French Renaissance 1494 – 1610

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 firstly 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”; 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

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The French Renaissance traditionally extends from 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; however, the Black Death of the 14th century and the Hundred Years’ War kept France economically and politically weak until the late 15th century

In the late 15th century, the French invasion of Italy and the proximity of the vibrant Burgundy court (with its Flemish connections) brought the French into contact with the goods, paintings, and the creative spirit of the Northern and Italian Renaissance, and the initial artistic changes in France were often carried out by Italian and Flemish artists, such as Jean Clouet and his son François Clouet and the Italians Rosso Fiorentino, Francesco Primaticcio and Niccolò dell’Abbate of the (so-called) first School of Fontainebleau (from 1531)

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

In 1516, Francis I of France invited Leonardo da Vinci to the Château d’Amboise and provided him with the Château du Clos Lucé, then called Château de Cloux, as a place to stay and work Leonardo, a famous painter and inventor, arrived with three of his paintings, namely the Mona Lisa, Sainte Anne, and Saint Jean Baptiste, today owned by the Louvre museum of Paris

The art of the period from Francis I through Henry IV is often inspired by late Italian pictorial and sculptural developments commonly referred to as Mannerism (associated with Michelangelo and Parmigianino, among others), characterized by figures which are elongated and graceful and a reliance on visual rhetoric, including the elaborate use of allegory and mythology

There are a number of French artists of incredible talent in this period including the painter Jean Fouquet of Tours (who achieved amazingly realistic portraits and remarkable illuminated manuscripts) and the sculptors Jean Goujon and Germain Pilon