Stone, porcelain tiles on the floor, stained glass windows, tapestries and precious objects formed a shimmering universe. In the Gallery of Psyche, the grey and yellow stained glass windows (located today at Chantilly) telling this story of Apuleius matched the mosaics that had run over the floors like a carpet of tiles made by the potter from Rouen, Masséot Abaquesne: the blue framing that housed the weapons of Montmorency were encircled with joyful garlands of fruit, melons, grapes, quinces, squash and pears whose simple designs please us as much today as they must have pleased their 16th-century guests. Sign of a rather rare luxury and of an originality of taste at a time when the majority of floors were still made of stone or monochromatic glazed tile.
The twelve painted fireplaces of Écouen are dazzling proof of just that and today they are practically unique in France. It was written that if they were not made of stucco like they were at Fontainebleau, that it was due to trivial financial reasons, which is erroneous considering the immense fortune of the Constable. It is closer to the truth to point out that, once again, Anne of Montmorency did something innovative, and that the fashion of stucco was already slightly out of style in his eyes.
How can one complain when his choice allowed for wonderful mannerist countrysides to bloom on the mantelpieces, their presence spreading a sense of mystery and unique poetry? The illustrated themes were taken from the Old Testament, all except for The Tribute to Caesar, borrowed from the Scriptures.
The decoration that surrounds the central scenes of the cartouches, enclosed within an oval or rectangular frame, is interesting for several reasons: for the typical Renaissance motifs that it develops – cherubs, animal hides, garlands, mythical animals, Canephorae, Atlantes and Satyrs – and the emblems they portray: palewise swords and trophies of arms, military attributes reminding one of the Constable’s position, a ducal crown to rest atop the Montmorency and Savoie families’ coat of arms after 1551. These coats of arms are found in abundance: gold with a heraldic red cross decorated with sixteen blue avalerions for Anne and heraldic red with a silver cross for Madeleine. In the royal wing, the emblems of Henry II: a crescent moon and an H interlaced with two upturned crescents – and those of Catherine de Medici: rainbows and two back-to-back K’s – are found in triumph on the fireplaces and on the crossbeams.
For that matter, the majority of the rooms still have painted friezes with grotesque décor, for some of them, the window recesses are also covered with a multitude of rinceaux, harpies, satyrs, cherubs and classical motifs, in tones that vary from room to room. Blues and greys for the Constable’s rooms, a multitude of colours for his wife’s rooms, black classical backgrounds in other parts of the castle.
One must not forget Anne of Montmorency’s attraction to sculpture and paintings. The former attraction influenced the furbishing of the façade facing the courtyard of the southern wing, as the portico was raised to house Michelangelo’s Slaves. A large collection of Roman busts were brought together inside, four of which are still present at Écouen. Finally, the sculpted fireplace of the first-floor room, showing a multi-coloured Allegory of Victoria inspired by one of Rosso’s designs, probably sculpted by Jean Bullant, frames an Italian marble fireplace given by Cardinal Farnese. As for the paintings, the lord of the castle hired the greatest artists. For his Parisian private mansion (and probably for the western wing of Écouen that has since been destroyed) Niccolo dell’Abbate put his talents to work. From Rosso he ordered a Pietà, currently at the Louvre Museum. A copy of De Vinci’s Last Supper by Marco d’Oggiano and a Nativity Scene by Jean de Gourmont decorate the chapel.