Jean Fouquet (born around 1420 maybe in Tours (France) and died between 1478 and 1481, probably in the same city), is considered one of the greatest painters of the first Renaissance and the renovator of the French painting of Fifteenth century.
Formed in the French tradition of international gothic, he developed a new style by integrating the strong chromatic tones of the Gothic with the perspective and Italian volumes of the Quattrocento, as well as the naturalist innovations of the Flemish primitives. His masterpieces are the Diptyque of Melun and the miniatures of the Hours of Etienne Chevalier.
Recognized for his time, the work of Jean Fouquet fell into oblivion until its rehabilitation in the nineteenth century by the French and German romantics, fascinated by medieval art. It was definitively revalued by an exhibition on the primitive French organized by the National Library of France in 1904, which allowed to gather and make known his scattered works.
During the last third of the fourteenth century, a new pictorial style spread in Europe from the papal court of Avignon. Simone Martini and other Italian and French artists spread the naturalistic realism of the painters of the Sienese school and the refinement of French illuminations. This style, which in the course of the nineteenth century was designated by the generic name of “International Gothic”, developed mainly in Paris, Siena, Cologne and Bohemia.
Paris, even as France was plunged into the Hundred Years War, had become the center of European illumination. The brothers of Limbourg, probably the best miniaturists of their generation, worked for the Duke of Berry (1340-1416), for whom they created this masterpiece, the Very Rich Hours. The reign of Charles VI is a period of general effervescence for the arts. It ended around 1410. The occupation of Paris by the English (1419-1436) and the exile of part of the court of France in Bourges, following the dolphin Charles, marks a pause in the artistic activity French. Having become King, Charles VII succeeded, thanks to the jolt provoked by the equipment of Joan of Arc, to resume Paris and to expel permanently the English from France (1453, with the exception of Calais). Like his father, Louis XI prefers the Loire Valley to Paris; He died at the castle of Plessis-lez-Tours in 1483.
In Flanders, Jan van Eyck, who became active around 1422, was a major figure in the history of art and was, by his way of representing reality, one of the principal innovators of this period. Long known as the inventor of oil painting, it was more certainly the one to whom it owed its rise during the fifteenth century. The use of oil as a binder made it possible to obtain more fluid colors, which, applied in successive, almost transparent layers, gave all the gradations of color and luminosity, and rendered the details of the objects. Through empirical methods, the Flemish Primitives also attempted to restore perspective. They obtained it thanks to the “aerial perspective”, with gradations of color towards bluish gray for distant objects: this system was theorized by Jean Pèlerin, known as Le Viator, in his work De artificiali perspectiva, which was for Flemish painting The equivalent of the Treaty of Alberti for Italian art.
In the same period, the Quattrocento, the first Renaissance, was the flourishing of the Quattrocento, the art “in the measure of man”, where the perspective gave the illusion of a third dimension. The antecedents of this new language were encountered in sculptures by Ghiberti, Della Quercia and Donatello. It was in Florence in 1427, in the framework of the Trinity, that the painter Masaccio, probably in collaboration with the architect Brunelleschi, solved the problem of perspective. Leon Battista Alberti, architect and friend of Brunelleschi, then theorized this solution in his De pictura. Later, from 1430, Paolo Uccello, Andrea Del Castagno, Piero Della Francesca and Mantegna completed the development of this new technique.
The historical documentation gives us very little information on the painter’s history. Less than fifteen archival documents tell us about his life. Art historians have put forth many hypotheses on this subject but have not been able to verify them.
The date of birth is totally unknown. According to the biographers, his estimate varies between 1415 and 1425 and this birth is traditionally located in Tours without any proof except the very late inscription of François Robertet in the manuscript of the Judaic Antiquities. A certain Jean Fouquet, a priest from Tours, who traveled to Rome and named parish priest of Bécon-les-Granits in Anjou, is mentioned in documents dated 1449. The hypothesis has been put forward that this could be the painter But other evidence indicates that he could not be a cleric. It could be a member of his family.
