I have become convinced that the human and economic action implied in the conservation or rehabilitation of cultural heritage is closely related, no matter where they occur…. The renewal or restoration of a place of culture always implies the necessity of considering the economic potential destined to ensure the sustainability of the effort in the long term. The concept is simple. The complexity lies in the need to develop a strategy and a management model that will ensure sustainable economic development over the long term….

The whole idea is to give Chantilly new life, to put it back on the map; indeed, to put it on the map as one of France’s great cultural centres. It probably has the second best collection after the Louvre of various types of works of art…. The idea was to show Chantilly, as the Duc d’Aumale had asked, to the largest number of people possible. It was necessary to wake up this city, to coordinate the action of those responsible for the racecourse, the Chateau, the buildings and the park, the city, and the Ministry of Culture. The Museum of the Horse is an integral part of this scheme. The kings of France came to Chantilly to hunt, the Grandes Ecuries are the rival of the Royal Stables at Versailles, and the Hippodrome saw the birth of horse racing in France.

The Museum of the Horse at the Domaine de Chantilly is the successor of the former Musee Vivant du Cheval, located in the early eighteenth-century Grandes Ecuries, one of the most magnificent buildings ever conceived for the horse. This new Museum is part of a larger scheme that has involved the progressive renovation and development of the Domaine de Chantilly.

The horse has played a significant role at Chantilly for many centuries. My own participation in the Museum of the Horse and in the work undertaken to bring something of its princely lustre back to Chantilly is, to a greater extent than one might expect, the result of my own history and that of my family. As a matter of duty, I have devoted decades of my life to the patronage of the arts and culture, as one of the possible means of fostering human development. In fact, this became a priority for me very quickly after succeeding to my grandfather’s position, more than fifty years ago. Then, I became the forty-ninth Imam of the approximately twenty million Shiite Imami Ismaili Muslims whose predominantly rural and poor populations are scattered across thirty-five countries, mainly in Central Asia, South-West Africa, and the Middle East. I am the heir of a culture, or perhaps I should say “cultures” in the plural, that stretch back more than a millennium. I was, from my early years however, aware through the influence of my father of French painting and literature. I have lived in France for more than forty years.

The complexity lies in the need to develop a strategy and a management model that will ensure sustainable economic development over the long term. To achieve this, it is absolutely necessary to work with all stakeholders.

I have tried to put this wealth of experience to work for the benefit of Chantilly. Here, I have sought to implement some important lessons acquired in countries with very different cultures. In fact, I have become convinced that the human and economic action implied in the conservation or rehabilitation of cultural heritage is closely related, no matter where they occur. A cultural project focused on a place of history or tradition must take into account its immediate environment. In other words, beyond the care taken in the revival of a particular monument or historic site, the redevelopment of public spaces and private ones must be integrated into the process. The renewal or restoration of a place of culture always implies the necessity of considering the economic potential destined to ensure the sustainability of the effort in the long term. The concept is simple. The complexity lies in the need to develop a strategy and a management model that will ensure sustainable economic development over the long term. To achieve this, it is absolutely necessary to work with all stakeholders. In Chantilly, I have had the great joy to be a witness to palpable enthusiasm for the projects I have been involved in. The racetrack, its buildings and access have been repaired or upgraded. The Fondation pour la Sauvegarde et le Developpement du Domaine de Chantilly (Foundation for the Safeguarding and Development of the Domain of Chantilly) was created, and the magnificent park of Le Notre was the subject of an in-depth renovation extending to the water systems for the fountains and basins and beyond. The Grande Singerie, with its murals painted by Christophe Huet in 1737, has been restored in collaboration with the World Monuments Fund, while the new Hotel du Jeu de Paume has opened on the Rue du Connetable, close to the Chateau.

The Grandes Ecuries (Great Stables), built by the seventh Prince de Conde, are the location of the newly reopened Museum of the Horse, which naturally takes its place here, and is the only such institution in the world dedicated exclusively to the presentation of the history of the horse at all latitudes. This broad project is possible only because of the commitment of the Institut de France, the Picardy Region, the Department of the Oise, the town of Chantilly, and also France Galop, which oversees the operation of the racecourse. Academia and private sector have also played their roles.

