this transition between styles while Notre-Dame is the strongest example of the development of the Gothic style, including evidence of the Romanesque architecture that came before.
After the 15th century wars of Brittany there was no longer a need to show power through fortification and the Chateaux were part of a vast rebuilding of the Renaissance that demonstrated supremacy through beauty with the creation of magnificent country houses and vast gardens giving to the Loire Valley, the nickname the ‘Garden of France’. During this revolution in architecture, Christophe II de Goulaine replaced the old medieval castle at Haute-Goulaine with something more sensitive to the newly emerging Renaissance style that maintained elements of flamboyant gothic.
The Chateau at Haute-Goulaine is one of the best preserved examples of the passage between the high gothic and early renaissance styles, partially maintaining its defensive medieval aspect with two imposing stair towers. Traces of the flamboyant gothic are evident through particular gothic motifs; the pinnacles, steep gables and foliated lintels with the movement towards the Renaissance seen in Italianate motifs, pilasters, capitals and scrollwork. It is a true symbol of this transition to the early stages of a newly born style. Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, responsible for Notre-Dame Cahedral’s 19th Century restoration was passionate about Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architecture, symbolised by our story’s setting in the Chateau de Goulaine, two transitional works of art together, spanning all three styles.
This transitional architectural situation of the Chateau in common with Notre-Dame de Paris, follows a style described as ‘an edifice of the transition period. The Saxon architect completed the erection of the first pillars of the nave, when the pointed arch, which dates from the Crusade, arrived and placed itself as a conqueror upon the large Romanesque capitals which should support only round arches. The pointed arch, mistress since that time, constructed the rest of the church. Nevertheless, timid and inexperienced at the start, it sweeps out, grows larger, restrains itself, and dares no longer dart upwards in spires and lancet windows, as it did later on, in so many marvellous cathedrals. One would say that it were conscious of the vicinity of the heavy Romanesque pillars.’
‘This central mother church is, among the ancient churches of Paris, a sort of chimera; it has the head of one, the limbs of another, the haunches of another, something of all.’
The conclusion of such a mingling of stylistic influence over time being that ‘the greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society [...] Each wave of time contributes its alluvium, each race deposits its layer on the monument, each individual brings his stone. [...] Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.’