This absence of sources on the youth of the painter leaves only conjectures about the place of his training as a painter. The Touraine painting of this period is totally unknown. Clues were sought in the Parisian studios of this period, the only artistic center of importance in the vicinity. But the only major workshop still active in the 1430s, that of the Master of Bedford and his probable successor the Master of Dunois, is very distant in his style from that of Fouquet. His style finds some echoes in that of another Parisian master, the Master of Boucicaut, but this one had already ceased its activity at that time. The German art historian Eberhard König has hypothesized that it might have been formed in the west of France, in the entourage of the Master of Jouvenel whose activity is attested in Angers. The Master of Boucicaut is well known for having influenced several illuminators of the west of France, which tends to confirm a formation rather in this region. In fact, according to another art historian, Nicole Reynaud, the activity of this Master of Jouvenel is too late (years 1440-1450) for having helped to train the young Fouquet but they could have known each other and they Collaborated both in the same manuscript, a book of hours for the use of Angers, dated around 1450.
The residence of Jean Fouquet in Italy is attested by a passage of the Treatise of Architecture written by Le Filaretus around 1465: by listing the “good masters” on which one can no longer count, he points out Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Fouquet the French, which he says he does not know if he died but that he was very good at drawing from nature. He points out that he painted a portrait (now lost) of Pope Eugene IV, who was placed in the Church of the Minerva in Rome. This indication makes it possible to date his stay in Italy during the Pope’s stay in Rome between 1443 and 1447. Other testimonies later confirm this stay in Rome, including that of Giorgio Vasari in Le Vite. This portrait of Eugene IV is known today by a copy of Cristofano dell’Altissimo (Uffizi Gallery, Florence) and an engraving dating from the sixteenth century.
At the time of the Pope’s portrait, a certain Fra Angelico resided at the neighboring Dominican convent on which the Minerva church, called in Rome by the same Pope Eugene IV in 1445, probably knew him in Florence. Fouquet probably met the Florentine master. Several art historians have even suggested that the French painter might have collaborated with Fra Angelico in the realization of his Roman frescoes. The influence of the latter is clearly perceptible in the later work of Fouquet. It is also probable that he went to Florence, where he would have seen the work of the great Tuscan innovators, as well as at Mantua, where he would have painted the Portrait of the Gonella Jester (although this attribution is still discussed).
The exact date of his return to France is not known. The earliest documents mentioning him date from 1461. He was then summoned to Paris to take part in the preparations for the funeral of Charles VII, but also in Tours for preparations for the entry of Louis XI into the city which ‘Eventually will not take place. Subsequent notarial documents indicate that his house in the same town, Rue des Pucelles, was rented as early as 1448. Several other documents prove his participation in municipal life: his name is entered in a deliberation of the municipal council of 1469 and a penalty Rereguet, that is to say, the nocturnal surveillance of the ramparts of the city in 1465. He painted another canopy for the entry into the city of King Alfonso V of Portugal in 1476. He also produced works for the Elites of the city. This is the case of a painting depicting the Assumption, now missing, for Jean Bernard, Archbishop of Tours, destined for the church of Candes in 1466.
He also responds to orders from aristocrats and powerful men of the kingdom. There are documents attesting to the realization of books of hours for Marie d’Orléans in 1472, installed in Blois, but also for Philippe de Commynes in 1474. He also works for the financiers of the king. These are panels such as the Diptyque de Melun, dated around 1452-1458 painted for Étienne Chevalier, treasurer of France or the portrait of Guillaume Jouvenel des Ursins, royal chancellor (ca. 1460-1465) as well as painted manuscripts for Laurent Girard , Secretary of the king (the Boccaccio of Munich) and Antoine Raguier, treasurer of the wars (Raguier-Robertet Hours).
From 1459, he was seconded in his illumination workshop by an excellent collaborator, named the Master of the Boccaccio of Munich, who is supposed to be one of his sons, Louis or Francis. These are gradually taking a prominent place in the illuminated manuscripts of the artist from that time.
