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Work Altar Step of La Bâtie d'Urfé

Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance

Altar step from the chapel of the Bâtie d’Urfé

© 2000 RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts

Rochebrune Marie-Laure de, Paillat Edith

This collection of 270 tiles adorned the altar step in the chapel of the château de La Bâtie d'Urfé in the Loire. It was commissioned from the Rouen ceramicist Masséot Abaquesne. The ornate designs draw on works by Raphael, themselves inspired by the ancient frescoes discovered in the sixteenth century in the Domus Aurea (Golden House) of Nero in Rome. The altar step represents an important milestone in the history of the spread of faience work in France by Italian artists.

La Bâtie d'Urfé

La Bâtie d'Urfé, in the Forez (Saint-Étienne-le-Molard, Loire), was the preferred residence of Claude d'Urfé (1501-58), tutor to the children of Henry II and father of the author of "L'Astrée", Honoré d'Urfé. After staying in Italy for nearly five years, from 1546 to 1551, he redecorated his country house at Forez in a new style, making it an important outpost of Italian culture in France.

The Chapel

The château's chapel was one of the most famous ornamental ensembles commissioned by Claude d'Urfé. The bold architecture provided the setting for a highly original décor: a polychrome and gold stucco vault (in situ), and walls decorated, in the upper part, with pictures by the Roman Mannerist painter Girolamo Siciolante (in situ, on loan to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris) and, in the lower part, with inlaid wood paneling carved by Fra Damiano da Bergamo (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The openings were likewise decorated with magnificent stained-glass windows (private collection). The floor, composed of around 2,800 faience tiles, is now dispersed among a large number of collections, both public (notably in Ecouen, Grenoble, Lyon, Rouen, and Sèvres) and private. According to a contract recorded at Rouen on 22 September 1557, it was commissioned from Masséot Abaquesne at a cost of 559 livres tournois.

Grotesque figures

In contrast to the floor tiles, the altar step is notable for the use of grotesque figures on a white ground, recalling the works of Raphael in the Vatican Loggia. Raphael had himself been inspired by the ancient frescoes discovered in the Domus Aurea of Nero in Rome in the fifteenth century. Very commonly used in mid-sixteenth century French decorative art, this form of decoration was also employed in Italian majolica workshops, such as those at Urbino, during the same period. Painted in high-fired colors with dominant blues, yellows, and greens, fantastic birds, terms, baldachins, and draperies are arranged symmetrically on either side of a cartouche bearing the date 1557. Music is evoked by winged musicians and trophies of instruments. On the two side panels, alllegorical figures are placed under a dais draped with vines and dominated by the "sinocchio", the papal parasol of Paul IV. Faith is on the right and Justice on the left, directly inspired by the series of grotesque figures carved by Du Cerceau in 1550.


Ballot Marie-Juliette, Musée du Louvre, La Céramique française. Bernard Palissy et les fabriques du XVIe siècle, Paris, Éditions Albert Morancé, 1924, p. 16-17, pl. 16-18.

Ennes Pierre, Musée du Louvre. Département des objets d'art, Céramique du Moyen-Age et de la Renaissance, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1983 (Petit guide des grands musées 91), p. 16.

Exposition, Claude d'Urfé et la Bâtie, Allard (Loire), musée, 1990.

Louvre. Guide du visiteur. Les Objets d'art. Moyen-Age et Renaissance, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1994, p. 125.

Durand Jannic, Le Louvre : les objets d'art, Paris, Éditions Scala, Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1995, p. 70.

Les Collections du Louvre, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1999 (Collection Anthologie des collections), p. 236.

Technical description

  • Factory of Masseot ABAQUESNE

    Altar step from the chapel of the Bâtie d’Urfé



  • Faience

  • Gift of MM. Beurdeley, père et fils, 1880 , 1880

    OA 2518

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Henri II
    Room 530

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