In the 16th century, Francois I transformed the castle into a Renaissance palace decorated by Florentine artists. The castle has been a national museum since 1870. Napoleon was a huge force in restoring the chateau after the revolution, during which many of the royal collections were disbanded and sold. Napoleon’s instructed his architect Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine to transform Fontainebleau into a second residence.
After pick up from your hotel by your English speaking driver, you will drive to Fontainebleau for a guided visit of the Palace and learn about the various styles of architecture, magnificent decor, and exquisite pieces of furniture. Inside, you will visit of the "Grands apartments", François I's gallery, the Renaissance Halls, Napoleon I's room and museum. Outside, you'll visit the "cour du Cheval-Blanc" with the statue of Marcus Aurelius and the famous monumental horseshoe shaped stairway.
On the return if time you may visit the charming village of Barbizon, an artistic centre since the 19th century.
As above and then after lunch in Barbizon, off to Vaux-le-Vicomte, Nicolas Fouquet's masterpiece which inspired considerably Louis XIV when he built the palace of Versailles. You will visit the main rooms of the Castle. The day ends with time to stroll through the gardens and the carriage museum. Details on Vaux.
Throughout its eight centuries of history Fontainebleau has been constructed, reconstructed, pilfered, abandoned, and refurbished again. Although there is documentation mentioning Fontainebleau from as early as 1137, it was in 1169 Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas à Becket (who was in exile in France after displeasing King Henry II) anointed Chateau de Fontainebleau to the Virgin Mary and Saint Saturnin.
The grounds were later established as a monastery hospital in 1259 by Saint Louis, and remained occupied by monks until Francois I came along in the early 16th century.
Francois I was ambitious in his plans for Fontainebleau during the Renaissance. The proximity to the capital, the forest and hunting lodges had made Fontainebleau one of the King’s favorite locations. Heavily influenced by the palaces he had visited in Italy, Francois I set out to create a royal estate at Fontainebleau, a place by then he had started to consider home.
During the reconstruction of Fontainebleau under Francois I, artists such as Leonardo de Vinci, Benvenuto Cellini, Rosso Fiorentino and Primatice commissioned works at Fontainebleau. The result was a mix of Italian and French Mannerism, resulting in what came to be known as Fontainebleau style, or the School of Fontainebleau. The gardens designed under Francois I were also inspired by the courtyards he had experienced in Italy.
Francois I established Fontainebleau as a noble place that attracted the court to Fontainebleau, and establish the estate as a place to receive guests such as Francis I son in law James V the King of Scotland, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and his son Henry II.
Henry II, and his wife Catherine de Medici succeeded Francois I at Fontainebleau, and continued work on the grounds. During this time the artist Niccolo dell’Abate worked at Fontainebleau during what is considered the second School of Fontainebleau.
Into the 17th century Henry IV would convene his court and make his contributions to Fontainebleau’s landscape. During this time of the roaring conflict between Catholics and Protestants, Henry IV regularly visited Fontainebleau. He made additions to the grounds including the Cour des Offices, a large front entrance, and many new buildings. A canal was added as well as new gardens.
Important royal celebrations and occasions were held at Fontainebleau. The future dauphin Louis XIII was born and baptized there, and spent happy childhood years at the chateau.
In addition to the social scene at Fontainebleau, key political moments occurred at Fontainebleau. Notably two peace agreements were negotiated between France and England at the estate: first in 1629 ending the Anglo-French War and again in 1712 when Viscount Bolingbroke, on behalf of Queen Anne, settled a peace agreement putting an end to the War of the Spanish Succession.
The only royal wedding celebration to take place at the chateau was between Henry V and a Polish princess Marie Leszczyńska in 1725. Reportedly the festivities included comedies by Molière, were attended by Voltaire and drew to a conclusion with fireworks after three days of festivities.
The years leading up the revolution were said to have been the peak times of society and sophistication at Fontainebleau. Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a French diplomat at the time, is said to have claimed, “Those who have not lived through the years around 1789 cannot know what is meant by the pleasure of life.”
Prior to the French Revolution the Chateau at Fontainebleau had fallen into disrepair and during the Revolution many of the original furnishings were stolen and what remained were sold. Within a decade Napoleon began to transform the Chateau into a symbol of his grandeur as an alternative to empty Versailles, with its Bourbon connotations. He completely refinished the entire palace and Fontainebleau became one of his favorite residences. The throne room is the most spectacular room in the apartment, with silks and brocades enriched with precious decorations of gold bee and other Neoclassical symbols.
It was here at Fontainebleau that Napoleon bade farewell to his Old Guard and went into exile in 1814. Napoleon, from his last exile at St. Helena, recalled Fontainebleau fondly: "Here was a true home of kings, the best furnished and most happily situated ancient house in Europe".
Today the museum dedicated to Napoleon in the Chateau brings his epic career to life thought small objects that were part of the daily life that he shared with his brothers and sisters, the monarchs of half of Europe.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Barbizon was a small hamlet of peasants. It was around the middle of the 19th century that Barbizon truly gained popularity when Theodore Rousseau and Jean-Francois Millet who fled Paris due to a cholera epidemic. Barbizon counted at this time famous residents such Paul Huet, Diaz Of Pena, Cabat, French Louis, Daubigny, Decamps, Chintreuil or Daumierand hence was create the Barbizon School of Art. The creative current which emerged from this place gave immortal Artworks such as " The Angelus " or " Les Glaneuses ".