The first detailed description
Héracle Jean-Baptiste Olivier de Blocquel de Croix, Baron de Wismes (1814-1887), an archaeologist, art critic and artist himself, was a member and corresponding member of many scholarly societies, including, from 1846, the Nantes Archaeological Society, of which he was president from 1877 to 1881.
Living in Nantes, where he had strong family ties, he was particularly interested in Eastern Brittany, Anjou, Maine and Poitou. In particular, La Vendée (Nantes, P. Sébire, [1845-1848]) and Le Maine et l'Anjou historiques, archéologiques et pittoresques (Nantes, V. Forest & É. Grimaud, 1862) are attributed to him.
During the Morlaix Congress of the archaeology class of the Breton Association, which was held from 6 to 13 October 1850, Olivier de Wismes gave, at the request of his fellow members, an outline of the heritage of Morlaix. He begins his “Rapport sur l'excursion archéologique dans la ville de Morlaix” (Report on the archaeological excursion in the town of Morlaix) with the following statement:
“The work that I will have the honour of submitting to you is unfortunately far from complete. Since this is my first time in Morlaix, on the occasion of this congress, I have been able to devote very few hours to visiting your monuments. The unanimous will of my colleagues, expressed in a manner that is too flattering for me to refuse, has alone convinced me to attempt a sketch that the majority of them would have been able to achieve far better than I am able to. Many have assisted me with their good advice, and I thank them here publicly.”
Nevertheless, his presentation of the heritage of Morlaix is exceptionally thorough (Bulletin archéologique de l'Association bretonne, 3e volume, 1851, p. 158-194). It deals in turn with the history of the town (p. 159-163), religious buildings (p. 163-173), military buildings (p.173-175), and civil monuments (p. 175-185), ending with a focus on furniture and objets d'art (p. 186-194).
The passage that refers to so-called lantern houses naturally forms part of the section on civil monuments. It gives the first known detailed description published on this kind of building. The House known as ‘Duchess Anne’s House’ is none other than the first to which his attention is drawn:
“Also, we shall knock first of all at the door of a house built still under the influence of old customs, towards the end of the XV or the start of the XVI century, we believe. Here we are before the house bearing the number 21, in the Rue des Nobles; we were told that it is worthy of our attention, and rightly so.”
It should be noted that the Baron de Wismes, who discovered the town, simply used the term lantern, habitually used in Morlaix to describe this type of construction. The deeds from the XVII, XVIII and XIX centuries frequently use the term lantern, or even lantern kitchen (cuisine à lanterne) to describe the interior courtyard.
The third volume of the Bulletin archéologique de l'Association bretonne also provides the first known representation of the staircase of the House known as ‘Duchess Anne’s House’ (on a plate between pages 90 and 91). Attributed to G. de Marguerye, it does not take into account the presence of a floor added at the height of the first level of the interior courtyard to regain space at a time when the functions of status of this area were long gone (see in particular on this website the representation of the interior courtyard by Albert Robida). The artist intended to give an overview of the whole in its original form.
G. de Marguerye, “XVIe siècle – Escalier à Morlaix” [XVI century – staircase in Morlaix], in Bulletin archéologique de l'Association bretonne, 3e volume, 1851, 2e pl. hors-texte.
This floor was removed during the restoration of the former town house in 1890-1891. The recovery of the original dimensions of the interior courtyard in order to give greater authenticity to the monument was accompanied, paradoxically, by the almost total disappearance of the original setting in which the house was built.
Morlaix – October 1850 – The Third Congress of the Breton Association (in French).
1836: Prosper Mérimée - 1851: Olivier de Wismes - 1879: Adolphe Allier
1891: Albert Robida - 1901: Jean-Marie Abgrall