Hotel Historical and present Seat of the Academy

All the history of the Academy is linked to this House of the Great Horse.

[ Origin | Construction | Seat of the Academy | Destination | The Great Horse ]

Hotel Le Vallois

Origin - The Mansion was given the name of the founder, Nicolas Le Valois d'Escoville and also, for quite a long time and as late as the 19th century, that of " House of the Great Horse" 
The Mansion, seat of the Academy, was built by the Le Valois family, an old Lisieux family which played an important part in both Lisieux and Caen.

-Nicolas Le Valois, Esquire and Lord of Escoville was born in 1495 of Jean le Valois and Charlotte La Bigne and gave the family its reputation.

-Nicolas Le Valois had 4 or 5 sons (the sources differ)
  • Louis, Viscount of Caen, belonged to the Lords of Fontaine-Etoupefour line.
  • François to the Lords of Escoville line.
  • Jean, Lord of Mesnil-Guillaume, was Gentleman of the King's Chamber and the Last of the Valois to own the mansion. He sold it in 1603 to a wealthy merchant from Rouen, Guillaume Moisant.

Moreover,the Le Valois family was soon to die out.

Nicolas Le Valois is to be remembered for his unremitting dedication to work and also for spending his leisure time studying Philosophy and carrying out recondite research in Alchemy which certainly accounts for the carvings which it inspired.

Alas! Nicolas Le Valois d'Escoville was not to enjoy his new, splendid house for long ; as Monsieur de Bras states it : "On the Friday of the Epiphany (6th January 1541), Nicolas Le Valois, Lord of Escoville, Fontaine, Mesnil-Guillaume and Manneville, the wealthiest man in town, was sitting at table in the hall of his magnificent mansion near the St-Pierre crossroads, which had just been completed the year before; as he was eating an oyster from  the shell, suddenly choked and dropped dead from apoplexy. He was about 47 years of age."

The district of St-Pierre is worthy of our attention. Lying near the castle it boasted the dwellings of the most prosperous families in the town, of which there were many, and this location, at the heart of the city,mostly accounts for the origin and the destination of the Hôtel d'Escoville. First of all, it was the result of the wish of Nicolas Le Valois to purchase from Jean de la Bigne his dwelling so as to destroy it; then the subsequent use made of the new Mansion, which was to be the City Hall, the seat of the Academy and, later on, of the Commercial Court and Exchange, for the simple reason that the building was vast and opulent with a beautiful situation right in the


Building the Mansion - in 1531, the buying of Jean de la Vigne's mansion is followed by its destruction.

In 1533, the pavilion which is across the enter of the yard is built ; the wing, constructed at right angles, is finished in 1535, as it is indicated by the dates carved on the mullions.
In 1537, the central building is built along the Saint Pierre square.

During the building, they found in the foundations a large amount of "quick silver" (or mercury), a "full pewter pot ", some people thought it had been brought back from a mine, some people thought it came from a former apothecary shop located there.

The architect ? several hypothesis

. a skilled builder who would have also built the castle of Fontaine-Henri and Lasson, some mansions of Duval de Mondrainville in Caen, and some other remarkable Renaissance buildings in Normandy.
. Hector Sohiern, the brilliant builder of the near Saint Pierre church 's apse, which presents numerous identical details.
. At last, the role of the architect would be assigned to Blaise Leprestre, a master builder from Caen, who was very famous at the beginning of the XVIth century. In any case, the main door opening onto the Saint Pierre square is undoubtedly attributed to him in a text by Cahaignes, and therefore, maybe the entire building along the Saint-Pierre square, last built in 1537.

The sculptors ? There were surely some local sculptors for the decorative motifs, but undoubtedly some Italian sculptors were hired for Judith and David 's faces, similar to Florentine sculptures of that period.

