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