School of Fontainebleau

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

Diana the Huntress - School of Fontainebleau, attributed to Luca Penni
Diana the Huntress - School of Fontainebleau (1550–60) (Louvre)

First School of Fontainebleau (from 1531)

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.

Scuola di fontainebleau, presunti ritratti di gabrielle d'estrées sua sorella la duchessa di villars, 1594 ca. 04
Portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées and Duchess of Villars, School of Fontainebleau, c.1594
Meister der Schule von Fontainebleau 003
Lady at her Toilet - School of Fontainebleau (1585–1595) (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon)

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.

Printmaking workshop

Ant fantuzzi1
Etching by Antonio Fantuzzi, copying a drawing for this stucco and paint surround at the Palace of Fontainebleau
P1290819 Fontainebleau chateau rwk
The Enlightenment of Francois I by Rosso Fiorentino, and its surround in the Gallery of Francois I in the palace. A preparatory drawing is copied in the print above.

Although there is no certain proof, most scholars have agreed that there was a printmaking workshop at the Palace of Fontainebleau itself, reproducing the designs of the artists for their works in the palace, as well as other compositions they produced. The most productive printmakers were Léon Davent, Antonio Fantuzzi, and Jean Mignon, followed by the "mysterious" artist known from his monogram as "Master I♀V" (♀ being the alchemical symbol for copper, from which the printing plates were made),[2] and the workshop seems to have been active between about 1542 and 1548 at the latest; François I of France died in March 1547, after which funding for the palace ended, and the school dispersed. These were the first etchings made in France, and not far behind the first Italian uses of the technique, which originated in Germany.[3] The earliest impressions of all the Fontainebleau prints are in brown ink, and their intention seems to have been essentially reproductive.[4]

The intention of the workshop was to disseminate the new style developing at the palace more widely, both to France and to the Italians' peers back in Italy. Whether the initiative to do this came from the king or another patron, or from the artists alone, is unclear. David Landau believes that Primaticcio was the driving force;[5] he had stepped up to become the director of the work at Fontainebleau after the suicide of Rosso Fiorentino in 1540.[6]

The enterprise seems to have been "just slightly premature" in terms of catching a market. The etched prints were often marked by signs of the workshop's inexperience and sometimes incompetence with the technique of etching, and according to Sue Welsh Reed: "Few impressions survive from these plates, and it is questionable whether many were pulled. The plates were often poorly executed and not well printed; they were often scratched or not well polished and did not wipe clean. Some may have been made of metals soft as copper, such as pewter."[7] A broadening market for prints preferred the "highly finished textures" of Nicolas Beatrizet, and later "proficient but ultimately uninspired" engravers such as René Boyvin and Pierre Milan.[8]

Notable artists of the first school

Second School of Fontainebleau (from 1594)

From 1584 to 1594, during the Wars of Religion the château of Fontainebleau was abandoned. Upon his accession 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.

Notable artists of the second school


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Art
  2. ^ Jacobson, 80-83
  3. ^ Jacobson, 80-81; Landau, 308-309
  4. ^ Jacobson, 80-81
  5. ^ Jacobson, 95; Landau, 309
  6. ^ Jacobson, 79
  7. ^ Reed, 27
  8. ^ Landau, 309


  • Jacobson, Karen (ed), (often wrongly cat. as George Baselitz), The French Renaissance in Prints, 1994, Grunwald Center, UCLA, ISBN 0962816221
  • Landau, David, in Landau, David, and Parshall, Peter, The Renaissance Print, Yale, 1996, ISBN 0300068832
  • Reed, Sue Welsh, in: Reed, Sue Welsh & Wallace, Richard (eds), Italian Etchers of the Renaissance and Baroque, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 1989, ISBN 0-87846-306-2 or 304-4 (pb)

See also

Antoine Caron

Antoine Caron (1521–1599) was a French master glassmaker, illustrator, Northern Mannerist painter and a product of the School of Fontainebleau.

He is one of the few French painters of his time who had a pronounced artistic personality. His work reflects the refined, although highly unstable, atmosphere at the court of the House of Valois during the French Wars of Religion of 1560 to 1598.

