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Lost and Found: The Missing Flamboyant Gothic Door from the Château de Varaignes

Martha Easton

Résumé

In the late 1920s, the Flamboyant Gothic portal that had graced the Château de Varaignes since the late Middle Ages was sold after the château itself had fallen into disrepair. The townspeople of Varaignes did not know what had become of the door although it was rumored it had been sent to the United States. In 2014, a group of researchers from Varaignes discovered that the door had ended up at Hammond Castle, constructed between 1926 and 1929 in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was one of the many pieces of architectural salvage from Europe collected by the scientist and inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. and installed in the revivalist medieval-style castle that served as both his home and his laboratory. In following the journey of the Varaignes portal, this paper will discuss the acquisition of architectural elements from Europe by American collectors in the early twentieth century as both a form of philanthropic intervention, but also as cultural imperialism. The Château de Varaignes, now a museum dedicated to the region’s history, particularly textile production, is raising funds to replicate the door in its original location. Just as Hammond used the original Gothic door to evoke the past and lend authenticity to his revivalist castle, the replicated door in Varaignes will serve as a powerful reminder of the lost original.

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I would like to thank the people of Varaignes and CPIE du Périgord-Limousin for their hospitality during my visit there in July 2019, and for their willingness to share information about the history of the Château of Varaignes and its lost doorway. In particular, I acknowledge the assistance of Valérie Teillet, as well as Jean-Marie Delâge, Christian Magne, Jean-Marc Warembourg, and Françoise Vedrenne, as well as the support of Ghislaine Le Moël, the mayor of Varaignes. For their support of my continued research on the history of Hammond Castle and its collection, I thank Scott Cordiner, Jay Craveiro, Linda Harvey, Craig Lentz, and John Pettibone.

  • 1 For information on Varaignes, see Jean-Louis Delâge and Jean-Marc Warembourg, Varaignes, Varanha, V (...)
  • 2 https://www.cpie-perigordlimousin.org/latelier-musee-du-tisserand-et-de-la-charentaise

1The town of Varaignes is a small and charming village of fewer than 500 inhabitants, situated in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France.1 In the center of the town stands its fortress-like château, an impressive structure of butter-colored stone that was built primarily between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, although some parts may be even older, dating from an earlier structure on the site. By the eighteenth century, the structure had fallen into disrepair, and by the twentieth century, it was in danger of total collapse. A heroic effort by the townspeople in the 1960s resulted in a massive renovation and restoration of the building, and the château now functions as a museum dedicated to the region’s history, especially the local production of textiles and felt slippers.2 In its efforts to reclaim and memorialize the past, the museum displays a remarkable array of vintage artifacts and machines used in everyday life, with a particular focus on obsolete machinery of the textile industry, most of which is still operational. Yet for all of the efforts of the townspeople to preserve their past and house it in one of the town’s most historic buildings, the structure itself suffered a major loss. The most notable architectural feature of the château, a massive Gothic portal, was removed and its location remained a mystery for close to a century. The survival, rediscovery, and planned replication of the lost portal speaks to the deep human need for tangible connections to historical objects which help embody the talismanic power of our past.

  • 3 Roland Sanfaçon, L'architecture Flamboyante en France, Quebec, Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 1 (...)

2Because it was built over centuries, the château exhibits a range of architectural styles. One of the oldest sections of the structure is the square tower on the southwest corner, whose base dates from the fourteenth century. Directly across the entrance to the courtyard stands a fifteenth-century polygonal tower that encloses a winding staircase. The entrance to the tower is a simple rectangular opening, with large, light-colored blocks of stone that are clearly different from other stones surrounding them (fig. 1). In fact, older drawings and photographs confirm that the tower was originally graced with a large portal in the Flamboyant Gothic style, which was popular in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.3 The fate of this doorway was unknown to the townspeople of Varaignes, although it was rumored that it had been cut from the wall and sent to the United States.

Figure 1

Exterior view of northwest tower, Château de Varaignes.

Photo: CPIE du Périgord-Limousin

  • 4 Archives départmentales de la Dordogne, Bibliothèque numérique du Périgord, Fonds iconographiques, (...)
  • 5 Jules de Verneilh, «Le château de Varaignes », Bulletin de la Société historique et archéologique d (...)
  • 6 Maïté Etchechoury, « Portraits d'archéologues périgourdins au XIXe siècle : Jules de Verneilh (1823 (...)

