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Art in France

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France covered a significantly smaller area at the time of the Renaissance than it does today. The country was ruled by the powerful Valois family, who were rivals of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors in both Northern Europe and the Italian peninsula. After the death of Henry II in 1559, France was ruled by a series of minors under Henry’s widow, Catherine de Médicis. During Catherine’s regency, the country was racked by internal unrest, as Catholics and Protestants vied for primacy.

Against this background of conflict, the Valois kings of France – enthusiastic art lovers – bolstered their authority and power through lavish displays of magnificence. Portraiture flourished at court and many senior figures commissioned paintings from Jean Perréal and Jean and François Clouet. The Clouets produced delicate miniatures as well as full-size paintings: those displayed here are among the earliest portrait miniatures to be made.

Francis I, who ruled from 1515 until 1547, was a keen patron of Italian artists, and invited a number of important figures from Italy, among them Leonardo da Vinci, Rosso Fiorentino, Francesco Primaticcio and Nicolò dell’Abate.

Workshop of Jean Perréal (c. 1455-1530)

Louis XII

Jean Clouet (c. 1485-90?-1540/1)

Francis, Dauphin of France

Studio of François Clouet (c. 1520-1572)

Henry II, King of France

François Clouet (c. 1520-1572)

Charles IX King of France as a boy

François Clouet (c. 1520-1572)

Mary, Queen of Scots

François Clouet (c. 1520-1572)

Mary, Queen of Scots

François Clouet (c. 1520-1572)

Elizabeth of Valois, later Queen of Spain

Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452-Amboise 1519)

A masquerader as a lansquenet

Circle of Rosso Fiorentino (Giovanni Battista Rosso) (1495-1540)

A design for a bench

Follower of Francesco Primaticcio (1504-70)

Mercury descending from the clouds

Attributed to Philibert de L'Orme (1512/15-70)

Ionic capital and column shaft, S.Croce in Gerusalemme

Nicolò dell'Abate (Modena c. 1509/12-Fontainebleau 1571)

St Augustine and St Genevieve

Etienne Delaune (1518-83)

A design for a lidded cup

Benvenuto Cellini (1500-70)

Satyr

Jean Pichore (active c. 1501-20)

Cardinal York's Book of Hours

Plutarch (c. 46-c. 120) Simon Bourgouyn, translator (active c. 1503-32)

Le iie livre de Plutarque de la vie Scipion et Pompee translate de latin en francois