It was not until 1475 that Fouquet was signaled as “king’s painter” Louis XI, in the royal archives, indicating that he receives a pension of 50 livres tournois as such. His activity with the kings of France is however older. The portrait of Charles VII goes back to at least the years 1450-1455 and it participates to the works of paintings realized at the funeral of this last in 1461. For his successor, painted in 1471 paintings of arms to the knights Of the newly created new order, the order of St. Michael. He also painted an illumination for the statutes of this order. In 1474, he was again called upon to work with the sculptor Michel Colombe to draw a model of a tomb for the king in the church of Notre-Dame de Cléry, which was ultimately not retained.
The date of his death is not known. It is still alive in 1478 but the count of its inheritance intervenes in November 1481. He intervenes probably in his city of residence, Tours.
His drawings were carefully thought out: he knew the technical means to capture the viewer’s attention through a composition based on circles, golden numbers and regular polygons.
He usually used a central circle and a second circle that fits into the top half of the frame. Note the relationship between the two, and how the first more general leads to the second most particular. The first two tables show how the width / length variation affects the two circles.
In the first picture, the face and torso are inscribed in the main circle, while the smaller one encompasses the face and the cap. In the second, that of the king, the great circle determines the position of the hands, the arms and the curtains, while the secondary frames the face, the fur collar and the hat.
The third painting, the Pietà de Nouans, is horizontal, which contrasts with the other paintings of Jean Fouquet, most of them vertical. He composed it again by using two circles, which makes a strange effect, no doubt because the vision of the spectator more easily encompasses two circles arranged vertically; Perhaps she did not know that she was going first towards the right-hand side rather than the left-hand side. In the fourth picture, the painter transforms the two vertical circles into a single circle, which tangents the upper edge.
As to the golden ratio or number of gold, it was known since antiquity and was frequently used during the Renaissance, as it was considered the perfect proportion.
Fouquet employed at the same time the golden segments which related to the height and the width of the frame. In the second picture, that of Charles VII, he uses two golden segments to trace the symmetrical verticals that delimit the face of the king. In the fourth, he used only one of these vertical lines to position the rider and his horse, as well as one of the horizontal segments to limit the characters in the background.
On the miniature of the Coronation of Louis VI, one can observe an “aerial perspective”, which brings out the atmospheric effects. This painting recalls the background of The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin, painted in 1435, where Van Eyck used a landscape in which reflections are projected towards the viewer. In both cases, the bridges repeat themselves in the water, as well as, in the miniature, the castle. In the two works, one will also notice the characters who lean over the battlements.
As has already been pointed out, the “aerial perspective” is obtained via a gradation of colors towards bluish grays for the most distant objects, a technique which can be observed in this table: as we move away, the side wall Of the castle presents up to five gradations of blue; The reflections of the wall in the waters of the ditch fade; The blue of the water of the ditch draws towards the white and the same effect is observed on the sky; The reflections of the bridge are lighter than those of the boat; The tower of the bridge is of a brown more steady than that of the castle of the bottom; Even in the windows of the chapel, where the sky is whiter. The observer has the sensation of palpating the air.
In this detail Diptyque de Melun, one notices that the face of the Virgin is ovoid and that the light divides it into two parts, one reduced with strong shadows and reliefs, the other more extended, practically without shadow, with A smooth rendering. The modeling is not continuous: the surfaces on the right are very accentuated, decrease in going to the left then disappear. Up to the left areas that should have shadows and that the painter has deliberately forgotten. He thus succeeds in putting the two parts of the face in opposition, one in full light, with a smooth appearance, which contrasts with the tension and depth which animate the other, which has remained in the shadow. We will also notice how the gaze is treated, with eyelids practically closed, and the three zones of light on them as well as on the lips.
Jean Fouquet paid great attention to the innovations of the Flemish painters, which he incorporated into his own technique. He knew, analyzed and assimilated the collections of Flemish engravings that circulated in the workshops of French miniaturists.
Two examples enable us to understand how he imbibed the influence of other painters. Thus, in his lost portrait of Pope Eugene IV, he was inspired by the Timothy of Van Eyck. The latter had finished his painting the same year as The Mystical Lamb, and he was in the fullness of his art. On a black background, this man is illuminated from the left; He leans against a ledge of engraved stone, depicted as a trompe-l’oeil. The right hand is shortened and the elbow protrudes out of the board.
