Bournazel, considered one of the
most beautiful Renaissance châteaux in south of France
In 1544, Jean de Buisson—the original owner—distinguished himself during the battle of Cérisoles.
He was figthing along François Ier, King of France, who was leading the 9th war of Italy.
Jean de Buisson came from a rich family of Toulouse—known as “capitouls”— and had frequent contact with bankers, many of whom were Italian.
Following his acts of courage during the victorious battle of Cérisoles, Jean de Buisson was named Captain of 50 armed men and allowed to wear coat of arms.
As a decorated war man, he was able to extend his relationships' network.
As such he knew Galiot de Genouillac—grand master of the artillery of François Ier, considered to be the third of the King's Court—who built the château d'Assier in the Quercy nearby in the 1530s.
Georges d'Armagnac—not even 30 when named bishop of Rodez in 1530—was one of the great figures of the Rouergue during the Renaissance. Rouergue was the previous name of Aveyron although quite larger than the actual Aveyron.
Georges d'Armagnac was the chaplain of Marguerite de Navarre, the sister of François Ier.
Guillaume Philandrier—Georges d'Armagnac's private secretary at his embassy in Venice, Italy—was the author of annotations to the Vitruvius book, the only complete study of ancient architecture remaining today.
So, multiple concurrent factors influenced the magnificence of the château de Bournazel: Jean de Buisson's trip to Italy, the attendance to the Royal Court and Philandrier, the scholar architect of Georges d'Armagnac.
Jean de Buisson being away, his wife Charlotte had taken the lead and directed the work to be done.
The architect of Bournazel remains unknown although Guillaume Lyssorgue or Sebastiano Serlio are often quoted as potential ones.
In 1545, the north wing got completed. The courtyard façade of the north wing is of special interest. It features a span of the different ancient architecture orders—Doric order for the 1st level, then Ionic and Corinthian which refers directly to the Vitruvius book.
An innovative architecture inspired by the ancients
The eastern wing—dated 1555—is attached to the previous wing by a return square opening on the north-east tower. Still antiquity-inspired, it is to be noted it was the first time, in France, the rhythmic bay like Bramante and Serlio would be used. The portico alterns niches and immense arcades. This is of Roman influence, where the large openings are filled such as the arches of triumphs or basilicas. At the upper level, a corridor through the large arcades allows a passage between the main staircase and the north wing. Once again an innovative approach in France, where such a device would be used in civil architecture.
Like any château during King François Ier's reign, the château de Bournazel was designed to have guests coming and staying. So, architecture had to reflect the good host manners of the lord. This is why the three levels of the north wing hosted all the bedrooms whereas the eastern wing was organized solely for the guests' reception. The east wing included kitchens on the ground floor, the large reception room upstairs and the chapel in the attic.
The sculpted décor
The quality of the carved décor is remarkable and the iconographic variety is absolutely astonishing.
The typical decoration of the Renaissance is in an antique style. The Doric frieze is made of a succession of metopes—element carved in bas-relief—rosettes and triglyphs. The décor includes antique motifs such as the bucrane—emaciated bull's head—found on Augustus' Ara Pacis in Rome or theater masks.
Also present are contemporary military objects, cuirasses parade, spades, halberds in reference to Jean de Buisson, a man of war.
In intellectual circles this iconic, symbolic language, was very fashionable during the Renaissance period as we can see it now the carved décor on the façade. Although it seems quite a paradox not to see the coat of arms of Jean de Buisson on the façade too.
The gardens' project
450 years later and after a fairly extensive archival work and archaeological dig, the restoration of the Bournazel Gardens is now complete. It offers a coherent example of arranged design originally dated 1542-1561.
Some developments and plant species are still remaining unknown as of today. However, the plan and its geometrical rigor fits perfectly the artistic and intellectual approach found during the mid-16th century. The new Bournazel gardens do follow the lessons learned from the archaeological excavations and got inspired by the models and theories present in Europe during the First Renaissance period.
The nobility of the provinces
Once built, Bournazel no longer resembles the aristocratic pageantry of Galiot de Genouillac, but the one of a gentleman of the provinces. This rising urban aristocracy is quite specific to the south of France gentlemen though.
Besides, scholars found similarities between the two châteaux of Uzès and Bournazel.
These similarities are mainly based on the use of protomes of bulls, inspired by the théâtre d’Arles—in the not too far Provence. The Château de Marsillargues is noted as quite comparable in nature too, in the Hérault nearby. It was built by Jean de Louet de Nogaret.
The three châteaux have in common to have been owned by men to whom success at war brought fortune and fame. These gentlemen often showed off their success through the construction of a château—a clear inclination to adopt the old nobility's thoughts and principles.