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François Ier: Patron of French Renaissance Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Culture, Vocabulary

Une cour sans femmes est comme un jardin sans fleurs” (“a court without women is like a garden without flowers.”)

Thus spoke François Ier (Francis I in English), like a true Frenchman some would say.

But contrary to some other French monarchs, female company was not his only preoccupation.

In fact, the lifetime dream of François was to bring the fledgling Italian Renaissance to the French soil.

Une nouvelle Rome” (a “New Rome“) was to emerge in the French capital.

With that goal in mind, the French King invited to his court several Italian artists, whose task was to establish l’École de Fontainebleau.

This proved to be the most prolific and most influential of art schools in France at the time.

The École‘s first uncontested leader was a Florence-born artist by the name of Rosso Fiorentino, literally meaning in Italian “the red from Florence“, an obvious reference to his hair color.

By all accounts, “Il Rosso” was a highly eccentric figure. “Out of his time”, so to speak.

His work has in many ways prefigured modern tendencies that were to be found in art schools throughout the following centuries.

Unsurprisingly, his immediate successor was also fellow Italiano, called in French “Le Primatice“, who enjoyed the precious assistance of a skilled disciple, Niccolò dell’Abbate.

In turn, these masters, or maestros, if you will, yielded a tremendous influence on the works of many other artists, most prominent of which is perhaps Jean Goujon, whose Allegories can still be seen on the façade of the Louvre.

Jean Goujon, as well as many other Protestant artists, had a deep impact on the French artistic scene of the 16th century and beyond.

That is, until the Edict of Nantes was revoked in the following century by Louis XIV, when they all had to leave the French kingdom en masse.

Although Versailles was known to be the Sun King‘s favorite palace, the sudden decision of declaring French Protestants personas non gratas was not taken there, but rather in Fontainebleau.

The statement could not have been made any clearer, indeed.

But back to François Ier.

If “la Jeconde, or “la Mona Lisa” (as it is better known in the non-Francophone world), is today a French property, it is no doubt he who ought to receive the credit.

Why so?

Because if it were not for François Ier, Leonardo da Vinci would probably never have felt compelled to set foot in France and bother to bring his still unfinished tableau (painting) in his suitcase.

In other words, that would have been one flower that le Roi would have been particularly sorry to miss in his jardin.

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