On the copy of the lost table of the pope, it is noted that the trompe-l’oeil is more reduced and has almost no thickness. The artist defined it with a line of light on top that contrasts with the shadow of the left arm which rises slightly, giving an impression of depth. The right hand does not advance out of the picture, as in Van Eyck but also appears in shortened with the part of the arm that is seen. The pope’s body is taller, but his head smaller. The two characters have the same tranquility, with deep eyes. However, in the case of the pope, one can guess a more complex personality: this rictus which marks the seriousness in Eugene IV is made by marking the stiffness of the muscles of the face and through an intense pattern of lights and shadows. The result is a totally different picture.
In the second case, the miniature of the Crucifixion of the Hours of Etienne Chevalier is compared with a painting by Van Eyck and another by Fra Angelico, which inspired it: specialists emphasize in particular the influence of the second.
The Crucifixion of Van Eyck has a reduced size – 56.5 cm by 19.7 cm – and forms the counterpart of a Last Judgment. At the feet of the crosses a crowd crowds on foot and on horseback: the characters are dressed like the contemporaries of Van Eyck, with coats lined with fur. An aerial perspective helps to deal with the bottom. In the foreground is a group of lamented women, the Virgin and Saint John.
Jean Fouquet built a similar and different picture. There are many similarities: the Virgin clothed in blue and Saint John in red stand in the foreground, although he has represented them looking at Christ; The Saint John of Fouquet resembles very much that of Van Eyck; The horses are less numerous in the painting of the Frenchman, but equally well rendered; The cloak of the rider with his fur appears on the two pictures, without being exactly the same; The lances pointed towards the sky bring out the perspective in Fouquet, who placed them in a decreasing fashion; The clothing of one of the soldiers of the back is light brown in the two images, with the sword belt, and his arm is in the same position; The area of the cross is free of characters to open the view of the city and the mountains; Finally, Fouquet also uses an aerial perspective. However, he gives his picture a general blue tone, while that of Van Eyck is red.
Jean Fouquet had to know the fresco of Fra Angelico and admire the extraordinary disposition of crosses and crucifixes. With very limited means, thanks to the position of the transverse beams, he succeeded in creating a depth effect, accentuated by the shortcut applied to the arms of the two thieves. Moreover, the crosses are placed very high, which causes a clear separation between the crucified and those who accompanied them. Fouquet uses the same technique: he raises the crosses so that they stand out particularly well in the blue of the sky, especially that of Christ.
No work is formally attributed to Jean Fouquet on the basis of a historical document or a signature. The works which are attached to it are only on a stylistic basis established in the sixth century from an inscription found in a manuscript of the Judaic Antiquities (BnF, Mss., French 247). However, these attributions are regularly challenged by art historians. Thus, in 2003, the curator of the French National Library François Avril proposed to re-attribute a large number of illuminated works not to Fouquet but to his collaborator and perhaps his son, the master of the Boccaccio in Munich. This is the case of the Miniatures of the Judaic Antiquities themselves, whose style is heavier and the touch “infinitely less excavated and refined” than in those of the Heures d’Etienne Chevalier. The inscription of the name Fouquet is indeed late (twenty years after his death) and could be erroneous19. This new allocation has attracted the support of other specialists in the field.
The portraits of Jean Fouquet, the basis of his artistic work, show his ability to translate the personality of his models. At that time, the portrait, which until then had been scanty, was converted into a major genre, and religious became profane. From then on, the attempt was made to reveal the psychology of models.
In the portrait of Charles VII, about 1450-1455 (Paris, musée du Louvre), he painted the king three-quarters and surrounded by curtains. He followed the French tradition of representing the sovereign without the attributes of his rank, any more than under the attributes of a donor, a formula which had already been employed a century before in the portrait of John the Good.
