The Château of Clos Lucé, formerly known as the Château de Cloux is, today, best known for having hosted Leonardo da Vinci, when he stayed in France from 1516 to his death, in 1519. Located in Amboise, in the Loire Valley, the Clos Lucé, is a little gem which you shouldn’t miss if you are in this region of France.
The quick History Guide of the Chateau of Clos Lucé
The Château de Cloux and the surrounding lands were owned by the Amboise family who gave them to the Cisterian order of Moncé. The monks’ ownership was short and the existing buildings were falling into ruins when King Louis XI gave the land of the Cloux to one of his favorite, Etienne Le Loup, in 1471.
Etienne Le Loup built the Clos Lucé on the remains of the 12th century castle and is responsible for the château current layout, if not it’s complete current appearance. The château was then fortified with all the usual defensive attributes of a medieval castle: a watchtower, fortified walls, a drawbridge…
In 1490, King Charles VIII bought the Clos Lucé and removed most of the fortification. He transformed the castle into a “pleasure” residence, more comfortable and suitable to the needs of the Royal family. He built the gothic oratory for his mourning wife Anne de Bretagne.
François 1er spent most of his youth in the Clos Lucé. He was 20 years old when he met Leonardo da Vinci and invited him to stay in this residence, while he stayed at the Château d’Amboise.
In 1632, the Clos Lucé, became part of the Amboise family estate again.
Since 1855, the Château, renamed Clos Lucé, is owned by the the Saint Bris family, who opened it to the public in 1954.
The Clos Lucé is now a museum dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci.
The Architecture of the Chateau of Clos Lucé
Most of the Loire Valley Châteaux are built from tuffeau stone, a limestone extracted locally from numerous quarries (which have been transformed into wine cellars or houses!). The yellowish creamy color of the tuffeau stone is the staple mark of this region.
The Clos Lucé differs from the other châteaux as its facades are mostly made from pink bricks. Tuffeau stones were used to encircle the bricks’ walls and this give them an even more striking look.
As mentionner above, the Clos Lucé was originally fortified. From these fortification, only the watchtower remains and is now used as the entrance to the château. The staircase, leading to the first floor, is impressively narrow!
The fortified wall leading to the tower was transformed into a gallery ‘à l’Italienne’ where Leonardo guests could admire the park and the spectacles he organized for them.
The Visit of the Chateau of Clos Lucé
The Clos Lucé is now a museum dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci.
As you enter the château, the first room you get to visit is Leonardo da Vinci’s bedroom. Beautifully decorated, you can’t, not imagine Leonardo writing at his desk!
Next is the bedroom of Marguerite de Navarre, François 1er oldest sister. Marguerite was known for her grace, mind, spirituality and culture and like her brother, was very found of Leonardo’s genius.
The tour will then take you down on the ground floor to the 15th century oratory or chapel. A gothic master piece. Unfortunately a bit small and dark for taking picture.
It’s really too bad that Leonardo is only depicted as an old man. He was considered of exceptional beauty when young!
The Great Hall where Leonardo entertained his guests is also beautifully furnished and includes the famous paintings of La Joconde and the Saint John the Baptist which originals are at the Louvre, of course! It is said that Leonardo crossed the Alps on a mule carrying with him such paintings. It is also said that he finished La Joconde at the Clos Lucé although some source also say he painted a second one and some say that he finished his Jean Baptist there. Hard to tell what is true and what isn’t but the mystery is part of the charm!
Last, you will get to visit the kitchen where Leonardo’s vegetarian meals were prepared by his beloved cook Mathurine.
The tour then leads you to the basement, to the model room, where reproductions of Leonardo’s most famous inventions are presented and explained. Do spend some time there, it will help you appreciate the working models you will then see in the park.
The tank invented by Leonardo
Yep, this is a bicycle!
The ancestor of the Helicopter!
Don’t miss the entrance of the secret tunnel which is supposed to lead directly to the Château d’Amboise!
When you exit the château, you will find on the right some small scale reproductions of the machine and a great view of the Château d’Amboise.
You will then be guided toward the park and the full scale models of the machines as well as the special exposition.
The exposition details the work of Leonardo and includes this map of Romorantin! Take a picture and keep it for your future exploration!
The lion, Leonardo designed for François 1er.
A few additional words:
When we passed the doorway between Leonardo’s bedroom and Marguerite de Navarre’s bedroom, apart from admiring the ferro, I wondered if, all that really separated a 64 years old men and a 24 years old princess, was this door? I wish we could have gone on the guided tour, as I could have asked this question and bring you some answers!
My guess on this maybe not so important question, is that this door probably wasn’t there in the 15-16th century but of course it is just a guess. Now, don’t think that I have misplaced ideas on their relationship!! I really don’t. It’s just, that in a very religious century, such proximity seems unlikely, especially for a princess.
The Clos Lucé is well furnished and most or all the furniture pieces dates from the Renaissance period. It is however unlikely that the furniture dates from Leonardo’s stay in the Clos Lucé.
The 2nd floor, which hosts several additional salons, will re-open for visit in May 2016 for the commemoration of Leonardo’s arrival in the Clos Lucé.
The Clos Lucé is more a big manor than a palace and it truly feels cosy and warm. It is definitively more ‘human scale’ than a residence like Chambord.
The Technical bits:
The official website of the Château of Clos Lucé: www.vinci-closluce.com
The entrance fee is quite pricey. To make the most of it, you should plan to stay as long as you can and fully enjoy the park as well as the château.
If you haven’t done so already, you should visit the Château d’Amboise. Even better, you should follow my very special Leonardo da Vinci road trip itinerary and go to Romorantin to hunt for the remains of Leonardo’s project there.
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