Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bob Dobbs | Leonardo da Vinci, Chateau de Chambord & the Double Helix Staircase

What ‘Youth’?

15 December 2015

left, Francis 1 of France; right, from RNA drops bottle

Palladio’s illustration of the staircase.

At the heart of the Château de Chambord lies a double helix staircase. It is, in fact, two staircases that begin opposite one another, neither visible from the other. From the ground floor, these two staircases wind around a central illuminated well, visible to each other only in glimpses through small opposing windows. They twist up to the top of the chateau where they meet in the roof. Legend suggests that this configuration was designed so that Louis XIV, the Sun King, could arrange clandestine meetings with his mistresses at the top. The steps are supposed to be sufficiently shallow that a lady will not tire in ascending them.

The effect of looking over and glimpsing someone on the same plane, going in the opposite direction, and then seeing them disappear, only to reappear in the window another floor up, and finally to suddenly encounter one another, face-to-face, at the top, is uncanny. It feels as though you’ve just taken part in an optical illusion. Even when you understand how the staircase works, you are left with an impression that some sort of magic or trick has taken place.