In the portrait of the Gonella buffoon (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) painted in Italy, he depicted the figure in a close-up, with a large part of the body being thrown out of the picture; He had concentrated all the attention of the spectator on the face, thanks to which he masterfully transmitted the profound humanity of the model. Long attributed to Van Eyck, and even to Brueghel, Otto Pächt was the first to advance the name of Fouquet22, but this award is not yet unanimous.
On the copy of the lost portrait of Pope Eugene IV., Executed in Rome, he had represented the sovereign pontiff in bust, and concentrated his efforts on the psychological rendering of the model, a powerful man, both concentrated and energetic.
In his self-portrait (Paris, musée du Louvre), he presents the face of a young man, slightly leaning, sure of himself, directing a firm look towards the viewer. It is a 6.8 cm enameled copper medallion which reveals his mastery of other pictorial techniques, and probably the importance he attributed to the Diptyque de Melun of which the portrait was part before the Revolution.
Around 1465 he painted the portrait of the chancellor of France, Guillaume Jouvenel des Ursins (Paris, Musée du Louvre). He formed the left part of a diptych or a triptych, the right part of which was lost. The sponsor, represented in prayer, placed three-quarters, occupies an important space in the painting. But unlike the portrait of Etienne Chevalier in the Diptyque of Melun, he does not appear accompanied by his patron saint: the subject has clearly lost its religious character. Jean Fouquet has tried above all to convey an idea of nobility and kindness in his model; He then endeavored to emphasize the high rank of the Chancellor; It is by the clothes, the purse which hangs at his belt, the cushion and the gilded pilasters that the painter has rendered his wealth.
The Diptyque de Melun is a votive painting painted around 1452-1458 on behalf of Étienne Chevalier, treasurer of the King of France Charles VII, formerly preserved above his tomb at the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame de Melun. The diptych was preserved in the same church until the eighteenth century before it was probably sold in the 1770s and dispersed. The two panels are now preserved in the Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts for the right side, and the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin for the left panel; The self-portrait of Jean Fouquet is preserved in the Louvre Museum.
The painting consisted of two panels, forming a diptych, closing on themselves. The right-hand pane shows a suckling child surrounded by angels, while the left-hand panel represents the donor presented by St. Stephen, his patron saint. Art historians hesitate on the precise subject of the work: for some, it would be a donor in prayer before a suckling Virgin whereas for others it would be a representation of Stephen Knight calling for the intercession of the Virgin who appears before death. The panels were surrounded by a wooden frame covered with blue velvet punctuated with medallions in painted enamel, probably representing episodes from the life of the patron saint, as well as a self-portrait of the painter, worthy of signature. About fifteen, only one other medallion was known but it has now disappeared. In this oil on wood, he depicted on the right panel a Virgin recalling the statuary but with a child Jesus and a treatment of the materials recalling the primitives Flemish. According to tradition, his features would have been borrowed from those of Agnes Sorel, the king’s mistress. In the left panel, the architectural decoration and the figure of St. Stephen recall the Italian painting of his time. This work has influenced both painters of his time and contemporary artists.
This painting is the only preserved retable of the painter but also the biggest picture of all (168 × 259 cm with the frame). It was identified very late in the 1930s and is still preserved in its church in Indre-et-Loire. Its sponsor, shown on the board, is not identified and its dating is subject to discussion. According to Charles Sterling, it would be a late work in which the workshop would have contributed much, according to Christian de Mérindol, it would be a very old work, from the early 1450s and commissioned by Jacques Heart for his hotel in Bourges but without explaining the presence of a clerk on the board. François Avril prefers to date it around 1460 with some later additions.
The painting does not quite represent the Pietà but the scene immediately preceding where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus lay the body of Christ on the knees of the Virgin. Fouquet implements a very original composition which knows no equivalent at the time, except perhaps in a Hugo van der Goes cross descent partially preserved at the Christ Church college of Oxford. It uses a very strict geometry made of crossings of lines around the body of Christ which forms a triangle with the head of Saint John. The painting is also distinguished by its plays of colors in the drapes as well as its plays of light, this one coming unusually from the right. As much as the brush stroke is assured for the central personages as the donor, as much it is more hesitant on the head of Saint John which conceals a repentance, Joseph of Arimathea which is almost blurred as well as for the personages to the turbans that could be of The hand of a collaborator.
