France is famed as one of the world's great centres of art and culture.
Renaissance was an artistic and cultural revolution that began in Italy
in the fourteenth century, reached its peak in the Italian 15th century
(known as the Quattrocento), and moved later to other parts of Europe,
notably France England and the Rhine valley.
Virgin, child and St Anne - by Leonardo da Vinci, Paris, Louvre
Photos Chenonceaux: © About-France.com
Other photos are public domain.
The Renaissance in France - art and architecture in France in the sixteenth century
artists and their patrons in France and the rest of Europe were still
discovering and developing the Gothic style, in Italy a new type of
art, inspired by the Classical heritage, was beginning to emerge. The
first flowering of the Italian Renaissance came in the early years of
the fifteenth century; but it was not for another hundred years, when
the Renaissance was well established in Italy, that it began to
flourish in France.
François 1, painted by Jean Clouet
The earliest Renaissance
architecture in France is said to be parts of the Loire valley chateau
at Amboise, which King Charles VIII began to rebuild in the "Italian
manner" from 1495, employing for this purpose the Italian
architect Domenico da Cortona.
under François 1, king of France from 1515 to 1547, that
Renaissance art and architecture first blossomed in France. Shortly
after coming to the throne, François, a cultured and intelligent
monarch, invited the elderly Leonardo da Vinci to come and work in
France. Leonardo came to live at Amboise, bringing with him paintings
and drawings many of which are still in France today, notably at the
Louvre, which has the world's largest collection of Leonardo's
paintings, including of course the Mona Lisa, known in France as La
François 1 not only encouraged the Renaissance style of art in
France, he also set about building fine Renaissance buildings in his
capital city, and outside it. The most magnificent examples of early
French Renaissance architecture are the royal château at Chambord, in
the Loire valley, and the rebuilding of the royal palace at
Fontainebleau south of Paris. The design of the château at Chambord is
attributed to da Cortona, though it is also suggested that Leonardo da
Vinci, who was then living nearby, had a part in the plan. For
Fontainbleau, François relied on the French mason Gilles le Breton, and
a French architect Philippe Delorme, who had studied in Italy.
The François 1 gallery in the Château de Fontainebleau
To decorate his royal residences, François brought
other artists and craftsmen from Italy, including Benvenuto Cellini; he
also imported works of art from Italy. All this rapidly galvanised a
large part of the French nobility into taking up the Italian style for
their own building projects and artistic commissions. Thanks to the
enlightened influence of François 1, the Renaissance took hold firmly
and strongly on French soil.
example of Chambord, other Loire valley castles were either built or
rebuilt in the Renaissance style; among the most famous and beautiful
of these are Chenonceaux, Azay le Rideau, Valançay and Villandry. Thus,
along with Paris, it was the Loire valley area, notably between Orleans
and Angers, that saw the finest flourishing of the Renaissance in
France, and to this day offers a fine choice of monuments from this
Chateau de Chenonceaux, on the Cher .
The Renaissance took hold, nonetheless, throughout France,
and fine Renaissance buildings were put up in towns and cities across
the land. In Besançon, capital of Franche-Comté,
now France but then part of the Hapsburg empire, Cardinal
Granvelle, the Chancellor to François' arch rival the Emperor Charles V
(Charles Quint), built himself a small but impressive Renaissance
palace which stands to this day. In nearby Burgundy,
the château of Ancy le Franc is one of the purest Renaissance chateaux
in France. The Renaissance even reached the furthest corners of Brittany, where for instance the mid 16th century chateau de Kerjean is a fine example of French Renaissance architecture.
While it is in architecture and interior decoration that
the French Renaissance style is most visible today, the Renaissance
also saw the slow development of a French school of art, though Italian
artists remained very much in vogue. One of the most extensive examples
of Renaissance painting in France can be seen in the decoration of the
ceiling vaults of the Cathedral of St. Cecelia in Albi (Midi-Pyrenees),
painted in the early sixteenth century, even before François 1° came to
the throne of France. During François' reign, Fontainebleau
became the hub of artistic activity, but the Fontainebleau school was
the only home-grown school of French renaissance painting. It is best
represented by Jean Clouet and his son François Clouet; other important
painters of the school include Jean Cousin and Antoine Caron; but apart
from the Clouets, none made any great mark on posterity.
It was not until the seventeenth century that French painters
were to make a major contribution to the history of art.
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