3Earlier images of the Varaignes portal depict the portal in situ at the château, including a postcard dating from around 1920 with a child in the doorway, giving some sense of scale (fig. 2). Two surviving drawings of the portal, one dated 1865,4 and another with a similar figure standing in the doorway but with vegetation growing up on the right side of the doorway (fig. 3),5 were executed by Jules de Verneilh (or Verneilh-Puyraseau).6 A student of the famous architect and restorer of medieval monuments Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Verneilh made drawings and prints of the major monuments of the Dordogne, the Limousin, and the Gironde, at first traveling alongside his brother, the archeologist Félix de Verneilh. Félix also wrote about medieval art and architecture, and many of his early publications focused on the French origins of the Flamboyant Gothic style, particularly the ogival arch, of the sort featured in the portal of the Château de Varaignes.

Figure 2

Postcard of Flamboyant Gothic portal in situ at the Château de Varaignes

Photo: CPIE du Périgord-Limousin

Figure 3

Jules de Verneilh, drawing of the Flamboyant Gothic portal at the Château de Varaignes

Photo: CPIE du Périgord-Limousin

  • 7 City of God by St. Augustine, trans. Raoul de Presles, 1531, Bibliothèque francophone multimedia-Vi (...)

4In Verneilh’s drawing, the portal’s overall shape is of a large rectangle, with typical elements of Flamboyant Gothic architecture. The central ogee arch terminates in a fleuron finial, set against a field of eight blind arches with tracery. This portal was the most ornate part of the château, and it was likely installed during the time when the building belonged to the Pérusse Lavauguyon (Pérusse des Cars) family, who were powerful and wealthy because of their connections with the French monarchy; the family’s coat of arms is carved in the local church. While the figural imagery of the tympanum is difficult to decipher in the historic images, particularly since it appears to be damaged, it likely depicts part of the heraldic device associated with the des Cars family, as depicted in the frontispiece of a manuscript owned by Geoffrey Pérusse des Cars).7 During the eighteenth century, the château went through a series of owners but became increasingly dilapidated. Finally, the building was purchased by the Allafort-Duverger family. Paul Allfort-Duverger died in 1927, and the following year, most likely for financial reasons associated with the deep recession France suffered in the 1920s, his widow sold the portal. One theory was that the doorway had been purchased by the Bernheim Company, but there the trail went cold, and for decades, the people of Varaignes did not know what had become of the portal.

5The château itself continued its decline, sold first to a Mr. Lacroix, the public works contractor of Angoulême, and then to a Mr. Rathier. By the 1960s, the building was in such poor shape that the townspeople took it upon themselves to begin to shore up the crumbling structure. Finally, in 1968, after negotiations and assistance from the Mayor Gabriel Delâge and local resident Georges Bonnet, the town of Varaignes purchased their château for 10,000 francs from the owner and set upon the daunting task of restoring it. But the fate of the portal remained a mystery until the rise of the internet search engine. At long last, in 2014 group of researchers from Varaignes discovered that their lost doorway had in fact gone to the United States.

  • 8 Kathleen Curran, The Invention of the American Art Museum: From Craft to Kulturgeschichte, 1870-193 (...)
  • 9 https://www.hammondcastle.org.

6The Varaignes portal was but one of thousands of objects that left Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, sold to American collectors during a time when there was a growing interest in the United States in Europe’s Middle Ages. Along with items such as sculptures, tapestries, metalwork, manuscripts, ivories, and other more portable objects, architectural elements originating in historic buildings were stripped, crated, shipped across the Atlantic, and reinstalled in new configurations in the mansions of the newly rich seeking the appearance of the legacy of aristocracy. Both private collectors and museums purchased portals, windows, and larger sections of medieval churches, monasteries, and châteaux, and it became a popular phenomenon to install such architectural detritus in atmospheric settings in order to create pseudo-authentic recreations of medieval buildings. In museums, period rooms became popular, and objects were displayed in settings that mimicked their original historic and aesthetic context, appealing to American audiences with a taste for the past but often without the means to travel abroad and visit actual historic sites.8 American private collectors often displayed their acquisitions in similar arrangements, and at times, the houses themselves were built to emulate historic architecture, creating in effect stage sets for the objects. The portal from the Château de Varaignes ended up as part of a fanciful installation of architectural facades and other historic objects in the interior courtyard of Hammond Castle, a medieval-style mansion erected on the craggy coastline of Gloucester, Massachusetts between 1926 and 1929 for the scientist and inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. (fig. 4).9

Figure 4

Aerial view, Hammond Castle, 1926-29, Gloucester, Massachusetts

Photo: Philip Greenspun, 2006 (http://philip.greenspun.com/​copyright).

  • 10 For a recent publication on Hammond Castle and its significance, see Jennifer Borland and Martha Ea (...)
  • 11 For further information about the Hammond family, especially Hammond Sr., see John Hays Hammond, Th (...)