Fouquet is undoubtedly illuminator of formation and it is in this area that is preserved the most of his works. As a result of the recent reassignments, nine manuscripts still have consensus to preserve at least one miniature of Fouquet. Seven more are awarded directly to his collaborator, the Master of the Boccaccio in Munich.
This is an old book of hours dated between 1452 and 1460, now scattered and partly destroyed. Only 49 leaflets containing 47 miniatures remain, dispersed in eight different conservation sites in Europe and the United States. Forty of these sheets are kept at the Musée Condé in Chantilly (ms.71). It is commissioned by Etienne Chevalier, treasurer of King Charles VII for whom he painted at the same time the Diptyque of Melun. As in the latter, he takes again the presentation of the sponsor to the Virgin and Child by his patron saint surrounded by angels, arranged on a double page. The whole work, although its exact reconstruction is complex, presents original cycles of illustrations of the life of Christ, the Virgin and the lives of saints, which are rarely found in other manuscripts of that time . Each miniature constitutes a small table in itself, using for the first time the entire page to deploy the illustration, the text being confined to a small window or a simple banner. They contain innovative layouts and show a great mastery of geometry and perspective in their composition. In addition, a large number of buildings and landscapes from the late Middle Ages, Paris and elsewhere are represented with great realism. Moreover, another famous miniature, Fouquet, in the Adoration of the Magi, gives the appearance of King Charles VII to one of the Magi.
The name of the sponsor of the manuscript is unknown but the quality of the work seems to indicate a royal origin and perhaps Charles VII himself who was known for his taste for history. The manuscript written for the first part probably from the years 1415-1420, was completed and illustrated with 51 miniatures probably in the years 1455-1460.
Fouquet did not choose the location of the miniatures but had to bend to the spaces provided in the text by the scribes. He thus finds himself constrained to frequently represent coronation and coronation ceremonies. The relations with England and the theme of the crusade are often highlighted in the context of the fall of Constantinople in 1453. For each miniature, he uses a strict composition using the number of gold to dispose of his Each constituting a small autonomous picture. He frequently uses realistic topographical decorations that he draws from his own knowledge. This is the case, for example, with the Sacre de Charlemagne which he represented in the old Saint Peter’s Basilica, which he himself visited during his stay in Rome. It does the same with views of Paris, Orleans, Tours.
Among the other manuscripts in which are recognized miniatures of the hand of Fouquet, are three other books of hours: a book of hours to the use of Angers dating from the years 1450 which contains a miniature representing Saint Francis d ‘ Assisi receiving the stigmata before a canon, the Hours of Simon de Varye in which Fouquet painted six miniatures and the Hours of Jean Robertet in which there are nine. His hand is recognized in the frontispiece of the manuscript of the statutes of the order of St. Michael, as well as in at least four of the five miniatures of an ancient manuscript of ancient history up to Caesar and facts of the Romans today dispersed. François Avril thinks of identifying his hand in a miniature of the Armorial of Gilles Le Bouvier (BNF, Mss., French 4985) as well as in the miniature of the bed of justice of Vendome in the Boccaccio of Munich (BSB, Cod. ).
Three drawings are generally regarded as autographs by Fouquet: these are three portraits, depicted almost life-size. These works are all the rarer because there are very few French drawings dating from the fifteenth century. The first is a preparatory drawing of the portrait of Guillaume Jouvenel des Ursins preserved at the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin. It represents the head of the character drawn on the spot by using a technique unpublished for the time using four different stones and pastel. This technique allows him to give a living aspect to his portrait. The second, preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a portrait of a papal legate. His precise identity is unknown, even if we sometimes see Cardinal Guillaume d’Estouteville there. Most art historians think that it is only Fouquet to be able to represent so faithfully the character of a person in France at that time. The third drawing, which does not make consensus in his attribution, is the portrait of a man in the hat preserved in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Drawn in a technique and style very similar to the Berlin drawing, it could be a representation of Louis XI.