One can look at faith and find the horse everywhere: in the Muslim world, and the Christian world. The horse has been a part of sport all over the globe, going back for centuries, including hunting on horseback. One can look at the horse in human life, that is to say the agricultural system; one can look at the horse in war; or the horse as the vehicle of exploration for hundreds of years.

As early as the 1820s, my family owned racing stables in India. My grandfather, Aga Khan III, was the Leading Owner [sic] of thoroughbred horses in England for the first time in 1924. Subsequent to the death of my father in 1960, I assumed this family tradition and I have sought to breed and race the finest horses since then. As early as the 1980s, when I was involved in the sponsorship of the Ciga Weekend, which included the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at the Longchamp racecourse in Paris, we decided to work with culture, and to gather what I would call representations of the horse in human civilisation. What has the horse meant to various epochs of human civilisation, to various countries? It is a fascinating, nearly unlimited subject. One can look at faith and find the horse everywhere: in the Muslim world, and the Christian world. The horse has been a part of sport all over the globe, going back for centuries, including hunting on horseback. One can look at the horse in human life, that is to say the agricultural system; one can look at the horse in war; or the horse as the vehicle of exploration for hundreds of years.

When France Galop approached me in the early 1990s about helping to save the racecourse at Chantilly that was slated to be closed, I said: “I am not going to restore just the racecourse, my interests are much wider.” We met with the Institut de France, owner of the Domaine de Chantilly, and with local and regional authorities, I said to them: “Why don’t we think of the bigger scheme of things?” The entire area has enormous potential that has never been thought through. We are so close to one of the largest transportation hubs in the world, the Charles de Gaulle Airport. This magnificent heritage warranted a public-private partnership with a precise common plan. My experience in social issues, sponsorship and the fact that I live in the region led the participants in this process to ask me to become the President of the Foundation for the Safeguarding and Development of the Domain of Chantilly, and to ensure its management with the Institut de France, to which it will return fully in 2025. When the Foundation has finished its work, I hope that the Domain will be a totally rethought, restructured cultural asset and an economic unit that will stand on its own.

The whole idea is to give Chantilly new life, to put it back on the map; indeed, to put it on the map as one of France’s great cultural centres. It probably has the second best collection after the Louvre of various types of works of art. It has the best-known example of a Gothic illuminated manuscript that has survived to our times, Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry, and it has a fabulous collection of drawings. The idea was to show Chantilly, as the Duc d’Aumale had asked, to the largest number of people possible. It was necessary to wake up this city, to coordinate the action of those responsible for the racecourse, the Chateau, the buildings and the park, the city, and the Ministry of Culture. The Museum of the Horse is an integral part of this scheme. The kings of France came to Chantilly to hunt, the Grandes Ecuries are the rival of the Royal Stables at Versailles, and the Hippodrome saw the birth of horse racing in France.

In the broader sense, the horse is one of the most extraordinary phenomena we have. Its presence runs throughout human history and culture. I have long felt that over time I would try to acquire significant representations of the horse in art. One of these works, called De la nature et vertu des chevaux, is an early sixteenth-century illuminated manuscript written for the instruction of King Louis XII of France. It is really a series of lessons on how to breed and to raise horses, what characteristics of the horse are desirable or undesirable, how to correct undesirable characteristics, how to identify signs of sickness. It is a fascinating document because you can find in it all the basic principles that can impact the horse in every way it exists. A work like this demonstrates the deep connections between the history of France and the horse. With the Museum of the Horse in Chantilly I wanted to try to begin to represent the totality of the horse in human civilisation at the same time as we made a substantive contribution to the development of Chantilly itself.

His Highness the Aga Khan IV

SOURCES

  • The Museum of the Horse, Philip Jodidio, ed., Prestel, Munich, 2013, pp.9

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