School of Fontainebleau

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"Diane the Huntress" - School of Fontainebleau (1550-60) (Louvre)

The Ecole de Fontainebleau (c.1530–c.1610) refers to two periods of artistic production in France during the late Renaissance centered around the royal Château de Fontainebleau, that were crucial in forming the French version of Northern Mannerism. [1]

First School of Fontainebleau (from 1531)

Second School of Fontainebleau (from 1594)

In 1531, the Florentine artist Rosso Fiorentino, having lost most of his possessions at the Sack of Rome in 1527, was invited by François I to come to France, where he began an extensive decorative program for the Château de Fontainebleau. In 1532 he was joined by another Italian artist, Francesco Primaticcio (from Bologna). Rosso died in France in 1540. On the advice of Primaticcio, Niccolò dell'Abbate (from Modena) was invited to France in 1552 by François's son Henri II. Although known for their work at Fontainebleau, these artists were also invited to create works of art for other noble families of the period and were much esteemed and well-paid.

Portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées and Duchess of Villars, School of Fontainebleau, c.1594

The works of this "first school of Fontainebleau" are characterized by the extensive use of stucco (moldings and picture frames) and frescos, and an elaborate (and often mysterious) system of allegories and mythological iconography. Renaissance decorative motifs such as grotesques, strapwork and putti are common, as well as a certain degree of eroticism. The figures are elegant and show the influence of the techniques of the Italian Mannerism of Michelangelo, Raphael and especially Parmigianino. Primaticcio was also directed to make copies of antique Roman statues for the king, thus spreading the influence of classical statuary. Many of the works of Rosso, Primaticcio and dell'Abate have not survived; parts of the Chateau were remodelled at various dates. The paintings of the group were reproduced in prints, mostly etchings, which were apparently produced initially at Fontainebleau itself, and later in Paris. These disseminated the style through France and beyond, and also record several paintings that have not survived.

The mannerist style of the Fontainebleau school influenced French artists (with whom the Italians worked) such as the painter Jean Cousin the Elder, the sculptors Jean Goujon and Germain Pilon, and, to a lesser degree, the painter and portraitist François Clouet the son of Jean Clouet.

"Lady at her Toilet" - School of Fontainebleau (1585–1595) (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon)

From 1584 to 1594, during the Wars of Religion the château of Fontainebleau was abandoned. Upon his ascension to the throne, Henri IV undertook a renovation of the Fontainebleau buildings using a group of artists: the Flemish born Ambroise Dubois (from Antwerp) and the Parisians Toussaint Dubreuil and Martin Fréminet. They are sometimes referred to as the "second school of Fontainebleau". Their late mannerist works, many of which have been lost, continue in the use of elongated and undulating forms and crowded compositions. Many of their subjects include mythological scenes and scenes from works of fiction by the Italian Torquato Tasso and the ancient Greek novelist Heliodorus of Emesa.

Their style would continue to have an influence on artists through the first decades of the 17th century, but other artistic currents (Peter Paul Rubens, Caravaggio, the Dutch and Flemish naturalist schools) would soon eclipse them.

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