In 1888, the Association for the Restoration of Chillon Castle asked the Grand Council for the Canton of Vaud to approve the establishment of a Technical Commission, whose function would be to oversee the work of the architect tasked with the castle’s restoration.
Five people were contacted and agreed to join: art historian Johann-Rudolf Rahn, Savoyard architect Théodore Fivel, restorer Léo Châtelain, baron and art historian Henri de Geymüller, and architect Henri Assinare. In keeping with Rahn’s vision, the Technical Commission exercised great care with the work carried out at the castle: ‘What is required at Chillon is respectful preservation of its current state. Do not touch it!’
In 1896 members of the Commission drafted the fundamental principles that would guide the restoration and excavation work. Most notably, the text mentioned the need to emphasise the castle’s primitive character, restore any blocked-off windows, maintain the sentry walks, and ensure archaeological exploration was carried out with the utmost care. The architects Ernest Burnat (1833-1922), Albert Naef (1862-1936) and Otto Schmid (1873-1957) carried out successive restoration works from the 1890s to the 1950s, adhering to these principles to varying extents.
Today, the Foundation, which took over from the Association in 2002 collaborates very closely with the Technical Commission.
Daniel de Raemy, Chillon : la chapelle, Lausanne: Association du Château de Chillon, 1999.
Denis Bertholet, Olivier Feihl and Claire Huguenin, Autour de Chillon : archéologie et restauration au début du siècle, Ecublens : DIP SA, 1998.
Coat of Arms Hall, room 18
The ceiling in the Coat of Arms Hall (room 18) was commissioned by the Duke of Savoy Amadeus VIII in 1436, after his visit to Chillon Castle prompted him to commission a series of maintenance and embellishment works. These were carried out by Aymonet Corniaux, the maître des oeuvres (master architect) to the House of Savoy, whose job was to keep his lord’s properties in good condition.
In the Middle Ages, this room served a ceremonial purpose and was most often used to host prestigious guests. The first mention of a coffered ceiling appeared in 1439 in the castle records. Made of soft wood, it is divided into 72 compartments. The gaps between the master, secondary and tertiary beams create a very marked protrusion (over one metre) which is reinforced by the superposition of mouldings. As a decoration, most of the wooden pieces are covered with grooves. The ceiling shares many similarities with other Aymonet Cordinaux pieces (for example at the castles of Annecy and Ripaille). More generally, comparable ceilings can be found in buildings located in the medieval Savoy region (fortified house in Loche, Talloires priory, the castles of Montrottier and Menthon-Saint Bernard). These similarities indicate that this type of ceiling was common in the cisalpine region toward the end of the Middle Ages. Throughout his long career (spanning half a century!) Aymonet Cordinaux contributed to the development of this specific branch of architecture. By frequently hiring local workers, he also helped to disseminate this model.
End of the prison, room 9
Situated at the far end of the prison (room 9), these wooden shingles and slats were retained in the 13th-century Gothic vaults. They formed part of old timber work laid in anticipation of the construction of the jack arches – between the ribbed vaults – and were designed to hold the bonding mortar between the blocks until it set.
These relics are a precious testament, perhaps the only one of its kind in Europe, to medieval construction methods; they were used to make the ribs, i.e. the wooden moulds that acted as negatives for the vault being made, and which kept the stone in place in the mortar until it was fully set.
In the early 1990s, some of the slats were dismantled. A dendrochronological analysis was then carried out – observing the rings in the cut wood – in a laboratory without core-sampling. This enabled the slats and shingles to be dated back to around 1250. This date, which was much earlier than that given in historical texts, was unsurprising given that the pieces had been taken from a castle roof, where they had stayed for many years, and reused. In fact, the shingles were replaced by tiles in the 13th century.
These relics were probably forgotten about in the darkness of the prison, unless medieval masons simply did not see it fit to remove them, given the new penal role their surroundings would go on to play. The entire north-west part of the castle is supported by these Gothic vaults and they themselves are supported by seven molasse stone columns.
Medieval formwork timber