The episcopal palace was the main residence of the Bishop of Cornouaille (since the Revolution, the Bishop of Quimper and Léon). He was also Lord of the walled town of Quimper. Successive bishops endowed to extend, restore or reconstruct the Palace, until the middle of the last century. Attached to the St Corentin cathedral, the building includes – according to a right-angled lay-out – two wings surrounding a Renaissance-style staircase, erected in 1507.
The wing alongside rue du Roi Gradlon, by which one enters the museum courtyard, was completed in 1647. The one edging the Odet, built in 1776 was reworked in 1866. During the same period the components of a neo-gothic cloister were built to enclose the courtyard.
The Breton Departmental Museum’s reception is installed in the Palace’s former kitchen. It makes up part of the wing’s ground floor built in 1645 by Quimper architect Bertrand Moussin. This building was constructed in a very understated classic style of which more modest examples can be found in the surrounding area (Locronan, Pont l’Abbé…). This wing occupies the site of the former Palace, constructed in the 15th century for Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and destroyed in 1595 by a fire during the League Wars. It was in turn damaged by a fire in 1939 which destroyed the wood panelling and the upstairs paintings. The kitchen, however, has retained its original state. The culinary equipment is grouped together in the north part of the room : a large fireplace, oven and dish-warmer. The well allowed domestic servants to draw water directly into the kitchen. In the wall located opposite the fireplace, the two narrow, tall doors once allowed access via the stairs, to the upstairs office, leading off the kitchen.
During the 19th century this large room was divided into smaller spaces for servants’ quarters.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Bishop’s apartments were located upstairs in the same building before Monseigneur Conan de Saint-Luc transferred them into new wood-panelled rooms in the south wing, organised at the end of the 18th century. The walls were covered with wood panelling at three levels, in panels in which the Bishops of Cornouaille were depicted, painted by the Vannes artist Vincent Lhermitais in 1745. During the Revolution the Bishop’s Palace, having been sold as state property to an innkeeper, this room was transformed into a ballroom : the Bishops’ portraits were covered up with paintings of Apollo and the Muses painted by François Valentin. A fire destroyed this decoration in 1939.
This room is the one which has undergone the most transformation during the last 2 centuries. It has a French-style ceiling composed of sculpted beams and moulded joists which date back to the building’s construction at the beginning of the 16th century. The charcoal graffitis and a fragment of currency (invisible today) also go back to this era.
In 1989 an important collection of decorative distemper on plaster came to light which had been hidden by the last century’s wood panelling. Undoubtedly going back to c.1700, this trompe d’œil decor illustrates the panelling and divides the walls of the room into panels and stages separated by Ionic pilaster. Floral elements form garlands and bouquets. It isn’t known what the room’s function was when the decor, exceptional in Brittany, was executed. It seems that this non-religious ornamentation was covered up when the Palace chapel was transferred there during the 18th century.
This stair tower is the oldest part of the building. It was constructed in 1507 for Claude de Rohan, a mad Bishop who came from a powerful family belonging to the Duke of Brittany.
From the outside, the tower is impressive in its height and thrust, an effect reinforced by the flamboyant style of the windows and the chimney. It was divided into 2 parts by fake machicolations carrying a sculpted decor of grotesque figures, animals and foliage. The windows are embellished with curved brackets resting on sculpted bases representing mainly the bishop’s coat of arms carried by an angel. The two entrances to the ground floor lead to two vestibules : to the right, one for servants, with a floor covered in simple slabs : to the left, the official entrance, with fine tiling and a bench destined for visitors waiting to be received by the Bishop.
The simplicity of the staircase’s interior contrasts with the exterior splendour of the tower. Only the landings have been decorated by gothic arcatures. The spiral staircase ends with a magnificent sculpted wood-panelled « palm-tree ».
One of the Palace’s most important decorative elements is the oak spiral staircase, which dates back to the building’s completion in 1507. This type of joinery named « palm-tree » might have been painted originally. It is a circular ceiling whose radiating joists divide the string-piece (horizontal timber beam) into 24 parts. The whole is supported in its centre by a twisted column decorated with the Rohan heraldic symbol (mascle : hollowed-out diamond) and the Breton ermine. The wooden railing carries a « napkin fold » design.
This landing allows access, thanks to a small spiral staircase, to two upstairs rooms which served in the 17th and 18th centuries as archives rooms. Non-visitable for security reasons.
These apartments were fitted out at the end of the 18th century. It was in 1775-1776 that Monseigneur Conan de Saint-Luc ordered the reconstruction of the south wing of the Palace, which dated from the 16th century. The work, led by Eugene Bigot (father of the architect Joseph Bigot, restorer of the building in the next century, originator of the Saint Corentin cathedral spires) was carried out in a very simple style, little used in Finistère but fashionable in the rest of France. The south facade, above the Odet, rests on arcades built into the town’s ramparts. It illustrates perfectly the building’s classicism with almost no decoration and whose elevation is only punctuated by openings. Greater attention is given to the first floor, improved by an elegant wrought iron railing.
Inside, the first and main floor is also the most richly decorated. It is organised around a suite of interlinked wood-panelled rooms. Each room has two-level wood panelling and meticulously-laid wooden floors in the « Versailles » style. From 1776 this ensemble made up the Palace’s main suite and held the Bishop’s apartments.