France and Italy

In France there was very early knowledge of the renewal that was taking place beyond the Alps. Since 1454 the painter Jean Fouquet has been in Rome, where he also painted a portrait of Eugene IV. He especially fell in love with the new architectural decorations and adorned many scenes of his miniatures (Heures d’Étienne chevalier, Chantilly; portrait of Juvenal des Ursins, Louvre). The French prelates to the Holy See did not take long to conform to the taste of the times: and Italian artists and works were already passing through France (tomb of the bishop of Dol, executed by Giovanni Giusto, the tabernacle of Fécamp, by Girolamo Viscardo; the tomb of Robert Lannoy, in Folleville (Lower Seine), by Antonio della Porta; tomb of Guillaume Fillastre, in Saint-Omer, by Andrea della Robbia (fragments in the church of Saint-Martin du Laërt). The sculptor Francesco Laurana executes the altar of the Marie the Mayor of the church in Marseille and the altarpiece, Jesus carrying the cross, Saint-Didier d’Avignon. a Gonzaga, wife of a Bourbon, went between his wedding gifts, the SSebastian del Mantegna, now in the Louvre after having long adorned the church of Aigueperse, in Auvergne. The expeditions of Italy, which began with the reign of Charles VIII, precipitated events: it was a crazy adventure, disastrous in its political results, in which France threw herself to death. Charles VIII had already brought many gardeners, engineers and craftsmen from Italy. The ornamental repertoire of the Renaissance had appeared in the mausoleum of his children in the Cathedral of Tours, executed by Girolamo di Fiesole from drawings by Jean Perréal, an artist whose figure is as important as it is not well known and who was certainly one of the propagandists of Italian art in France. Around 1510, Perréal was found busy working at the same time on the tombs of Nantes and Brou. The first important center of Italian influence was formed in Gaillon, where Milanese or Lombard artists worked on the castle of Cardinal d’Amboise. The statue of Louis XII (Louvre) comes from it. Meanwhile, in Paris the studio of Guido Mazzoni, the author of an equestrian statue of Louis XII, of the facade of Blois and of the De Commines tomb in the Louvre, was already open. In Tours worked the workshop of the Giusto, authors of the famous tomb of Louis XII in Saint-Denis, a masterpiece that created a genre. Nor can we forget that Domenico da Cortona, called Boccadoro, who designed the town hall in Paris, or fra Giocondo, publisher of Vitruvius, who died while directing the work of St. Peter, after having built the Notre-Dame bridge in France. (1508).

According to Thesciencetutor, a second period of the penetration of the Italian Renaissance began after the battle of Marignano. Francis I systematically tried to introduce the new art into his kingdom. He called Leonardo da Vinci and his pupils Solario and Melzi; Leonardo died (1519) before having been able to achieve anything, the king, despite having lost all political influence in Italy, after the sack of Rome (1527) welcomed numerous Italian artists, chased away by the storm, who created a new Italy in France. Primaticcio, who died in 1570, leader of a group of artists such as Rosso, Cellini, Niccolò dell’Abate, Luca Penni, etc., for forty years fulfilled the functions of real superintendent of the arts, inspiring and supervising them all works. The palace of Fontainebleau and the other castles (Tanlay, Joinville, Ancy-le-Franc) then became, by the king’s wish, what the palace of the Popes of Avignon had been two centuries earlier: a model, a school; and Fontainebleau has had this task up to the present day, since artists such as Eugène Delacroix knew Italian art in it.

A third period of Italian penetration began with the construction of the new Louvre by Pierre Lescot (1547), demolishing the ancient keep of Philip Augustus with the revolutionary spirit that recalls the demolition of the ancient Vatican basilica.

