The Art and History Museum of Orange is located in a private mansion built in the 17th century for Georges Van Cuyl. This Dutchman was responsible for the munitions at the castle of the princes of Orange, which stood at the summit of Saint-Eutrope hill above the theatre. From its original construction, the mansion has kept its staircase, its windows, its beamed ceilings and a plasterwork fireplace. Today it is home to a rich collection of furniture and objets d’art, and recounts the history of Orange from Classical Antiquity to the 19th century.
The principality room
This first room conjures up the astonishing past of Orange, from the Middle Ages to modern times, thanks to varied items such as a series of engravings and portraits of the princes and princesses of Orange-Nassau, crossbows evoking the existence of a company of crossbowmen responsible for security in the principality and even the size of the university of Orange, a symbol of power.
The portico room
This is home to a major work: the Centaur mosaic. After a number of excavations conducted over the last two centuries in Orange, ancient decorations were discovered in the theatre and in other Roman monuments. The Centaur mosaic was found in the cellars in the Pontillac area, located at the heart of the town. It was recently restored in the workshops of the Musée de l’Arles Antique.
Reliefs that decorated the stage wall of the theatre are also exhibited here: eagles holding garlands of bay leaves, flowers or fruit in their beaks, or a relief representing a battle between cavalrymen and foot soldiers.
The land registry room
This room presents the fragments of 3 Roman land registries engraved on marble slabs. These unique documents were discovered in Orange in 1949. They were engraved in 77 AD as part of a complete revision of land ownership decided on by the Emperor Vespasian.
In the middle of the room is a mosaic from the 1st century called the “amphora” mosaic. Other sections of ornamental tiling demonstrate the wealth of the houses in Ancient Orange, such as a geometric design of coloured marble. Finally, friezes from the 1st century that decorated the theatre’s stage wall (battle of the Amazons against foot soldiers, procession of Centaurs bearing offerings in honour of Dionysus and procession of victories).
The curiosity cabinet
In the 19th century, Orange rediscovered its monumental past. All the documents presented in this room bear witness to the scale of restoration work undertaken at the time.
The portraits of three people who marked the history of the town over the course of the century are displayed here: the Baron of Stassart (sub-prefect of Orange who worked for the arts and the sciences), Antoine Artaud (famous archaeologist who made Orange his adoptive home) and Antony-Réal (creator of the “Roman Festivals” which became the “Chorégies d’Orange” in 1869).
The most extravagant item in this curiosity cabinet is a stuffed crocodile, calling to mind the distant banks of the Nile.
The Gasparin room
Almost all the furniture, portraits and items in this room were donated to the museum by the last descendant of the Gasparins, so that the name of this Orange family is remembered by history. Portraits depict the last five generations of this family that brought such military, political and scientific success. Here you can also admire the silverware of the Gasparin arms and many publications, essays on political and religious issues or accounts of travels.
The Bishop’s room
The large canvases in this room are part of a series of sixteen paintings listed as Monuments Historiques. From two lounges in the bishop’s palace, they demonstrate the importance of the bishopric of Orange.
Here you will also find the bust of Bishop d’Obeilh, bishop of Orange until 1720; an ivory virgin from the 17th century, part of a crosier that belonged to an Orange priest; the printing irons of Bishop du Tillet, the last bishop of Orange; and even a bargeman’s cross with the symbols of the passion of Christ.
The Wetter room
Precious evidence of the life of “Indian” cotton mills at the end of the 18th century, the paintings that decorate this room were commissioned from the painter Gabriel Maria Rossetti in 1764 to decorate the lounge of Mr Pignet, director of the Wetter mill. Wetter was a Swiss manufacturer who in 1757 founded a mill in Orange on the banks of the river Meyne.
The first cloths of painted cotton from India arrived in Europe on the boats of the French East India Company. They were very popular with the more affluent classes.
The Frank Brangwyn and Albert de Belleroche rooms
The last two rooms on the second floor present the paintings and engravings of the British painters Frank Brangwyn and Albert de Belleroche. These collections were given to the museum by Count William de Belleroche, son of Albert de Belleroche. More than 500 engravings, lithographs and paintings by these artists have enriched the collections of the museum.
The painter Frank Brangwyn was born in Bruges in 1867. The son of a British architect and decorator, he joined the workshop of William Morris, the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, at the age of 14. In the early 20th century, he became one of the official representatives of British modernism. For example, he was commissioned to produce the gigantic mural decorations of the Capitol in Missouri, of Jefferson City, of the House of Lords and even the Rockefeller Centre in New York.
Count Albert de Belleroche was born in 1864. In 1882 he joined the workshop of Carolus Duran, where he met the painter John Singer Sargent, a popular society portraitist in the capital. He frequented in Parisian cafés, where he met Émile Zola, Oscar Wilde, Renoir and even Toulouse-Lautrec. In 1900 he discovered lithography as a way of really expressing himself.