Angers, medieval Anjou, sits at the centre of the French department of Maine-et-Loire, just south of the meeting point of the Rivers Mayenne, Loir and Sarthe, which together form the River Maine.
First mentioned by Ptolemy in his Geography (150CE), the city appears on the Peutinger map (Tabula Peutingeriana) under the name of Iuliomago (Juliomagus), as in the image above.
The city was at the centre of the Angevin Empire, ruled over by the Plantagenet Kings of England, who includes Richard the Lionheart and Henry II. In the late 12th century this empire included England and most of Ireland and stretched as far as the Pyrenees.
I rocked up there on a Loop-related visit but, as always, I wanted to see what other non-Loop-related sights there were to be seen. And I found plenty. For anyone visiting Angers one site on the list must be the castle; The Château du Roi René.
The castle was originally founded in the 9th century, but much of the fortress that is visible today dates to the 13th Century. It was begun in the 1230s, but takes its name from Duke René d’Anjou, aka René of Naples (1409-1480). It’s one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in France and has 17 towers of banded black and white stone. The moat, never water-filled but used for growing food, is now planted with parterre gardens, very French.
I more or less followed the route mapped out in the guide as this took me all the best bits, including a walk around the battlements,
and the gallery housing the marvellous Apolcalypse Tapestry.
At 103 metres long and 4.5 metres wide, the tapestry is the largest woven work to survive from the medieval period. It depicts the end of the world, based on the visions of St. John (The Book of Revelations), as seen through the eyes of 14th century France, the time of the Hundred Years War, with scenes of war, plague and famine.
The tapestry suffered during the 18th and 19th centuries but was painstakingly reassembled and restored in the mid-19th century by Canon Joubert and returned to the château d’Angers in 1954. The lighting level in the gallery is very low in order to protect the tapestry from further light damage.
Being a medieval town, Angers has a number of impressive religious buildings.
The Cathédrale Saint Maurice is particularly well situated and contains a rather fine pipe organ. This one was built in 1617 by the organ maker Jacques Girardet, although there were earlier organs in the cathedral.
Another site originally associated with a religious order is the 12th Century Hôpital Saint-Jean. This building consists of a large vaulted hall, the Salle des Malades (the sick ward) in Angevin gothic style (referred to as ‘Gothique Plantagenêt’), cloisters and gardens.
Since 1967 it has housed Le Chant du Monde (The Song of the World) tapestry by Jean Lurçat (1957-1966). This cycle of 10 tapestries echoes the Apocalypse Tapestry at the Chateau. taking as its starting point, the Hiroshima bombing. There were no photos allowed inside, but I also had a good look round the gardens as there are numerous fragments and architectural elements, some clearly ancient, which have been incorporated into the scheme.
Housed in the late-15th century Logis Barrault, the house of former mayor of Angers and King’s Treasurer Olivier Barrault is the Musée des Beaux-arts. Alongside the collection of fine art, paintings and sculpture, from the 14th -19th centuries, this museum also boasts an impressive archaeological collection with artefacts found in Angers and the surrounding area dating from the Neolithic to the present day.
Some highlights include, from the Roman period, this lovely fragment of geometric mosaic
these pipe-clay animal (cat?) figurines
this marvellous stone lion
and this super-sharp amphora stamp
Merovingian and Carolingian goodies include this beautiful 9th century glassware
this gorgeous 12th century bronze dore (ormolu) decorative element
this 12th century carved ivory hunting horn (olifant)
and this beautiful late 13th century death mask. This has been identified as the likeness of the wife of Herbert Lanier, a member of an important Angevin family
There was also a small exhibition of artworks looted from Jewish families and ‘acquired’ by the Nazis during the second world war. These works are some of the ~2000 works whose rightful owners have still not been traced but which are now held temporarily by the French state (via a number of museums and other institutions) under the Musées Nationaux Récupération programme.
It was interesting to read some of the stories of the theft, sale and recovery of these pieces. The aim of this, and other similar exhibitions, is to raise awareness of the existence of these pieces with the hope that, eventually, the rightful owner can be found and the pieces restored to them.
Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with medieval sites will have noticed that the medieval mind seems to have consisted of a constant battle between the sublime and the ridiculous. And so I end this post with medieval mooning.
Maison d’Adam, now La maison des artisans, is, apparently the oldest extant house in Angers, built c. 1500. This half-timbered house is an example of medieval sculptured mayhem with courting couples…
mythological and fantastical subjects
odd people being random
and the oddest of them all…
Honestly, I think it best not to enquire.
* for more about another Angers site, Collégiale Saint-Martin, see my previous post-