7Hammond was a member of a prominent family that was based in Washington, DC, but that also had a summer home in Gloucester. 10Hammond’s father, John Hays Hammond Sr., was a successful mining engineer who had worked with George Hearst, George Guggenheim, and Cecil Rhodes.11 Like his father, Hammond attended the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University. Due to his prolific, high-tech inventions, Hammond Jr. became even more wealthy in his own right. After a falling-out with his parents over his marriage to an older divorcée, Hammond moved off his parents’ estate and purchased a parcel of land further down the coast to build his “castle,” which served not only as his laboratory and residence, but also as a repository for the collection of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance objects he had already begun accumulating.

  • 12 John Hays Hammond Jr., diary entry, 7 August 1926, Hammond Castle Archives.

8The exterior of Hammond’s castle is an eclectic amalgamation of different medievalizing styles. The northern-most section of the building is a boxy, two-storied, stuccoed structure which originally housed the laboratory, the Hammond Research Corporation. Here, in the shadow of his imposing neo-medieval castle, Hammond and his assistants worked on various cutting-edge technology projects large and small, ranging in importance from radio-controlled weaponry for the U.S. military; to musical instruments and music reproduction; and even consumer items such as a sleek, streamlined bottle opener. The next section features four round towers reminiscent of a castle keep, complete with a non-functioning drawbridge over a dry moat. The next mimics a Gothic cathedral, with flying buttresses, and encloses the castle’s Great Hall. The southernmost section of the castle houses the bedrooms and an interior courtyard and looks similar to a fifteenth-century-style French château; in fact after a visit to the Château d’O in Argentan while the building of the castle was underway, Hammond changed the roofline.12

9Like the exterior, the interior is a hodgepodge of different spaces with an overall medievalizing atmosphere. In Hammond’s day, his frequent guests (many of whom were celebrities) would enter through the drawbridge entrance into a small entryway where they would sign his guestbook, and then proceed down a winding staircase to the enormous Great Hall, over thirty meters long and almost twenty meters high. It has the appearance of a combination of a church and a manor hall, with both stained glass windows and a large fireplace in the center of one wall. The Great Hall was built in part to house Hammond’s enormous pipe organ. Hammond counted many well-known organists among his friends, and many of them played the organ and a number of them recorded music at Hammond Castle, using Hammond audio technology. The appearance of the Great Hall is also indicative of Hammond’s willingness to display both originals and reproductions in the same space. The fireplace, along with the smaller one in the adjacent Sun Room, are both said to come from the same château in France, although there is no surviving documentation about the specific location. All the stained glass windows, however, are modern, created by Jacques Simon of Reims. The large ones on either end of the hall were installed in Hammond’s time, while those in the “clerestory” were at the castle, but not installed until the 1970s. The stained glass window at the north end of the hall mimics some of the scenes from the stained glass at Reims Cathedral, while the one at the southern end is a copy of the famous Notre-Dame de la Belle Verrière window at Chartres Cathedral. In addition, the painting over the fireplace is a copy of Duccio’s Rucellai Madonna. It seems clear that Hammond was primarily interested in creating an atmosphere of authenticity, even if fabricated.

  • At the southern end of the Great Hall, a large set of steps leads up to a courtyard of sorts, one of the most spectacular spots at Hammond Castle, which in Hammond’s time was often called the “patio” (fig. 5).

Figure 5

Courtyard of Hammond Castle, 1926-29, Gloucester, Massachusetts

Photo: Martha Easton

  • 13 While Hammond collected items from all over the world, there is a great deal of surviving correspon (...)
  • 14 John Hays Hammond Jr. to Francis Henry Taylor, 1937, Hammond Castle Archives.

10The entire area has the appearance of an atrium, with a glass roof rising above a central pool, surrounded by a variety of plants and trees. The pool is flanked by marble columns, imported from Italy,13 and various doorways open up onto the courtyard and provide entrances to other parts of the building. According to Hammond’s diary, he discovered the doorway leading back into the Great Hall in a basement in Naples and was able to purchase it for an extremely reasonable price (in a letter to Francis Henry Taylor, then Director of the Worcester Art Museum but soon to be Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hammond wrote that the door was made from “lava” dating from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.)14 In surviving papers in the archives at Hammond Castle, Hammond described his motivations for building his medieval-style house and his preference for medieval rather than modern architecture. He detailed the atmosphere that he was trying to create in the courtyard:

  • 15 John Hays Hammond Jr., manuscript, undated, Hammond Castle Archives.

In its concept, I had the idea of depicting an old church in France, opening upon a square of a town in which stood houses of the 15th century around the ruins of a Roman impluvium. To make this real I spent two years abroad finding the actual pieces that would change the scheme from mere scenery to actuality.15

  • 16 John Hays Hammond Jr., diary entry, 11 August 1926, Hammond Castle Archives.

