France Arts


As far as architecture is concerned, the Renaissance language, albeit in the Lombard version, was accepted in France only with the Valois campaigns of Italy. At first the French master builders combined Gothic structures with Milanese and Pavia decorative elements (wing of Louis XII in Blois; Gaillon) or tried to adapt to the Italian criteria of symmetry and structural coherence (wing of Francis I in Blois, ca. 25; Chambord, 1519; Chenonceaux and Azay-le-Rideau castles, built for middle-class patrons). The hybrid “renaissance of the Loire” followed, with the return of Francis I from the captivity of Madrid and the establishment of the court in Fontainebleau (1526-28), the rapid assimilation of Italian Mannerism and Classicism by French architects of Roman training, who created a classic French style (P. Lescot: reconstruction of the Louvre, 1546; Ph. Delorme: Anet Castle, ca. 1542-52). In painting, the presence in Fontainebleau of the Mannerists Rosso Fiorentino, Primaticcio and Niccolò Dell’Abate gave rise to a school that was of decisive importance in the development of European Mannerism. The female nude became widespread (J. Cousin father, A. Caron) and the stately portrait (F. Clouet, Corneille de Lyon). A similar relationship exists between the models of Italian Mannerism in sculpture and the works of the French sculptors J. Goujon, P. Bontemps, G. Pilon. The legacy of Mannerism remained alive not only in the period of the wars of religion (1562-98), in the works of Du Cerceau (Charleval, 1583) and of the architects who spread the new language in the province (H. Sambin in Dijon, N. Bachelier in Toulouse), but also under Henry IV and Maria de ‘Medici, when a new generation of architects (J.-C. Métezeau, S. de Brosse) erected castles and palaces on a royal initiative (Luxembourg) and implemented the first urban arrangements (Place des Vosges in Paris, 1605-12). Only with Louis XIII, through a renewed influx of Italian ideas, did a classical and baroque French style take shape at the same time, the main representatives of which were J. Lemercier (church of the Sorbonne, 1635-42), F. Mansart (wing of Gaston d ‘ Orléans de Blois, from 1635) and L. Le Vau (castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte, 1657; Collège des Quatre Nations, 1661). Under Louis XIV, which secured the monopoly of artistic production with the establishment of the Academy of Painting and Sculpture (1648), the Academy of Architecture, the French Academy in Rome (1666) and the creation of the center of the royal manufacture of the Gobelins (1662), the architects Le Vau, C. Perrault, A. Le Nôtre, F. Blondel, L. Bruand, JH Mansart adapted to the solemn and open magnificence desired by the Sun King. The baroque trends of Le Vau were disciplined and purified in the dignified and elegant classicism of C. Perrault, who worked in the Louvre and Versailles, built the Observatory (1668-71) and the Arc de Triomphe in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Le Nôtre directed the arrangement of the park of Versailles, with extraordinary effects of water and vegetation; Blondel was commissioned by the king for the master plan of Paris; Bruand created the cold and rigorous Hôtel des Invalides (1671-76). The adjoining church of the Dôme was completed only in 1705, based on a project by JH Mansart, the greatest exponent of the great French manor of the second half of the seventeenth century and protagonist of the major architectural and urban planning feats of the reign of Louis XIV (Gallery of Mirrors in Versailles, Place Vendôme and Place des Victoires in Paris).


The reaction to classicism began to be felt in the last years of the reign of Louis XIV and during the Regency. While the exteriors retained a classical setting (J. Aubert, Robert de Cotte, J. Lepautre, G. Boffrand), the rococo, moved and graceful, was asserting itself in the plants and furnishings of the interiors, which met the greatest favor under Louis XV (GM Oppenord, J.-A. Meissonnier). As for painting, under Henry IV and Maria de ‘Medici Mannerism continued in the second school of Fontainebleau (M. Fréminet, A. Dubois, T. Dubreuil), influenced by the Italianizing Flemings. Similar mannerist persistences were represented in the independent duchy of Lorraine by the engravers J. Callot and T. Bellange. Another trend was that of Caravaggism, represented in Paris by J. Valentin and N. Regnier (and in a more mediated way by Ph. De Champaigne and the Le Nain), but welcomed above all in the province (N. Tournier in Toulouse, G. de la Tour in Lorraine). The first master of the French Baroque was S. Vouet, linked to the taste of contemporary Italian painting and great decoration. In the same years, in Rome, N. Poussin and C. Gellée (Lorrain) elaborated the models of French classicism of the second half of the century, imposed by Ch. Lebrun as a unique mode of expression in accordance with the centralizing tendencies of Louis XIV. With the end of Lebrun’s artistic dictatorship (1690) a quarrel broke out between the followers of Poussin, tied to the classical tradition, and the proponents of greater pictorial freedom. H. Rigaud, N. de Largillière, A. Coypel, J. Jouvenet marked the transition between the style of Louis XIV and the new trends, precociously realized by the Flemish-born painter A. Watteau, who imposed a brilliant pictorial style and a taste for erotic subjects and costumes (le Fêtes galantes). They followed J.-B. Pater, N. Lancret, J.-H. Fragonard, F. Boucher, Van Loo, J.-M. Nattier, J.-B. Oudry, C.-J. Vernet, J.-B. Greuze, J.-B.-S. Chardin, who expressed themselves in the genres (landscape, still life, portrait, etc.) and in the techniques (easel painting, engraving, drawing, pastel) appreciated by the new bourgeois public. From 1737 the establishment of the Salonsbiennali reflected the crisis of aristocratic patronage and the establishment of a new relationship, of a modern type, between artists and the bourgeois public through exhibitions and merchants. Sculpture also followed a similar evolution, from the late Francheville Mannerism to the early Baroque of Italian (J. Sarrazin) and Flemish influence, to the triumph of the academic Classicism of the sculptors of Versailles (F. Girardon, CA Coysevox), to Rococo (i Coustou, the Lemoyne, etc.). Between 1750 and 1760 there was a reaction to the Rococo taste, which at first manifested itself in architecture with simple and graceful forms, in a new classical interpretation. Neoclassicism was born, perhaps due to the influence of English Palladianism (A.-J. Gabriel in the Petit Trianon of Versailles, 1761-62; J.-G. Soufflot in Sainte-Geneviève, then Panthéon, 1753-92) then expressed in a much more radical way than in the Louis XVI style by the “revolutionary” architects born between 1730 and 1740: V.-N. Louis, J. Gondoin, J.-F. Chalgrin, A.-T. Brongniart, E.-L. Boullée and especially C.-N. Ledoux (salt flats of Arc-et-Senans, Barrières de Paris, Rotonda de la Villette). In painting, revolutionary Neoclassicism is represented by J.-L. David.

France Arts

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