He was born in Paris. Trained by his father and (perhaps) Pierre Bontemps, Pilon was an expert with marble, bronze, wood and terra cotta; from about 1555 he was providing models for Parisian goldsmiths. He was also skilled at drawing.
His works - with their realism and theatrical emotion - show the influence of the School of Fontainebleau, Michelangelo and Italian Mannerism. Much of Pilon's work was on funerary monuments, especially the Valois Chapel at the Saint Denis Basilica designed by Francesco Primaticcio (never completed). He was the favorite sculptor of queen Catherine de' Medici.
Pilon's most famous works include:
- Eight subsidiary statues for the Tomb of Francis I (contracted with Philibert de l'Orme, 1558).
- Monument containing the heart of Henry II of France (1561–1562) Louvre - made in collaboration with Domenico del Barbieri (who designed the pedestal), Pilon was responsible for the eloquent sculpture of the Three Graces, executed from a single block of marble. The king's heart was placed in a bronze urn held by the Three Graces, but this urn was destroyed during the French Revolution and has been replicated.
- Tomb of Henry II and Catherine de' Medici (1561–1573) Abbey Church of Saint Denis Basilica - Pilon was responsible for the kneeling bronze figures on top of this monument (depicting the king and queen alive and praying) the moving and realistic recumbent figures of the queen and king in death at the center and the four Virtues at the corners of the monument, the construction of which was supervised by Francesco Primaticcio (who sculpted the four corner figures). (Catherine de' Medici is reported to have fainted at the sight of these figures.)
- Effigies of Henry II and Catherine de' Medici in coronation dress (1583) Abbey Church of Saint Denis Basilica - this later pair lacks the emotional intensity of the previous work
- Resurrection of Christ and recumbent figures of the guardians of the tomb, reunited in 1933 at the Musée du Louvre.
- Virgin of Pity (c.1585) (terra cotta) Louvre
- Tomb of Valentine Balbiani (1574) Louvre
- Descent from the Cross (1580–1585) (Bronze bas-relief) Louvre
- Three Fates (Hôtel de Cluny, Paris).
- In 1583 he said he was "forty-six or thereabouts" (Babelon 1927:33).
- Virtual International Authority File
- Babelon 1927.
- Victoria L. Goldberg, "Graces, Muses, and Arts: The Urns of Henry II and Francis I" Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 29 (1966), pp. 206-218.
- Babelon, J. Germain Pilon (Paris) 1927.
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