A major feature of the landscape, the Château de Rochechouart was built on a rocky promontory overlooking the Graine and Vayres valleys in around the year 1000, and was then entirely rebuilt in the late Middle Ages and the early 16th Century.
Built of extra-terrestrial stone and known for its Renaissance frescoes, the Château is still, today, the home of creativity of all ages, as it has been a museum of contemporary art for the last thirty years.
The Château sits on a rocky promontory, an outstanding site overlooking the Graine and Vayres valleys. Most of the buildings date back to the 15th Century, with the inner courtyard and its elegant Renaissance gallery. The oldest part, made up of the defensive structure at the entrance and the keep, dates back to the 13th Century. During the French Revolution the Château was pillaged and its furniture and archives dispersed. The Haute-Vienne Department bought the Château from the Rochechouart family in 1836. The building was restored and rehabilitated in several phases. In 1985, the Departmental Council decided to set up a museum of contemporary art in the Château.
The Château is known as a Renaissance building. In fact, it is a fairly uniform example of the late Gothic period and combines flamboyant Gothic with Renaissance motifs.
In addition to the set of Renaissance frescoes, the major development project of the late Middle Ages and the early 16th Century led to the creation of an outstanding architectural ensemble.
The Château contains some rare examples of frescoes from the French Renaissance which remained covered for several centuries. The richly coloured wall paintings in the Hunting Room cover the entire room and date back to the early 16th Century. They depict a day’s deer hunting in the area surrounding the Château, preceded by a royal banquet.
Later on, in around 1530, the Heracles Gallery was decorated with a large-scale grisaille depicting episodes in the life of the mythological hero. Today, it is one of very few examples of this type of technique to have survived in France. Engravings of different origins, some of them Scandinavian, were used as iconographic models for different scenes. The other major new feature of these scenes is that they are inspired by Antiquity, with a theme borrowed from mythology.
These two ensembles, produced just a few decades apart, offer a rare combination of coloured wall paintings in the continuity of the style of the late Middle Ages and frescoes produced in grisaille, a new technique representative of 16th Century art. Both offer, like a story within a story, an idealized representation of the Château de Rochechouart.
A project to restore the facades was launched in 2015 after a new series of studies of the building. The aim is to renovate and waterproof the facades and restore them to their original appearance. Costing 3 million euros, the works are financed jointly by the DRAC (Regional Department of Cultural Affairs) and the Haute-Vienne Departmental Council and will be spread over 5 years. The museum will remain open during the works.