He was born in Paris and trained with his father, André Pilon. Documents show that he and his father executed several religious statues and tomb effigies in collaboration. Since Connat & Colombier established that Germain was born c. 1525 (rather than about ten years later, as previously believed), several early works have been reattributed to him, including the marble grouping Diana with a Stag (originally at the Château d'Anet, Eure-et-Loire; now at the Louvre). Later he worked with Pierre Bontemps. Pilon became 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).
Tomb of Henry II and Catherine de' Medici, Saint-Denis Basilica, with marble effigies
- Connat & Colombier 1951; Thirion 1996.
- Babelon reports that in 1583 Germain Pilon said he was "forty-six or thereabouts" and gives c. 1537 for his year of birth (Babelon 1927, p. 33). Connat & Colombier say that Babelon's date of 1583 is incorrect; the cited document is dated 15 May 1581, from which his year of birth would be calculated as c. 1535.
- Diana with a Stag was formerly attributed to Jean Goujon, but Anthony Blunt conclusively rejected that attribution in 1953 and argued the statue is very likely an early work of Germain Pilon (see Blunt & Beresford 1999, pp. 80–81). Thirion considers Blunt's reattribution to be relatively convincing (Thirion 1996, p. 812).
- Thirion 1996, p. 812.
- 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, Jean (1927). Germain Pilon. Paris: Les Beaux-Arts, Edition d'etudes et de documents. OCLC 372675 and 458567104.
- Blunt, Anthony; Beresford, Richard (1999). Art and Architecture in France, 1500–1700, 5th edition. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300077483.
- Connat, M.; Colombier,P. du (1951). "Quelques Documents commentés sur André et Germain Pilon", Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance, vol. 13, pp. 196–204. JSTOR 20673562.
- Thirion, Jacques (1996). "Pilon, Germain", vol. 24, pp. 812–815, in The Dictionary of Art (34 volumes), edited by Jane Turner. New York: Grove. Also at Oxford Art Online (bibliography updated 2003, 2010; subscription required).
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- Germain Pilon in American public collections on the French Sculpture Census website