The Archbishop’s Palace (Dennis Aubrey)


When PJ and I visited the famous city of Angers a couple of years ago, we had the good fortune to be hosted by the gentleman man in charge of the patrimoine for the Conseil Général of the Maine-et-Loire. We could not have hoped better for both access and knowledge of the history of the city. He made it possible for us to spend a full day shooting the cloister and the refectory door in the Abbaye Saint Aubin. At the end of that session he told us that he had arranged for us to photograph the next day at the Archbishop’s palace, the Palais du Tau.

When we arrived at the episcopal residence the next morning, there was a great deal of activity in the famous salle synodale. Preparations were being made from a reception that would prevent us from photographing in that room. We were introduced to the Bishop of Angers, Monseigneur Emmanuel Delmas, and then climbed Bishop François de Rohan‘s winding Renaissance stairway to meet our guide for the day, Monsieur l’Abbé Pierre Pineau. This kindly man spent much of the day showing us the details of the various rooms and explaining the iconography of the capitals. We got to shoot in two chambers, the Salle de Justice and the Bishop’s Library.

The Salle de Justice was really the ceremonial gallery, the aula palatii or the “hall of the palace”, marked by the magnificence of its style and the grandeur of its dimensions.

Salle de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Salle de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

While the Palais du Tau was built in the 12th century, it has undergone almost constant modification over the years and was completely restored in the second half of the 19th century by the noted architect Charles Joly-Leterme, who we know from his work on the Abbaye Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe and the Église Notre Dame de Cunault.

Joly-Leterme’s work at the Palais is of a completely different type, characterized by bold colors and geometrical patterns painted on almost every surface. The floor is composed of beautifully fitted tiles with a cool palette that contrasts with the wall and ceiling treatments.

Entry, Salle de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

Entry, Salle de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

In the shot of the windows of the Salle, we can see that there are narrow columns that carry the round arches for each of the doors. These are topped with fine capitals.

Windows, Salle de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

Windows, Salle de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

Most of the capitals in the Salle are not illustrative of biblical themes, but images of a legendary and secular nature. This capital, for example, features beasts and birds of prey.

Capital, Salon de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Salle de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In contrast to the scale and grandeur of the salle de justice, the library is modest in size. But the fittings of this room are opulent almost beyond belief. Certainly the archbishops who built this palace were more concerned with demonstrating worldly glory rather than Christian virtues.

Library, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

Library, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

The centerpiece of the library is the grand fireplace. The arms of Bishop Hardouin de Breuil, one of the early builders of the Palace, can be seen in the arch above the mantle.

Fireplace detail, Library, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

Fireplace detail, Library, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

The detailing throughout the room is exquisite, from the painted columns, the parquet floor, and the decorated arches of the doors and windows to the gilded fleur-de-lys pattern of the mantle.

Library detail, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Library detail, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The painted roof beams add a particularly elegant dimension to the look of the room.

Ceiling detail, Libary, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Ceiling detail, Libary, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

While the intent of the chamber was the display of power, there are constant reminders of the religious purpose of the episcopal office. There are capitals on all of the doors and window pillars, most of which have a religious subject. They present a complex iconographic story that was presented to us by Monsieur l’Abbé, but any explanation would require a post of its own.

Entry, Salle de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire)  Photo by PJ McKey

Entry, Salle de Justice, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by PJ McKey

The capitals in the library are gilded, which is something that we had not seen before. I don’t think that this would have occurred in churches and cathedrals themselves, but would be something that featured in the episcopal residence of a powerful prelate. And of course PJ and I were delighted to find a column-swallower in the library.

Column swallower, Library, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Column swallower, Library, Palais du Tau, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The Palais du Tau is an unusual subject for us to photograph; it has little of the Romanesque and it is not a church or a cathedral, but we could not pass up the opportunity to shoot there. It is a reminder of the power of the Church in France before the Revolution, and of a time when the princes of the Church lived in a style that rivaled the princes of the realm.

Location: 47.471° -0.55422°

This article is part of a series on the Romanesque wealth of the city of Angers. Located on the Loire River, this city was the seat of Angevin power during the Middle Ages. That power and prestige are visible in many of the monuments that remain here. We document three of them – the cloister and porte du réfectoire of the Abbaye Saint Aubin, the Cathédrale Saint Maurice d’Angers, and the Palais du Tau. There is nobody who better understands this power and prestige today than our guide from the office of the Conseil Général of the Maine-et-Loire, an intelligent and passionate advocate for the medieval arts of Angers and its surrounding areas. This man took a great deal of time to introduce us to the wealth of sumptuous Romanesque art in the region.

10 responses to “The Archbishop’s Palace (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Dennis, PJ – what a glorious set of photos showing the wonderful painted decorations. I can think of so many ways in whch many of these motifs can be used by those Medieval-enthusiasts who try to re-create the splendour of the Middle Ages in these modern Times.

  2. Words fail me! The brilliance almost hurts the eyes. This series of three posts paints an amazing picture, as you have noted, of the opulence of the princes of the church in medieval times. Thank you for another lesson,

    • Kalli, glad you enjoyed the Angers series. We went there three years ago and are only now getting around to writing about it – what an oversight that was. And we’ve must return to the city, because we missed so much when we were there. We only planned two days but have since discovered more churches in the city and the immediate area that are full of discoveries, just waiting for us.

      • look forward to your return, (as of course you do) so those of us who follow your articles will have more wonderful things to learn and photo to admire.
        I head back for Montana in a few days. Beginning to get very warm down here. Montana springs are beautiful.

  3. What an exquisite place. I’ve used some of those sorts of motifs in my illumination and calligraphy. These images made my day. We’re also finally warming up and there are some flowers blooming and green coming into the lawns and trees. It was a hard winter.

    • Aquila, had no idea you were a calligrapher. I used to be a calligrapher many many years ago, cut my own quills, worked on vellum. Was trained by Roger Marcus and Arnold Bank at Carnegie-Mellon. Eventually was too busy with my theater career to continue, but I loved working with my monkish dedication 🙂

      • Vellum has always been too expensive for me and I’m self taught (as with pretty much every thing else, I’m an auto dydact). I’ve had to put it aside since I’m packing up my possessions and putting everything I can into storage. I would’ve loved training with Mr. Marcus and Mr. Bank. Go back to it, Dennis. Even if only little things for your own pleasure. I’m hoping to be able to before the year is out, but things are too uncertain now to be sure. Maybe I’ll be able to post a few scans or photos later in the year or early next. I would’ve been very happy as a monkish scribe or illuminator.

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