11Two of the doorways are part of larger house facades, medieval in appearance, which are combinations of timber, stucco, and brick. According to Hammond’s diary, which includes information about several of his overseas trips, one of the facades originated in Amiens, and was purchased from the Parisian art dealer Auguste Decour.16

12It is here in the courtyard that Hammond installed the portal from the Château de Varaignes (fig. 6).

Figure 6

Flamboyant Gothic portal from the Château de Varaignes as installed at Hammond Castle

Photo: Martha Easton

13However, this portal was not part of Hammond’s original installation. Around the time the castle was finished in 1929, a series of atmospheric photographs was taken of a person (very likely Hammond himself) dressed in a medieval-style monastic habit, posing in various rooms. In the courtyard, the photograph shows a medieval-style portal in the position now occupied by the one from Varaignes, with three pointed archways (two of them blind, placed against a brick background) surmounted by one large and two small scalloped openings (fig. 7).

Figure 7

Original door in the courtyard of Hammond Castle

Photo: Hammond Castle Museum

  • 17 The sale of the portal to the “Société Bernheim et Cie” is mentioned in Delâge and Warembourg, Vara (...)
  • 18 The letterhead of Jean Poly was as follows: « Antiquités / J. Poly & C[ompanie] / 21, Quai Voltaire (...)
  • 19 The name of Captain William Waters appears in Hammond’s guest book several times, and although it i (...)

14This portal matched the window that is still installed on the other side of the courtyard, opening into the so-called Gothic Bedroom. Both doorway and window originally appear to have been installed in the foundations of the residence Hammond was renovating on his parents’ property before he was expelled; it seems that he took many of the objects, furnishings, and even architectural pieces with him and reused them in his castle. However, at some point the medievalesque modern doorway was removed and replaced with the Flamboyant Gothic doorway from Varaignes. While the researchers from Varaignes believed the door was sold to the Bernheim Company,17 there is no record of this at Hammond Castle. Instead, Hammond appeared to be corresponding about the door with Paris-based dealer Jean Poly,18 seemingly mediated by someone named Captain William Waters.19 In the art market of the early twentieth century, it was not uncommon for objects to move through the hands of several dealers and representatives, so it is possible that Poly acquired the Varaignes portal from someone else. But at least in terms of the surviving correspondence at Hammond Castle, Poly was the only person in contact with Hammond about the door.

15In fact, there were several telegrams and letters between Waters, Poly, and Hammond, most of which discuss the price and Hammond’s tardiness in paying the bill. The first surviving mention of the door appears in a letter to Waters from a correspondent writing on behalf of Hammond, stating that:

  • 20 Unknown to Captain William Waters, 18 April 1929, Hammond Castle Archives.

I am enclosing herewith draft in the amount of 12,000 francs to cover the purchases of the five doors which you have and are holding in your account. The Polydoor (sic) has arrived, and at the present time we are in the process of unpacking the numerous crates. What we have already uncovered pleases Mr. Hammond very much.20

16There are numerous doors at Hammond Castle, so it is difficult to know which ones are the five that are mentioned in the letter, if in fact they were shipped by Waters and installed at the castle. However, a subsequent letter from Jean Poly to Hammond describes his door in such a way that it seems almost certain he is referring to the Flamboyant Gothic portal from Varaignes. Poly writes, « En 1929 vous m’avez acheté une grande porte en pierre, dont vous n’avez certainement pas perdu le souvenir, car je suis certain qu’elle doit être une des plus belles choses de votre constructions ». Most of the doors at the castle are wood and only a few are made of stone, and the other stone doorways are most likely Italian in provenance. The large rectangular doorway from Varaignes is certainly the most spectacular stone doorway installed at Hammond Castle, and thus it seems clear that this was the door that Poly supplied to Hammond, and that Hammond liked it so much he removed the original pseudo-medieval door and replaced it with the one from Varaignes, in an interesting chronological twist whereby a modern portal is replaced with a medieval one.

17When the townspeople of Varaignes first started searching for their lost door, they thought that they had found it at The Met Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to medieval art and architecture. A portal there is very similar in style, a large rectangular door with an ogee arch ending in a fleuron finial, with blind tracery arches behind the finial (fig. 8).

Figure 8

Portal from the Abbey of Gimont, Notre-Dame, late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection, 35.35.14

Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • 21 For more information about the portal from Notre-Dame de Gimont, see Nancy Wu, «Roriczer, Schmutter (...)
  • 22 For more on the restoration, see http://www.histoiredepierres.com/galerie.php?page=83.

