Formation of France Classical Arts

The work of the Renaissance was soon compromised and almost annulled by thirty years of discord and religious wars. When peace returned with Henry IV, everything had to be redone. And once again it was necessary to resort to Italy, as indeed did all of Europe, since only Italy possessed masters and models. From 1600 to 1660 France, even more than at the time of the Valois, can be called an Italian artistic colony. Lacking the French masters, it was necessary to turn to Giambologna, for the equestrian statue of Henry IV, and to Daniele da Volterra for that of Louis XIII built on the Place Royale. To decorate the Petit-Louvre gallery (hall of the ancients) and the Mazzarino gallery (National Library) it was necessary to bring in the Carraccis’ pupil, the graceful Romanelli; instead the regent, for the paintings of his Luxembourg, he preferred to call the great Roman of Antwerp, the knight Pietro Paolo Rubens. It is useless to enumerate all the Italians who came to Paris following Maria de ‘Medici: Concini, the Gondi, Cavalier Marino (the Adonis was published in Paris in 1624), which induced Nicolas Poussin to follow him to Italy, engineers, inventors of machines, water games and gardens, the Ruggeri, the Francines, the Lulli, even the prime minister Mazarin. The French artists in this period were little less than Italianized: Simon Vouet, N. Mignard, Ch. Le Brun, Ch.-A. Dufresnoy spent twenty years in Italy, Poussin forty, Claude Lorrain forty-four, that is, their whole life.

Especially the architecture is completely Italian. The dome, which until now appeared only as an exception in the chapel of Anet and on the mausoleum of the Valois in Saint-Denis, dominated for a whole century, almost a symbol of Rome and Catholicism; the first appears in 1620 to the Carmelites of the Rue de Vaugirard, then is found in Saint-Paul, Saint-Louis, at the Visitation of France Mansart, at the Sorbonne, on the church of Val-de-Grâce (where P. Le Muet imitated the dome of S. Maria della Salute), the Quatre-Nations (Institute), etc.

According to CONSTRUCTMATERIALS, the first facade built according to the Italian taste, with overlapping orders, is that of S. Gervaso (1617) by Salomon de Brosse; and the type will remain unchanged until the facade of S. Rocco, of the mid-century. XVIII. The first canopied ciborium, imitated by those of St. Peter, is raised in Val-de-Grâce: many others derive from it, for example, those of Saintes and Angers. The Luxembourg Palace, built by Salomon de Brosse for Maria de ‘Medici, is a replica of the rustic order of the Pitti Palace; the graceful hemicycle façade of the college of the Four Nations raised by Le Vau by order of Mazarin, derives from the church of S. Agnese del Borromini.

Never was France more Italianized than at that time, nor was it ever built as much as it was then. The two characteristic features of that era are: the immense activity of religious orders, which everywhere founded convents, seminaries, novitiates, colleges; and the construction of a very large number of buildings for the new company. In Paris there are entire districts (Île-de-Saint-Louis, the Marais). The Rambouillet Palace, well known for its moral and literary importance, is like the symbol of that activity. Also noteworthy, in Paris, are the Lambert, Lauzun, Lamoignon, Châlon palaces, etc. Countless castles are built in the province (more than two thousand in Normandy): for example, that of Vaux-le-Vicomte (Seine and Marne) built by L. Le Vau in 1654 for the superintendent Fouquet.

This practical purpose of architecture gives it a color that is no longer entirely Italian. Despite the elements of Italian origin, France does not have a real baroque. The French Baroque lacks the imagination, the whim, the amiable delirium, the charm of invention, in a word the poetry that makes certain Roman facades and chapels, by Bernini, Borromini or Pietro da Cortona, an inexhaustible party. First of all, France asks art for rule, order, a distinct appearance or elegant dignity: symmetry, measure, regularity are dear to her above all. Example, the squares surrounded by uniform buildings: Place Dauphine (1605), Place Royale, Place des Victoires, Place Vendôme in Paris; in the province of Rennes, Bordeaux, Lyon, etc.,

It can be said that French art at that time was a compromise between an aesthetic conception and a politics. The latter is clearly revealed in a fact of capital importance: the foundation of the Academy (1648). The academies were an Italian creation, very different from medieval guilds and guilds. By becoming French, the institution takes on a new character, it becomes an assembly of professors in charge of teaching, that is, of fixing rules or methods, of defining the purpose and formulas of art, of promulgating a grammar and a metric; to draw up a code of customs and a collection of examples.

The works of Nicolas Poussin, known and sought after in Paris, can define what was then meant by classical virtues. The great man, who lived alone in Rome, exercised immense authority over the whole of France from afar. He was especially appreciated in the Cartesian thinker, the ideological painter, the author of the Manna and the Seven Sacraments ; the true artist, the author of the Bacchanalia, that is, one of the greatest lyricists or elegiacs of painting, does not seem to have been well understood.

