Before Diane de Poitiers undertook the building of the present château, there were two previous châteaux on the site. A year before Henri became King, Diane had thought of building a more congenial and more imposing residence than the old Gothic manor of Brézé, which she had inherited from her husband. She hired an architect from Lyon to draw up the plans: Philibert de l’Orme then thirty-six years old and already well known.
De l’Orme designed a structure based on the classic revival, but with the advantage of all the contemporary comforts. This part of the château was an extension towards the west of the old manor house which Diane had wished to preserve. In 1549-50 the right wing and chapel were completed; in 1551 the left wing; thereafter the portal was erected bearing the final date: 1552.
In the main building were the apartments for Diane and those for the king, as well as reception halls; other apartments were placed in the left wing. The right wing consisted solely of a “salle des fêtes” called the “Galerie de Diane”. Behind each wing were lateral courts, the one on the right irregular in shape with on one side the manor of Brézé, on the other toward the road to Oulins a monumental portal, the “Porte de Charles le Mauvais”. In the center was a fountain – the Nymph of Anet.
The left hand court bordered the orangerie and aviary. In its center was another fountain with the famous sculpture of Diane reclining on a stag, attributed to Jean Goujon and now preserved in the Louvre. The one at Anet is a replica.
Finally, beyond the main building and on a lower plane were the gardens, surrounded by long galleries with two square-shaped pavilions at the corners. Behind the central gallery was a large pavilion used for balls and other festivities.
At the center of the main façade was a beautiful portal, each of the three tiers of which contained columns of a different classical order. On the last was a statue of the Grand Sénéchal, Louis de Brézé, to whom, according to its Latin inscription, Diane had dedicated it.
The mullion windows, as in the previous century, were topped by pediments alternatingly triangular and arched. The smallest of the dormer windows were crowned with a motif in the form of a tomb, symbol of mourning. There were also large and very ornate cenotaphs on the monumental chimney stacks. Finally, various monograms of Diane, her husband, and King Henri, interlaced by crescents and palm branches, appear in the motifs around the balustrades bordering the terraces on each side of the portal above the moat
The main entrance is part of a long architectural unit which is immediately noticed upon arrival at the château. To the right of the portal are terraces overlooking the moat with balustrades laced with the monograms of Diane and Louis de Brézé, intertwined by deltas. Beyond is the funerary chapel built a Quarter of a century after the château. The brick bordered by white stone contrast, and it harmonizes with the the green lawns, gardens and the park. The portal is a triumphal arch with its precious marble encrustations and its four Doric columns framing the carriage entrance and the two little doors. Above the entrance the black marble lintel carries the following dedication:
Phoebo sacrata est almae domus ampla Dianae Verum accepta cui cuncta Diana refert.(This magnificent dwelling is dedicated by Phoebus to the goodly Diane who in turn is grateful to him for all she has received).
“The salle de gardes” is lined with a series of tapestries illustrating the history of Diane. These tapestries were very likely made by order of Henri II to decorate Anet ; the borders carry the arms and monogram of Diane. They are believed to have been woven in Fontainebleau or possibly in Paris and very likely from sketches by Jean Cousin.
In the dressing room there is a Renaissance jewel case. The original stained glass windows were designed by Jean Cousin.
The chapel, finished in 1550, was a masterpiece by Philibert de l’Orme. Built in the form of a Greek cross with one of the first domes built in France, it is coffered and creates the impression of great height and lightness. The pavement is of precious marble and is an exact projection of the design in the dome. The rose motif in the center, encrusted with colored marble from palaces of Roman emperors, corresponds with the lantern. The bas-relief of the vaulting, very likely the work of Jean Goujon, represents the “renommées” announcing the Resurrection of Christ on the inside of the arms of the Greek cross. Angels carry with triumphant joy the instruments of the Passion, visible signs of Redemption: the nails, the sponge at the end of the stick, the crown of thorns, the cock of St. Peter, and the sword with which he cut the ear of Malchus, also the veil of St. Veronica. The statues of the twelve apostles have long been attributed to Germain Pilon. Above the entrance is the gallery where Diane de Poitiers attended the services. Sculptured paneling has been preserved on the doors opening to the peristyle, with the one in the centre with curious carvings. The altars, also designed by de l’Orme, were removed after the Revolution, but found and re-installed.
In 1565, one year before her death, Diane de Poitiers charged Claude de Foucques, architect for the princes of Lorraine, with the design of the chapel which was consecrated in 1577. It was built of brick and stone ; the lower part of the façade is formed by four Corinthian columns with a door in the center. There are two large side niches with statues representing Faith and Charity. Above the door is a rectangle and above that a round window with symbolic figures on both sides. Above the large entablature is a three-part attic crowned with a pediment placed against an architectural motif ; this motif is dominated by a, sculpture of the three Renommées leaning on the tomb which carries Diane’s coat of arms. The interior of the chapel is bossed vaulted. Two-thirds of the way down the nave, before the choir and above the tomb itself, stands the funerary monument which bas been attributed (but without proof) to Pierre Bontemps ; it holds the kneeling figure of Diane de Poitiers mounted on a cenotaph of black marble.
On the retable – which may very well be by Bontemps – are figures representing the ” Adoration of the Magi”. These were badly damaged during the Revolution. Originally there was a statue of the Virgin, patron saint of the chapel, placed here. It is interesting to note that this classically inspired and beautifully proportioned structure was the prototype of a new style in architecture to be carried on at Saint-Bruno in Bordeaux and to become widespread in the 17th century.
The architect Philibert de l’Orme created, within a wide gallery, a large garden divided into twenty four squares containing aromatic plants and flowers. On each side stood two beautiful white marble fountains by Jean Goujon later Dupeyrac and Claude Mollet, both famous royal gardeners, improved the gardens.