18However, while at first glance the style is the same, there are numerous differences in the details, including the tympanum, although in both cases the sculptural imagery on the tympana is so damaged it is difficult to determine the original iconography. The portal at the Met Cloisters is from a similar date, the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, but comes from the Cistercian Abbey of Notre-Dame de Gimont, in the Gers region of southwestern France. The portal was sold to George Blumenthal, a prominent American collector (and eventually President of the Board of Trustees of The Metropolitan Museum of Art), and was installed in the Music Room of his house in Paris. Eventually Blumenthal offered the portal to The Cloisters, which was in the planning stages. It arrived in New York in 1935 and by 1938, when the museum opened, was installed in the Gothic Chapel.21 Within the last decade the abbatial quarters have begun to be restored, and as part of this campaign, measurements were taken of the portal now at the Met Cloisters, and a modern replica has been installed in the location of the original door.22

  • 23 See John Harris, Moving Rooms: The Trade in Architectural Salvages, New Haven: Yale University Pres (...)

19John Hays Hammond Jr. and George Blumenthal were part of a popular trend, notably among American collectors, of using architectural elements from historic, especially medieval, buildings, as decorative elements in their own private homes. Particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was relatively easy to procure items such as doorways, windows, cloister arcades, and other detritus from medieval monuments that had fallen into ruin or were otherwise available for removal.23 In France, some of these buildings were churches and monasteries that had been abandoned or destroyed when church property reverted to the state after the French Revolution, or, as in the case of the Château de Varaignes, were secular buildings that for various reasons, often financial, were no longer able to be maintained. Eventually regulations controlling exports began to tighten, but not before a great deal of architectural salvage left Europe and entered into American collections.

  • 24 For Gardner, see Alan Chong, Richard Lingner, and Carl Zahn, eds., Eye of the Beholder: Masterpiece (...)
  • 25 For more on Hearst and his collecting practices, see Mary L. Levkoff, Hearst: The Collector, Los An (...)

20Like Hammond, some of the American collectors used these architectural elements as the authentic linchpins in otherwise fanciful recreations of historicized space. Many of them knew each other, competed against each other for objects, and were inspired by the architectural and design choices of their fellow collectors. The glassed-in atrium at Hammond Castle housing the portal from Varaignes was clearly modeled after the Courtyard of Fenway Court (now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), opened in 1903.24 Gardner’s courtyard was modeled after a palazzo in Venice with balustrades opening onto an interior garden, with a variety of objects and architectural fragments that spanned several centuries. Hammond and Gardner knew each other well; she often traveled to Gloucester and socialized with friends of Hammonds, in particular the interior designer Henry Davis Sleeper and the politician A. Piatt Andrew, who owned houses near each other on Gloucester’s Eastern Point. One of the most spectacular examples of revivalist architecture incorporating original architectural elements was Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, designed by the architect Julia Morgan and built for William Randolph Hearst between 1919 and 1947 (although it was never really finished.)25 Hearst collected so many architectural pieces that he could not incorporate them all into Hearst Castle, or his other homes, and many of his acquisitions remained in storage. Hammond knew Hearst, too. Their fathers had worked together on mining ventures, and anecdotal evidence from Hammond Castle museum staff suggests that the painted wooden ceiling in the dining room at Hammond Castle was a wedding gift from Hearst. Since Hearst had numerous ceilings in storage, it is not unlikely that he would have had one to spare. Hammond even bought objects from Hearst’s collection when the latter was forced to sell some of it at auction because of financial difficulties.

  • 26 For more on Barnard, Rockefeller, and The Cloisters, see Timothy B. Husband, Creating The Cloisters(...)
  • 27 John Hays Hammond Jr., diary entry, 13 August 1926, Hammond Castle Archives. Bacri Frères was a gal (...)

