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"A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind."

Eugène Ionesco (b. 1912), Rumanian-born French playwright.


The Italian Renaissance began to influence French art in the last decade of the 15th century, when Charles VIII returned (1496) from his conquest of Naples accompanied by several Italian artists. Italian styles first appeared in the chateaux of the Loire Valley and became predominant during the reign (1515-47) of Francis I. Initially, however, Italian decorative elements were superimposed on Gothic principles. The earliest example is the Chateau d'Amboise (c.1495), where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years. The Chateau de Chambord (1519-36) is a more elaborate marriage of Gothic structure and Italianate ornament. This style progressed in the work of Italian architects such as Sebastiano Serlio, who was engaged after 1540 in much of the work at the Chateau de Fontainebleau.

At Fontainebleau grand interior galleries and ballrooms were decorated by Italian artists who formed the first school of Fontainebleau. The principal figures of this school were Rosso Fiorentino, Francesco Primaticcio, and Niccolo dell' Abbate (1512-c.1570). The art of engraving was also developed in France by foreign artists who helped disseminate the Italianate style.

The climate of active royal and aristocratic patronage encouraged many talented artists and architects, including Jacques Androuet du Cerceau (c.1520-1585), Philibert Delorme, (c.1510-70), Giacomo Vignola, and Pierre Lescot. One of the finest surviving monuments of the French Renaissance is the southwest interior facade of the Cour Carree of the Palais du Louvre in Paris, designed by Lescot and covered with exterior carvings by Jean Goujon. Strong regional schools appeared in Lorraine as the arts continued to flourish under the reigns of Henry II and Henry III.

"Art is not a study of positive reality, it is the seeking for ideal truth."

George Sand (1804-76), French novelist.


The reign of Henry IV (1589-1610) was a period of competent and enlightened government. The king's marriage to Marie de Medici of the ruling house of Florence helped to ensure high esteem for Italian artistic accomplishments. The Place des Vosges (1605), then called the Place Royale, and the Place Dauphine (1607) were planned and built. In Paris a second generation of artists--called the second school of Fontainebleau--were trained or inspired by Italian painters to perpetuate the Italianate tradition under the patronage of Henry IV.


In the second and third quarters of the century, during the ministries of Cardinal Richelieu to Louis XIII and of Cardinal Mazarin to the child-king Louis XIV, France became a great European power. These sage men required prestigious dwellings suited to their station. The architects Jacques Lemercier--builder of Richelieu's Palais Cardinal (begun 1633), now site of the the Palais Royale, and of the Church of the Sorbonne (begun 1635)--Francois Mansart and Louis Le Vau adapted the Italian baroque style to French needs.

During the personal reign of Louis XIV (1661-1715) the arts served the state under the direction of the powerful minister of commerce and of royal works, Jean Baptiste Colbert. The Louvre was enlarged, and the magnificent palace of Versailles (c.1669-90) was built as a fitting residence for the powerful king of France. The leading architect of the latter half of the 17th century was Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who designed parts of the palace of Versailles, the Orangerie, and numerous squares and public buildings in Paris.


Italy played a fundamental role in the redirection of French painting in the 17th century. Some French artists, notably Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, created new modes of painting while living in Italy. Other artists, such as Simon Vouet, fostered a native French baroque style. Colbert founded the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (1663) to protect this group of artists and enlist their services for the state. Charles Le Brun was named first painter to the king and guided the academy. Under his leadership, artists celebrated the triumphs of the Sun King. Their work included mural paintings, altarpieces, tapestry cartoons, and other large-scale narrative works associating Louis XIV and his reign with great men and events from classical literature. The same was true in sculpture--monumental figures of the king or large-scale structures were needed to ornament public squares and formal gardens.

Recognizing that Italy was the great school of both classical and Renaissance art, Colbert founded the French Academy in Rome in 1666, to which gifted French artists and architects were sent at the expense of the crown.


Alden Rand Gordon
Source: 1997 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia v.9.0.1

Art Database (searchable, in French only)
The "Joconde" database is a catalogue of drawings, stamps, paintings, sculptures, photography and objects of art conserved in more than 60 museums throughout France. It contains details on more than 130,000 works, dating from the 7th century to the present, representing over 10,000 artists.

Introduction to French Art & Architecture

Pre-Historic, Celtic & Roman Periods

Merovingian and Carolingian Periods

Romanesque Period || Gothic Period

Renaissance Period || Baroque Period

18th Century || 19th Century || 20th Century


Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Gustave Caillebotte

Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Gustave Courbet

Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Paul Gauguin

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Le Corbusier

Fernand Leger, Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse

Jean François Millet, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso

Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin

Henri Rousseau, Georges Pierre Seurat

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh


Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Fauvism

French Sculpture, Impressionism, Museums

Neoimpressionism, Postimpressionism

Realism, Rococo Style, Romanticism

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