Antonio da Trento

Antonio da Trento (1508–1550) was an Italian engraver.

Da Trento was born in Trento. He specialized in chiaroscuro woodcuts, especially of religious themes and scenes. Da Trento probably first learned wood engraving from Ugo da Carpi. He later was a disciple of Parmigianino, and later within the School of Fontainebleau.Da Trento's technique involved creating three separate blocks for each print. The first was for the outlines, the second for shadows, and the third was for the lighter tints. Three documented works of his are The Beheading of St. Peter and St. Paul, The Tiburtine Sibyl showing the Virgin Mary, with the Infant Christ, and Psyche Saluted by the People with the Honors of Divinity.

Cornelis Floris de Vriendt

Cornelis Floris or Cornelis (II) Floris De Vriendt (1514 – 20 October 1575) was a Flemish sculptor, print artist and architect. He developed a new style, which was informed by Flemish traditions, the 16th century Italian renaissance and possibly the School of Fontainebleau. His innovations spread throughout Northern Europe where they had a major influence on the development of sculpture and architecture in the 16th and early 17th centuries.

Diana the Huntress

Diana the Huntress is an oil on canvas painting by an anonymous artist of the School of Fontainebleau. Painted in about 1550, it is a mythical representation of Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henry II, in the guise of the goddess Diana. It is in the Louvre, which acquired it in 1840.In its linear elegance the painting exemplifies the French version of the Northern Mannerist style that was introduced to France by Italian artists such as Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio in the 1530s. It is one of many works by artists of the School of Fontainebleau depicting Diane de Poitiers, who was often personified as Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt. The nude figure carries a bow and a quiver of arrows, and is accompanied by a dog. In her hair is an ornament in the shape of a crescent moon, an attribute of the goddess.

The painting was previously attributed to the Italian artist Luca Penni.

French Renaissance

The French Renaissance was the cultural and artistic movement in France between the 15th and early 17th centuries. The period is associated with the pan-European Renaissance, a word first used by the French historian Jules Michelet to define the artistic and cultural "rebirth" of Europe.

Notable developments during the French Renaissance include the spread of humanism, early exploration of the "New World" (as New France by Giovanni da Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier); the development of new techniques and artistic forms in the fields of printing, architecture, painting, sculpture, music, the sciences and literature; and the elaboration of new codes of sociability, etiquette and discourse.

The French Renaissance traditionally extends from (roughly) the French invasion of Italy in 1494 during the reign of Charles VIII until the death of Henry IV in 1610. This chronology notwithstanding, certain artistic, technological or literary developments associated with the Renaissance arrived in France earlier (for example, by way of the Burgundy court or the Papal court in Avignon); however, the Black Death of the 14th century and the Hundred Years' War kept France economically and politically weak until the late 15th century.

The reigns of Francis I of France (from 1515 to 1547) and his son Henry II (from 1547 to 1559) are generally considered the apex of the French Renaissance.

Galerie d'Apollon

The Galerie d'Apollon is a part of the Louvre, famous for its high vaulted ceilings with painted decorations.

The room was originally called the 'Petite Galerie' of the Louvre and was decorated by the artists of the Second School of Fontainebleau, most notably Toussaint Dubreuil, Jacob Bunel and his wife Marguerite Bahuche according to designs by Martin Fréminet, for Henri IV of France.

After a fire in the small gallery destroyed much of it on 6 February 1661, it was necessary to rebuild this part of the Louvre. Architectural work was entrusted to Louis Le Vau, who carried out reconstruction activities between 1661 and 1663, while Charles Le Brun was assigned responsibility for decorations by Colbert. The sculptor François Girardon was responsible for the stucco sculptures. This was the first Royal Gallery for Louis XIV, which served as a model for the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles.

Gianfrancesco Penni

Gianfrancesco Penni (1488/1496–1528), also known as Giovan Francesco, was an Italian painter. His brother Bartolommeo was an artist of the Tudor court of Henry VIII, and another brother, Luca, ended up as one of the Italian artists of the School of Fontainebleau.

Guido Ruggeri

Guido Ruggeri (active 1550s) was an Italian engraver. He was active in his native Bologna. He was a pupil of Francesco Francia, but went with Primaticcio to work with the School of Fontainebleau.

