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Hidden treasure: prison art

The stones in the keep bear the marks left by people locked up here when it was a State prison. From the frescos painted by Ludovico Sforza to graffiti etched into the tower’s walls, the edifice contains both carceral records and a new form of art in its own right: prison art.
 
This solid stone giant’s formidable presence in the royal city could be felt from beyond the outer wall. From the 15th to the 18th centuries the 36-metre tall military keep was used as a royal prison in which many political prisoners were locked up.
 
Among the most famous of them was the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, who left a lasting mark in Loches where he was imprisoned for four years. Because of his rank he was granted certain privileges such as having an individual heated cell, receiving visits, going for walks outside and, more importantly, he was allowed painting supplies so that he could pursue his passion for art. During his captivity, he painted frescos on the walls and ceiling of his cell. His creations have been restored and some of his writing is still legible on the westerly wall, which reads “the one who is not happy”.
 
Carving into the walls was typical in prisons, as demonstrated by the Graffiti room! The stones bear names and sentences in different languages as well as religious symbols and coats of arms. A frieze has even been discovered etched into all four walls of the room. Its bas-reliefs depict 13 figures holding weapons and were probably carved by the same prisoner. This graffiti is of major importance from an archival point of view, but also constitutes an art form in its own right: criminal art!
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