Genre painters, such as the Le Nain brothers, engravers such as J. Callot and Abraham Bosse, remained outside or in the margin of the classical circle; and also the amiable E. Le Sueur, the poetic decorator of the halls of the Lambert palace, who died young, not without belonging to the Academy. Towards 1660, at the beginning of the personal reign of Louis XIV, Charles Le Brun, a man of broad vision, a dictatorial temperament, remained in the government of the arts: and, with the minister Colbert, he took over the direction of the works at Versailles. Versailles was the great feat of the time. In the grandiose construction the following are to be distinguished: the small brick castle, formerly the hunting lodge of Louis XIII, the villa, a kind of Italian palace, built by Louis Le Vau around the previous castle (1665-69); the colossal palace of J. Hardouin Mansard (1672-80). Everyone contributed to the work: the Academy supplied the managers; the Gobelins (Crown furniture manufacturer) employed a team of specialists, upholsterers, goldsmiths, cabinetmakers, founders, engravers: the French Academy in Rome, founded in 1660, a seminary of young artists subjected to a severe regime, had the assignment to copy ancient and modern works to decorate the gardens. We wanted, by dint of method and discipline, to achieve the aim of nationalizing all the arts, doing without genius, since we cannot always count on it, and on Italy, or at least by becoming more and more independent from it. It cannot be denied that the goal as a whole has not been achieved. In the group of artists of Versailles there are several Italians (J.-B. Tuby, Domenico Guidi), and many Flemings (van Obstal, van Clève, the Marsy brothers, etc.); but they are all Frenchized. The great Marseillaise Pierre Puget, of Genoese origin, the author of the magnificent caryatids of Toulon, was not admitted to Versailles; his Milone of Crotone, his Andromeda would have out of tune, they would have seemed “baroque”. Even more significant: Bernini himself, called to Paris in 1660 to draw the prospectus of the Louvre, was diplomatically eliminated by Colbert and the national party; in 1670 his project was replaced by the famous colonnade of Claude Perrault and in 1686 his equestrian Louis XIV, splendid and lyrical marble, was relegated to the extremity of the small lake of the Swiss, in the park of Versailles.

It is evident that even in Versailles or in the Louvre there are Italianisms; The suppression of the roofs would suffice to reveal the Italian influence, which makes us think, according to Saint Simon, of a house “dont les combles auraient brûlé”. But as a whole, Versailles, a shining scenography of victory and apotheosis, overlooking the esplanades, reflected in its basins, in the middle of the woods, in a subservient nature, preceded by a fan of converging avenues, is the sovereign image of France classical.

Near the end of the century. XVII the long effort had its crowning glory: French art, master of every means and perfect technique, then expressed itself with its purest grace. Places des Victoires, Place Vendôme, the colonnade of Versailles (1699), the last works of the Mansard, are happy creations. Marly, who eclipsed them all, is unfortunately no more than a memory. With the students of the Mansard, G.-G. Boffrand, J.-A. Gabriel, the French art of smiling grandeur, suited to the needs of life, truly Parisian, although partly with Nordic influences, emancipated itself entirely from Italy, and began the conquest of the province and Europe. And you have the royal squares of Rennes and Bordeaux, the French gate in Lille, the Peyrou in Montpellier, the gardens of La Fontaine in Nîmes, the Rohan palace in Strasbourg (1730), the works of Blondel in Metz, the Stanislas square in Nancy (1755), due to Boffrand and Heré, the castles of Commercy and Lunéville, countless houses and castles in Paris and in the provinces (Bordeaux, Montpellier, Aix-en-Provence) and throughout the Rhineland. It is a second period of expansion that recalls the glory of Gothic art.

In painting, the rivals or pupils of Le Brun, Mignard, La Fosse, Jouvenet, Coypel, France Lemoine, France de Troy repeated the Bolognese or followed Pietro da Cortona more or less skillfully. But Watteau, who died in 1721, finds a new genre, from easel, of an admirable execution, of romantic sentiment, with a breath of poetry between dream and life that Giorgione can remember. He never saw Italy, which was for him, as for Shakespeare, a dream, a desire. Painting is now adapting to private life, it becomes intimate, familiar; the great decoration remaining reserved for the tapestries with De Troy, with Natoire, with Boucher. The regular establishment of the Salons since 1737, the public has ensured them, spreads them among amateurs; finally the atmosphere suitable for genre painting is formed. In the Salons the fame of Chardin, Greuze, Boucher, Fragonard, portrait painters such as Tocqué, La Tour, Aved, landscape painters such as Vernet is formed. Sculpture, more slowly, followed the same direction as the other arts. No more traces of Italianism in the enchanting Duchess of Burgundy by A. Coysevox (1712), in the Bath of the nymphs by Girardon, in the busts of J.-B. Lemoyne, in the powerful works of J.-B. Pigalle and E. Bouchardon, who in the Fountain of via Grenelle (1739) resumes a way of relief (renewing J. Goujon) which will later be that of Cl.-M. Clodion.

Formation of France Classical Arts

About the author