Up until the acquisition of the feudal estate of Villandry by the Marquis of Castellane in 1754, no known changes were made to the Renaissance building. The new owner, an appreciator of neoclassicism, made major alterations to the chateau and gardens, in keeping with the tastes of the period.
Neoclassical modifications to the interior of the chateau
In the hands of descendants of Jean Le Breton since 1532, the Villandry estate was purchased in 1754 by the Marquis of Castellane, ambassador of King Louis XV and a member of a very old, very illustrious family of the Provençal nobility.
Built in the Renaissance, the chateau was cold and uncomfortable. The Marquis of Castellane set about renovating the interior, with a degree of success, so as to make it inhabitable, incorporating standards of comfort approaching those of today – in particular, the installation of wood panelling for soundproofing and thermal insulation – while the neoclassical style lent it unquestionable charm.
Two elements of the 18th-century décor warrant particular attention. A very fine Louis XV staircase deserves to be admired: on the wrought-iron balustrade, at each floor, are found the intertwined initials of Michel-Ange de Castellane. Like the staircase, the dining room, in the Provençal tones dear to Michel-Ange, has been a listed Historic Monument since 1934.
The deformed Renaissance façade
While the changes made to the interior by the new owner were successful, the outside was more of a risky undertaking. The courtyard’s arches were walled in to become, on the left, kitchens and, on the right, corridors looking onto the salons. The Renaissance windows were rounded off and, between them, Louis XV-style openings were made, then fitted with balconies and balustrades, and trompe-l’oeil windows were added. These transformations deformed the façade, and as a result the Renaissance chateau undeniably lost some of its character.
The gardens of Villandry laid out in the formal French style
The gardens were also brought up to date. To begin with, the grounds were enlarged, with land bought by the Marquis of Castellane in 1760, then laid out as a formal garden. An ornamental lake, flower beds, orangeries, terraces and neoclassical outbuildings replaced the Renaissance parquet.
From 1791 onwards, Villandry changed hands numerous times. Among its successive owners was Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s younger brother.