Henry II style

The Henry II style was the chief artistic movement of the sixteenth century in France, part of Northern Mannerism. It came immediately after High Renaissance and was largely the product of Italian influences. Francis I and his daughter-in-law, Catherine de' Medici, had imported to France a number Italian artists of Raphael's or Michelangelo's school; the Frenchmen who followed them in working in the Mannerist idiom. Besides the work of Italians in France, many Frenchman picked up Italianisms while studying art in Italy during the middle of the century. The Henry II style, though named after Henry II of France, in fact lasted from about 1530 until 1590 under five French monarchs, their mistresses and their queens.

The most lasting products of the Henry II style were architectural. First Rosso Fiorentino and then Francesco Primaticcio and Sebastiano Serlio served Henry II as court artisans, constructing his gallery and the Aile de la Belle Cheminée (1568). The French architect Pierre Lescot and the sculptor Jean Goujon rebuilt the Palais du Louvre around the now famous square court. The Château d'Anet, commissioned by Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry II, was designed by Philibert Delorme, who studied in Rome. The very mannerist château housed a statue of Diana by Benvenuto Cellini, who was working in France. In 1564 Delorme began work on the Tuileries, the most outstanding Parisian palais of the Henry II style. It too exhibited a mannerist treatment of classical themes, for which Delorm had developed his own "French order" of columns.

Jean Bullant, another architect who studied in Rome, also produced designs that combined classical "themes" in a mannerist structure. The Château d'Écouen and the Château de Chantilly, both for Anne de Montmorency, exemplify the Henry II-style château, which was proliferating among the nobility. A very thorough catalogue of engravings of sixteenth-century French architecture was produced by Jacques Androuet du Cerceau the Elder under the title Les plus excellents bastiments de France (between 1576 and 1579, in two volumes). Much of the buildings so engraved have been destroyed (like the Tuileries) or significantly altered (like Écouen), so that Cerceau's reproductions are the best guide to the Henry II style.

In painting, like in architecture, the French were influenced by Italian mannerism and many Italian painters and sculptors were active members of the First School of Fontainebleau, which in turn produced an active and talented crop of native painters and sculptors, such as Germain Pilon and Juste de Juste. By the end of the century the Henry II style, a Gallicised form of Italian mannerism, had been replaced by a more consistent classicism, with hints of the coming Baroque. Its immediately successor in French art historiography is the Henry IV style.

Henry IV style

The Henry IV style was the predominant architectural idiom in France under the patronage of Henry IV (1589–1610). The modernisation of Paris was a major concern of Henry's, and the Place des Vosges is the greatest monument to his architectural style and urban planning. Among Henry's other works are the Pont Neuf, the Place Dauphine, and some renovations at the Château de Fontainebleau. Though the second school of Fontainebleau was active in painting at the time, it is not generally considered part of the "Henry IV style". The style may be characterised by the Britannica's statement that Henry was a man of "the grand concept who did not lose himself in detail".

Jan Matsys

Jan Massijs or Jan Matsys (c.1510 – 8 October 1575) was a Flemish Renaissance painter known for his history paintings, genre scenes and landscapes. He also gained a reputation as a painter of the female nude, which he painted with a sensuality reminiscent of the school of Fontainebleau.

Jean Chartier

Jean Chartier (1500–1580) was a French painter, draughtsman, and print publisher.

Chartier was known to be working in Orléans. His style suggests that he may have seen or been involved in the School of Fontainebleau.

Juste de Juste

Juste de Juste (ca. 1505 – ca. 1559) was a Franco-Italian sculptor and printmaker in etching, a member of the Betti family of sculptors from near Florence, who became known as the Juste family in France, where Juste de Juste's father Antonio and his two brothers emigrated and spent most of their careers. Juste de Juste has been widely accepted as the author of seventeen etchings of naked or écorché (flayed) male figures signed with a complicated monogram. He also worked as a stuccoist of the School of Fontainebleau under Rosso Fiorentino.