Pavillon aux

The residence of the Academy - after the death of Nicolas Le Valois, his elder son, Louis, took the title of Lord of Escoville Valois and became "Great Lord of Normandy, near the town of Caen". Louis took possession of the Mansion but he quickly got weary of it, gave it up and from then ,only benefited from this beautiful residence.
Thus, the town of Caen rented the mansion in 1574 to receive the Count of Montgommery who had to stop in Caen, and some other lords afterwards, especially Charles of Matignon, Lieutenant Général of Normandy. In other respects, some shops were settled on the ground floor onto the Saint Pierre square, from that period.
In the beginning of the XVIIth century, the grandson of Nicolas Le Valois sold the Mansion to Guillaume Moisant, a rich fabric merchant from Rouen, who wanted to end his life peacefully in Caen.
Jacques Moisant, the son of Guillaume, retired in Caen to dedicate to the worship of "belles lettres", and he got used to some meetings on Mondays at the crossroads of Saint Pierre, meeting of a number of gentlemen with no occupation, who were there for the arrival of the mail from Paris.
Those meetings, sometimes impossible to held because of the weather , are going to happen very normally in the near Jacques Moisant's mansion which, first, is used as a shelter, then as a permanent residence, when the Academy of fine Arts and Belles Lettres is created in 1652, and Jacques Moisant will grant one of the most beautiful halls of the mansion to the Academy for its meetings.


Destiny - Jacques Moisant like his father before him did not occupy the whole mansion and very large portions of the building were put at the town's disposal for the accomodation of visiting officials and personnalities as well as for the housing of its high ranking civil servants.
Thus, in 1614, Monsieur de Matignon, Lieutenant General of Normandy, was one of the most famous residents of the mansion : his stay had so much impact on the local people that afterwards the mansion became known as the Mansion de Matignon.
Gradually, the town will take advantage of several opportunities, like the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the exile of Robert Moisant in the Netherlands, to buy additional parts of the mansion, thus the upkeep and maintenance of the mansion which proved very expensive, thus became the sole responsibility of the town.
Later, the town will convert the mansion into the Town Hall and some societies will tale advantage of it like the Academy of Music, indeed some concerts were given in its vast halls.
In 1750, the meetings of the Academy of Sciences, Fine Arts and Belles Lettres take up again (resume) under the influence of Monsieur de Fonte . de Fontette, promoted Patron of the Academy, as it is said in the history of the Academy.
After the death of Alexis de Touchet, his widow, Catherine Moisant, sole owner of a quite important part of the mansion, that is to say the left wing, sold it to the town which wanted to settle there the consular juridiction. Unfortunately, the settlement was not effective, and that part of the mansion had only the temporary interest of being the Mail office during the Revolution and then was sold to several ouwners on 8th Vendemiaire, year V (30th September 1795)?. It was converted into shops.
The right wing became home to various administrations : the consular juridiction and the town Council /Edilité until it settle in the Eudistes ' Seminary, and later the Commodity Market, the Chamber of Commerce of Caen, with the Commercial Court and the Industrial Tribunal. Incidentally, the mansion and the Society of Fine Arts enjoy a period of artistic renewal with the comeback of concerts following the settlement of the Philharmonic Society of Calvados.
Nowadays, the Tourist Information Centre maintains the tradition of public administration, the mansion being located right in the town centre.

Found and
restaured cheminey

Why the Great Horse ?

The main doorway was adomed with a tympanum showing a remarkable carved scene in which appeared ' a mounted horseman, reduced in size, riding over a heap of dead bodies and horses being eaten by birds; he was tumed towards the front of him is a representation of the false prophet and of the dragon with several heads and of horsemen against whom he seemed to be proceeding. He was looking round as if to see the figures of the false prophet and dragon now entering an old castle, all environed by flames which already half cover the false prophet.

This bas-relief was topped by "a large horse up in the air with clouds under his fore hoofs. lts rider seemed to have had, in front of him, a sword now gone. In his right hand he held a long iron rod. Above and behind him were more horsemen following him and, in front and above, there was an angel in the sun. Some names were written on the great horseman's thigh, in several places, like King of Kings, Lord of Lords etc ... drawn from the Apocalypse (Revelation ch. XIX)"

One can have an idea of that sculpture from the tympanum over the door of the south pavilion, at the end of the vestibule.

All the decorations of the Hôtel have called forth many interpretations; they were inspired by a few verses of Saint John's Apocalypse (or Revelation) and showed gruesome scenes recalling a tragedy or a bloody deed which may have conveyed divine vengeance or the horrors of war with the clear representation of the Horseman whose mount trampled a mound of dead bodies, humans and horses.

For further information see Bernard Becks paper given to the Academy on the subject ( 1995 Transactions).;

Tympanum over doorway

[ Origin | Construction | Seat of the Academy | Destination | The Great Horse ]