21One of the most significant American collectors of medieval architectural salvage was the sculptor George Grey Barnard. Beginning in 1914, Barnard installed his collection at the Old Cloisters, a museum that he designed himself, and adding to the air of imaginative historical play-acting, arranged that tours conducted through the building were given by guides dressed as monks (perhaps the inspiration for Hammond’s evocative early photographs of his own castle with a monkish robed figure in its various rooms). Barnard’s collection was acquired by John D. Rockefeller Jr., and eventually became the nucleus of The Cloisters, opened in 1938 as a branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to medieval art.26 A subsequent collection accumulated by Barnard was acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Both museums installed their medieval collections in atmospheric arrangements, giving a sense of historical context not only to the cloisters, windows, doorways, and other pieces of medieval architectural salvage, but also to the sculpture, stained glass, metalwork, manuscripts, and other items installed in the galleries. While the medieval galleries of the Philadelphia Museum are housed within a larger building with an encyclopedic range of objects, The Cloisters (now the Met Cloisters) itself was built to evoke a medieval structure. It was partially modeled on the monastery of St-Michel-de-Cuxa in southern France, and approximately half the number of surviving columns and capitals from the cloister were acquired by Barnard (narrowly evading soon-to-be tightened export regulations) and remain on display in the museum. As it turns out, it was also modeled on Hammond Castle. Early in the planning stages of The Cloisters, Rockefeller visited Hammond Castle with some members of his family. Subsequently, he fired the original architects of The Cloisters and instead called in Charles Collens, one of the partners in the firm Allen and Collens, responsible for the design of Hammond Castle. The firm was already known to Rockefeller as it had collaborated with him on the project of building the neo-Gothic Riverside Church in New York, but perhaps the design of Hammond Castle confirmed for him that the architects were the best choice for the challenge of incorporating original medieval architectural elements into a modern structure. Both Hammond Castle and The Met Cloisters not only utilize atmospheric spaces for the display of historic objects, but the exteriors and interiors at both locations freely mix periods, styles, geographical areas, and purported functions. And, both Hammond Castle and the Met Cloisters are anchored by the use of multiple doorways to provide passage into the various rooms, including the Flamboyant Gothic portals from Varaignes and Gimont, respectively. Interestingly, an entry in Hammond’s diary recounts that during a trip to Paris he went to « Bacri’s to see the wonderful door which have just acquired for new house in the teeth of George Gray (sic) Barnard of the Metropolitan Museum ».27 It seems unlikely that Hammond is referring to the Varaignes portal here, not only because it was Jean Poly who continually demanded payment for the door, but also because of the early date of the entry. The construction of the castle began in 1926, and since just a few weeks prior Hammond wrote of changing the roofline of the house, no doubt he would have accommodated the Varaignes door instead of substituting it later.

  • 28 For more on the American involvement with the restoration of Reims, see Elizabeth Emery, «The Marty (...)
  • 29 Donald J. Gonzalez, The Rockefellers at Williamsburg: Backstage with the Founders, MacLean, Virgina (...)

22There were a variety of reasons why architectural elements were moved from Europe to the United States. When Barnard acquired the elements from the Cuxa cloister, many were already gone from their original location and scattered around the countryside serving a variety of secondary functions, casualties of the breakup of the monasteries after the French Revolution. Others, like the portal from the Château of Varaignes, remained in place after the Revolution (in the case of Varaignes, perhaps because it was a secular and not a religious building), and escaped the devastation of World War I, but were sold because of financial opportunity, or more likely, hardship. The availability, and relative affordability, of these fragments coincided with and reinforced a burgeoning interest in the Middle Ages. The trend of medievalism, the appropriation and recreation of the medieval past in the modern present, seemed to have particular appeal to wealthy American industrialists. One can speculate that in an age of rapid technological change, medieval art and architecture represented tangible, solid evidence of a simpler time, even if this perception of the Middle Ages was a modern, and even peculiarly American, fabrication, a fantasy of a centuries-old past harbored by a relatively young country, with a new financial elite seeking legitimacy and the imprimatur of the past. For some American collectors, the mass purchase of the medieval spoils of Europe was not only a demonstration of the power of their wealth, but also justified as an act of philanthropic preservation. The removal of objects from war-torn Europe was seen as one way of ensuring their survival, and the creation of new places to display them a legitimate substitute for original sites that often no longer existed. The early twentieth century was a time of an increasing interest in historic preservation in general, both in Europe and in the United States, and it is perhaps not a coincidence that one of the major figures in the preservation movement was Rockefeller himself. The grandson of a scandal-plagued itinerant patent medicine salesman, Rockefeller donated over a million dollars to the campaign to rebuild and restore Reims Cathedral after it sustained major damage from German bombs during World War I.28 Closer to home, and around the same time in the 1920s, he helped finance the recreation of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.29 Thus, the interest in the historical past exhibited by some collectors extended not just to the preservation of objects, but the preservation of architecture. And the vast wealth accumulated during the pre-income tax era in the United States was often utilized not just to create vast private collections of fine and decorative arts, but also to display these collections in newly-built mansions, castles, and even veritable palaces, as if the wealthiest Americans were manufacturing their own stratified class system based on money rather than birthright, so that social status could be achieved through ostentatious display.

  • 30 Corinne B. Witham, The Hammond Museum Guide Book, Gloucester, MA, The Hammond Museum, 1966, 54.

23The lost portal of the Château de Varaignes was simply one of the many pieces of architectural salvage that entered both private and public American collections during the early twentieth century. In effect, these objects with their origins in medieval buildings helped provide a sense of authenticity, and ultimately legitimacy, to the collections and buildings in which they were displayed. At Hammond Castle, the doorway from Varaignes helped Hammond create his fantasy vision of a French village built on and around Roman ruins, anchored by the actual ruins of architectural fragments far from their original homes. Particularly poignant is the image of the door still in situ, with a grid superimposed on it to mark how it would be dismantled (fig. 9). Even though it had pride of place in the courtyard of Hammond Castle, the site of its original location became obscured; a guidebook to the museum published in 1966, one year after Hammond’s death, identified its original location as « the Château de Varennes on the Loire. »30 Thus it is not surprising that it took so long to discover the portal’s true origins.