Juste de Juste was born in Tours, and trained by his uncle Jean Juste, his father having died in 1519. He worked with Jean on the mausoleum of Louis XII of France at St-Denis, which occupied his uncle for almost fifteen years from 1516–1531, being especially responsible for the four seated Virtues. In 1529 he was still living in Tours when Francis I commissioned him to make marble sculptures of Hercules and Leda, now lost, and in 1533 he was appointed Sculpteur du Roi (a non-exclusive appointment) as his father and uncles had been before him. The year 1531 marked the beginning of the "First School of Fontainebleau", where Juste de Juste spent most of the period 1531-37, before rejoining the family workshop.

Juste de Juste left a set of twelve small single etched figures (about 195 x 83 mm each; Zerner 6-17) and another set of five larger prints each showing five or six naked male figures forming improbable human pyramids (these about 267 x 205 mm; Zerner 1-5). All the figures are elongated and muscular and many of their faces have anguished grimaces; over much of their bodies the musculature is so exposed they seem flayed, but they have hair and faces. They are usually interpreted as academic exercises in drawing the male figure, perhaps related to the art student's game of marking a number of dots on a piece of paper and then constructing a figure to incorporate them - it is typical of such exercises that the figures touch the frame of the image at several points. The etching technique is personal and direct, but probably not that of a practised printmaker. Like many Fontainbleau prints, the technical finish of the etching is poor, with many unintended marks and variations in the strength of lines, but the images have an intriguing impact. In the case of both sets there is some evidence that there were other members which have not survived.Only the larger set have the monogram, now agreed to read ETSVI, or in reverse IVSTE -"Juste". An alternative interpretation has been that they refer to an obscure engraver, Jean Viset, about whom little is known except that he worked at Fontainebleau in 1536. All the prints are rare - again like most School of Fontainebleau prints.

The larger set is often mentioned in the context of works by Henri Matisse culminating in his The Dance (second version) in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.He was apparently still living in Tours, where the family workshop continued, at his death about 1559.

List of French artistic movements

The following is a chronological list of artistic movements or periods in France indicating artists who are sometimes associated or grouped with those movements. See also European art history, Art history and History of Painting and Art movement.

Léonard Thiry

Léonard Thiry (active 1530 – 1550), was a Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker. He is considered a member of the First School of Fontainebleau, working as an assistant to Rosso Fiorentino and continuing under Francesco Primaticcio, but none of his individual contributions can now be identified. His designs were reproduced as prints by Léon Davent, René Boyvin and others, although he does not seem to have worked any plates himself. He is credited with some drawings.For a long time he was credited by many with the prints signed "L.D." (supposedly standing for "Léonard [de] Deventer"), which are now recognised as by Léon Davent.

Master of Flora

The Master of Flora was a French painter, associated with the School of Fontainebleau, who was active in the middle of the 16th century.

Niccolò dell'Abbate

Niccolò dell'Abbate, sometimes Nicolò and Abate (1509 or 1512 – 1571) was a Mannerist Italian painter in fresco and oils. He was of the Emilian school, and was part of the team of artists called the School of Fontainebleau that introduced the Italianate Renaissance to France. He may be found indexed under either "Niccolò" or "Abbate", though the former is more correct.

Palace of Fontainebleau

The Palace of Fontainebleau (; French pronunciation: ​[fɔ̃tɛnblo]) or Château de Fontainebleau, located 55 kilometres (34 miles) southeast of the center of Paris, in the commune of Fontainebleau, is one of the largest French royal châteaux. The medieval castle and subsequent palace served as a residence for the French monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon III. Francis I and Napoleon were the monarchs who had the most influence on the Palace as it stands today.. It is now a national museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Toussaint Dubreuil

Toussaint Dubreuil (c. 1561 – 22 November 1602) was a French painter associated (from 1594) with the second School of Fontainebleau (together with the artists Martin Fréminet and Ambroise Dubois) and Italianism, a transitional art style.Dubreuil was born in Paris. His works in the late Mannerist style, many of which have been lost, continue in the use of highly elongated and undulating forms and crowded compositions reminiscent of the work of Francesco Primaticcio (c. 1505–1570). Many of Dubreuil's subjects include mythological scenes and scenes from works of fiction by such writers as the Italian Torquato Tasso, the ancient Greek novelist Heliodorus of Emesa and French poet Pierre de Ronsard.

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