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French Legend: Fontainebleau from Henry II to Henry IV Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Culture, Vocabulary

Tel père, tel fils (as father, as son), says the popular adage.

We previously saw how the father, in this case François Ier (or Francis I in English), was le responsable numéro 1 of introducing la Renaissance to France, by inviting the likes of Rosso Fiorentino and le Primatice to his court.

There, the Italian masters launched what was to be known as l’École de Fontainebleau, the most celebrated art school of the time.

The son of Francois Ier, the French King Henri II (spelled “Henry” in English) continued the architectural work initiated during his father’s reign.

However, the son seemed to favor the local main-d’œuvre (workforce.)

Most of his court artists operated under the aegis of Philibert Delorme (also spelled De l’Orme), who distinguished himself in decorating his father’s tomb at the Saint Denis Basilica.

Delorme paid a first visit to Fontainebleau in 1548. He was tasked to start working there immediately after.

A large part of the palace, including la salle de bal (the ball rooom) that can still be visited today, is entirely his doing.

From the union with Catherine de Medicis, the not-so-easy-to-handle “femme fatale” (pictured on the left), Henri II had eight children.

Six of them came to the world in Fontainebleau, while the other two were born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where Delorme was commissioned to build its Château Neuf (literally “New Castle”), later the birthplace of the spoiled “Sun King” Louis XIV.

At least two of the Fontainebleau children turned out to be French King material: François II, the eldest who was named after his grandpa, and Henri III, who was obviously named after his daddy.

Only two days after the accidental death (or now was it?) of her king-husband, Catherine de Medicis sent good old Delorme packing.

The reason is often said to be that Delorme was the protégé of Catherine’s all-time bête noire, Diane de Poitiers, for long the King’s “favorite.”

Like Catherine, the man who replaced Delorme hailed from Italy. His French name is le Primatice, just mentioned above.

Primaticcio (that would be his Italian name), enjoyed the precious assistance of a skilled craftsman named Niccolò dell’Abbate, whose remarkable paysage (landscape) work is said to have yielded at least a partial influence upon Nicolas Poussin.

But things did not always go as planned by Catherine de Medicis, especially after she died.

Her son, Henri III, who spent very little time in the Fontainebleau of his early youth, suffered a tragic demise. He died childless, victim of a ruthless assassination plot.

This spelled the end for the Valois dynasty, which reigned over France for more than two centuries.

Who was next?

Henry of Navarre took over, thus establishing the dynasty of Bourbon.

Now called Henry IV, the French King nurtured a keen interest in the artistic makeover of Fontainebleau.

Inspired by the example set by his old predecessor on the throne, Francois Ier, he launched a Second School of Fontainebleau. Unfortunately, nearly everyone agreed that this new École paled in comparison with the original.

Undaunted, Henry IV directed his sight outside of the palace. There, he created a large wooded park filled with trees of various species.

He also dug a vast canal, where people still go fishing to this day.

Other than that, the King was such an avid fan of Tennis (known then as le jeu de paume) that he built in the palace what is still one of the largest Tennis courts au monde (in the world), if not the largest.

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