Figure 9

Grid superimposed on Flamboyant Gothic portal, Château de Varaignes

Photo: Hammond Castle Museum

  • 31 https://www.fondation-patrimoine.org/les-projets/porte-du-chateau-de-varaignes

24Now that the people of Varaignes have found their door, there is a new effort underway to replace it. Christian Magne, the Director of CPIE du Périgord Limousin, the agency that now oversees the museum at the Château and the various programs held there, made a trip to Hammond Castle to study the portal and took numerous photos. Just as Hammond was at the cutting edge of technological developments in his own time, it is through the use of new technologies that the portal will be restored, and fundraising for the endeavor began in earnest at the end of 2019.31 Both the original portal now at Hammond Castle, and the proposed copy at Varaignes, function as bearers of historical meaning, providing evidence of the way that humans both recreate and remember history through its tangible remains. Just as the original door lent authenticity to Hammond’s fabricated vision of an imagined medieval past, the reproduction at will function as both a restoration and a reminder of the loss of an artifact from an actual medieval building. And thus the desire to reconstruct the past is shared by both Hammond in the 1920s and the townspeople of Varaignes in the present, even as the original Flamboyant Gothic doorway stands in an imitation castle, and its replicated twin in the Château de Varaignes.

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Notes

1 For information on Varaignes, see Jean-Louis Delâge and Jean-Marc Warembourg, Varaignes, Varanha, Varnea: Terre de marge et de rencontre du Périgord – Limousin – Angoumois, Varaignes, Editions CPIE du Périgord-Limousin, 2013. For specific information on the Château de Varaignes and the missing portal, with information about its discovery at Hammond Castle, see the two unpublished manuscripts « La Porte Gothique du Chateau de Varaignes », CPIE du Périgord-Limousin, (no date); and Jean-Marc Warembourg, « History of Varaignes Castle », 2019.

2 https://www.cpie-perigordlimousin.org/latelier-musee-du-tisserand-et-de-la-charentaise

3 Roland Sanfaçon, L'architecture Flamboyante en France, Quebec, Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 1971; Stephen Murray, « Flamboyant Style », in The Dictionary of Art, ed. Jane Turner, vol. 11, New York, Grove, 1996, 153-56.

4 Archives départmentales de la Dordogne, Bibliothèque numérique du Périgord, Fonds iconographiques, A04P26_Varaignes [porte gothique], 53 Fi 02.

5 Jules de Verneilh, «Le château de Varaignes », Bulletin de la Société historique et archéologique du Périgord, t. XII, 1885, 55-61.

6 Maïté Etchechoury, « Portraits d'archéologues périgourdins au XIXe siècle : Jules de Verneilh (1823-1899) », in Dessiner la patrimoine. Archéologues en Périgord du XVIIIe siècle à nos jours, Conseil départementale de la Dordogne, Périgueux, 2017, 66-69.

7 City of God by St. Augustine, trans. Raoul de Presles, 1531, Bibliothèque francophone multimedia-Ville de Limoges, MS 13. I thank Jean-Mac Warembourg and Jean-Marie Delâge for bringing this frontispiece to my attention, and Shirin Fozi for her assistance.

8 Kathleen Curran, The Invention of the American Art Museum: From Craft to Kulturgeschichte, 1870-1930, Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2016.

9 https://www.hammondcastle.org.

10 For a recent publication on Hammond Castle and its significance, see Jennifer Borland and Martha Easton, « Integrated Pasts: Glencairn and Hammond Castle », Gesta 57, no. 1, 2018, 95-118. See also the work on Hammond Castle by Naomi Reed Kline, including her guidebook to the museum (Naomi Reed Kline, The Hammond Museum: A Guidebook, Gloucester, MA, Hammond Museum, 1977); an exhibition catalogue (Naomi Reed Kline, Castles: An Enduring Fantasy, Gloucester, MA, Hammond Castle Museum, 1982); and subsequent book (Naomi Reed Kline, ed., Castles: An Enduring Fantasy, New Rochelle, Aristide D Caratzas, 1985). See also James F. O’Gorman, Twentieth-Century Gothick: The Hammond Castle Museum in Gloucester and Its Antecedents, Essex, MA, Essex Institute Historical Collections, 1981.

