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Emilie du Chatelet

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Voltaire and Emilie

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The Little Theater at Cirey

Restoration of the Chateau

Poetry Tribute to Voltaire


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Voltaire Residence
Voltaire residence
Voltaire gallery
Entry door to the Gallery designed by Voltaire

Voltaire at Cirey
Located in the Haute-Marne district about 250 km from Paris, the Chateau de Cirey was marked by the presence of Voltaire who lived there for 15 years from 1734 to 1749.

Voltaire was the guest of Gabrielle Emilie de Breteuil, Marquise du Chatelet, another great intellect of the 18th century.

Voltaire was forced to flee Paris and take refuge at Cirey in 1734 after the publication of "Philosophic Letters" also know as "The English Letters". The "Letters" strongly criticized existing French institutions. The French parliament, angered by the letters, ordered that Voltaire be imprisoned. Having already served two previous sentences in the Bastille, Voltaire preferred to flee.

The Marquise du Chatelet, a friend whom Voltaire had met the year before, offered him asylum at her Cirey property.

The chateau was located near the border with Lorraine which was an independent province at the time. It was an ideal refuge for Voltaire who could cross the border if he was pursued by the authorities.

After he left Cirey, Voltaire continued this habit of living near borders. However, this didn't keep him from regular visits to Paris.

Voltaire considered staying at Cirey until the arrest warrant was renounced allowing him to return to the capital.

When he arrived at Cirey, he found the chateau in a dilapidated state with cold winds blowing through various openings.

The chateau consisted of the right wing with its high roofs which dominated the canal. This wing of brick and stone, style Louis XIII, was built by Louis Jules du Chatelet in 1634. It was constructed upon existing ruins of an 11th century fortress.

Surprisingly, Voltaire fell in love with the region, changed his plans, and decided to stay definitively at Cirey. First of all, he had to make it habitable.

With the approval of the Marquis du Chatelet, Voltaire undertook major restoration of the chateau. Finding the chateau too small for his many guests, he enlarged it creating a long gallery overlooked by a terrace.

On the grand entry door of the gallery, Voltaire expressed his philosophical convictions and his love of the arts and sciences. The sculpted stone door frame depicts a marine theme composed of seashells and the two faces of Neptune, awake and sleeping. Voltaire believed in Maupertuis' theories of evolution which portrayed the sea as the source of life. He symbolized this with the marine theme.

Other attributes of the arts and sciences portrayed on the entrance door include:

to the left of the door (beginning at the top)
- a world map for astronomy
- the compass, the ruler, and the T-square for geometry
- the pen and its holder for literature

to the right of the door (beginning at the top)
- again, astronomy
- a palette for painting
- a mallet for sculpture
- a bagpipe for music

Among the inscriptions are these lines written by Voltaire reflecting the serenity he enjoyed at the chateau (lower left under the pen):

Refuge of the arts,
Solitude where my heart rests in profound peace,
It is you who bestows the happiness
That the world promised in vain.

Voltaire had another purpose in restoring the chateau - to attract Mme. du Chatelet. Preferring the urbane, sophisticated life at court in Paris to the austere life of Cirey, Mme. du Chatelet delayed returning to Cirey. Emilie gave up her life in Paris for Votaire and joined him at Cirey. Thus began one of the greatest intellectual and romantic relationships of the 18th century between these two exceptional people.
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Château de Cirey
52110 Cirey-sur-Blaise
Haute-Marne France

Copyright 2001 Jane M. Birkenstock
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Last Updated: March 30, 2007