The king, intending to give concrete form to the concept of prince and modern state, also wanted to abolish the past in the arts. Then began a generation of masters inspired more by ancient art than by Italian, more in Rome than in Florence. At the beginning of the century XVI had above all admired the decorations of the Renaissance, content to use the motifs as a game; now the spirit and the system of the Renaissance, a rational philosophy of things, were affirmed with Philibert Delorme and Jean Bullant. Abstract relationships, the harmony of numbers and proportions are drawn from the architectural elements; one enters the world of laws, one believes to discover the principle that must govern forms, the severe unity of the universe and of reason, of which the ancients had closed the secret in their works. These works are consulted as oracles; from them the Delorme and Bullant draw harmonies for their palaces of the Tuileries and of Écouen, for the castle of Anet (Eure-et-Loir) built for Diana of Poitiers, for the triumphal viaduct of Fère-en-Tardenois.

Nonetheless, the Renaissance had not abruptly replaced Gothic art, which indeed continued to exist alongside it for some time. That art, in its last expression called flowery Gothic, persisted in sacred architecture: the new bell tower of Chartres, by Jean Texier (1515); the Gothic rose windows of Sens, the side portals of Beauvais and Senlis, of the Chambiges (around 1530), testify to the persistence of the Gothic style. After a long period of stagnation, due to the misery resulting from the Hundred Years War, magnificent churches were built in that flowery Gothic style (Saint-Maclou in Rouen, Saint-Waast in Abbeville, the church of Les Andelys, the churches of Troyes, the choir of the cathedral of Auch) and as numerous as in the 12th century. L’ stained glass art decorated them with his latest radiant works from the laboratories of Troyes and Beauvais (the most beautiful series that are preserved are those of Rouen, Les Andelys, and the cathedrals of Auch and Metz). In 1568 the most daring creation of Gothic art still stands on the unfinished nave of Beauvais, the spire of Jean Wast, higher than that of Strasbourg, but which collapsed after only five years. Gradually the ornamental motifs of the Renaissance mingled, in those churches, with the luxuriant blooms of the Gothic (see S. Pietro di Caen, S. Michele in Dijon, the church of La Ferté-Bernard); as in S. Eustachio in Paris, by Nicola Lemercier, we even manage to translate all the elements of a pillar, a buttress, an ogival cross into classical forms. The word seems Roman, but the syntax is still French, strictly traditional: the plan, the entire design remain those of NotreDame. The same arrangement can be seen, despite some variations, in the charming church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont.

France, while imitating a lot, in that very complex era, knew how to remain itself and did not deny its own history. On the other hand, all the criticisms made against the Renaissance fall when it is seen that that architecture was truly popular; and with national characters. It is enough to visit the castles of the Loire, not only the royal palaces such as Blois and Chambord, but especially the private buildings; just look at what was built in this period in all the provinces, the innumerable “hotels” of Caen, of Rouen (Bourg-Théroulde house), of Dijon (Voguë house, houses of the Rue des Forges), of Toulouse (Assézat house) , etc.), of Avignon, of Pézenas, and there is no doubt that such enthusiasm did not have the enthusiastic approval of the public. France as a whole aspired to order, tranquility, and thus was rebuilding; nor can it be doubted that its architecture then did not have the French character. Nothing resembles a Florentine or Roman palace less than Fontainebleau.

Only in one branch of the arts was the Renaissance not felt. French painting of the century XVI is anemic; Primaticcio himself was unable to train good painters there. The Clouets (v.) And their imitators are industrialists of the portrait, very poor draftsmen if compared to the true masters. The famous Jean Cousin (v.) And his son are more valuable as tapestry makers (Vita di San Mammete, in Langres) than as painters. The same can be said of Antoine Caron, Dubois, Fréminet himself and T. Dubrueil, who form the second “school of Fontainebleau”. Sculpture, on the other hand, produced admirable works, such as the Nymphs by Jean Goujon, in the Fountain of the Innocents (1549) or the tomb of Henry II in Saint-Denis and that of the Chancellor of Birague (Louvre) by Germain Pilon. Of course, even in these works the Renaissance cost France something: the sentiment, the naivety that can still be seen around 1540 in the graceful school of Troyes, and in the choir stalls of Amiens (v.) And Montréal (Yonne) will no longer find themselves, withered as they will be in a cold academicism.

France and Italy