11 For further information about the Hammond family, especially Hammond Sr., see John Hays Hammond, The Autobiography of John Hays Hammond, 2 vols., New York, Farrar & Rinehart, 1935.

12 John Hays Hammond Jr., diary entry, 7 August 1926, Hammond Castle Archives.

13 While Hammond collected items from all over the world, there is a great deal of surviving correspondence with Armando Pacifici, a Rome-based dealer who specialized in objects from excavations. He sent Hammond photos of objects which Hammond either purchased or declined, with the result that many of the items in Hammond’s collection were Italian in origin. Some of the finer objects were sold at auctions held at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in the 1990s.

14 John Hays Hammond Jr. to Francis Henry Taylor, 1937, Hammond Castle Archives.

15 John Hays Hammond Jr., manuscript, undated, Hammond Castle Archives.

16 John Hays Hammond Jr., diary entry, 11 August 1926, Hammond Castle Archives.

17 The sale of the portal to the “Société Bernheim et Cie” is mentioned in Delâge and Warembourg, Varaignes, Varanhae, Varhanha, op. cit., 83, note 63.

18 The letterhead of Jean Poly was as follows: « Antiquités / J. Poly & C[ompanie] / 21, Quai Voltaire, Paris VIIe ».

19 The name of Captain William Waters appears in Hammond’s guest book several times, and although it is not exactly clear how the two men knew each other, Waters was briefly the stepfather of Hammond’s good friend Alice DeLamar when he married her mother, Nellie Sands, after her divorce from Joseph Raphael De Lamar in 1910, and another divorce from James R. Hatmaker. Waters lived in Paris, and at least according to a notice of a subsequent marriage to Dorothy Kidd, had been decorated for his service in World War I ( « Dorothy Kidd Weds Capt. W. H. Waters », New York Times, 10 May 1931.)

20 Unknown to Captain William Waters, 18 April 1929, Hammond Castle Archives.

21 For more information about the portal from Notre-Dame de Gimont, see Nancy Wu, «Roriczer, Schmuttermayer, and Two Late Gothic Portals at The Cloisters », Arts of the Medieval Cathedrals: Studies on Architecture, Stained Glass and Sculpture in Honor of Anne Prache, ed. Kathleen Nolan and Dany Sandron, Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2015, 71-90.

22 For more on the restoration, see http://www.histoiredepierres.com/galerie.php?page=83.

23 See John Harris, Moving Rooms: The Trade in Architectural Salvages, New Haven: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2007. For more on the collecting of medieval art in the United States, see especially Elizabeth Bradford Smith, ed., Medieval Art in America: Patterns of Collecting, 1800–1940, University Park: Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, 1996; Virginia Brilliant, Gothic Art in the Gilded Age: Medieval and Renaissance Treasures in the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling Collection, Sarasota, FL: John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 2009; and the essays in « Gothic Art in America », ed. Virginia Brilliant, special issue, Journal of the History of Collections 27, no. 3, 2015.

24 For Gardner, see Alan Chong, Richard Lingner, and Carl Zahn, eds., Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in association with Beacon Press, 1987; and Hilliard T. Goldfarb, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A Companion Guide and History, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

25 For more on Hearst and his collecting practices, see Mary L. Levkoff, Hearst: The Collector, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2008. See also Victoria Kastner, Hearst Castle: The Biography of a Country House, New York, Abrams, 2000.

26 For more on Barnard, Rockefeller, and The Cloisters, see Timothy B. Husband, Creating The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70, no. 4, 2013.

27 John Hays Hammond Jr., diary entry, 13 August 1926, Hammond Castle Archives. Bacri Frères was a gallery specializing in art and antiquities, located at 141, boulevard Haussmann in Paris.

28 For more on the American involvement with the restoration of Reims, see Elizabeth Emery, «The Martyred Cathedral: American Attitudes toward Notre-Dame de Reims during the First World War », in Medieval Art and Architecture after the Middle Ages, ed. Janet T. Marquardt and Alyce A. Jordan, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2009, 213-39.

29 Donald J. Gonzalez, The Rockefellers at Williamsburg: Backstage with the Founders, MacLean, Virgina, EPM Publishers, 1991.

30 Corinne B. Witham, The Hammond Museum Guide Book, Gloucester, MA, The Hammond Museum, 1966, 54.

31 https://www.fondation-patrimoine.org/les-projets/porte-du-chateau-de-varaignes

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Martha Easton, « Lost and Found: The Missing Flamboyant Gothic Door from the Château de Varaignes », Perspectives médiévales [En ligne], 41 | 2020, mis en ligne le 25 janvier 2020, consulté le 12 août 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/peme/21255 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/peme.21255

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Martha Easton

Assistant Professor of Art History, Saint Joseph’s University, Boland Hall, Philadelphia, United States of America

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