French Renaissance  

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"It is the period of the Renaissance, the days when Europe resounds with the fame of our gallant King Francis I and his deeds of prowess in love and war, the days when Titian and Primaticcio were leaving behind on French palace walls immortal traces of their genius, when Jean Goujon was carving his admirable figures round the fountains of the Louvre and across its front, when Rabelais was uttering his stupendous guffaw, that was the Comedy of all human life, when Marot and Ronsard were writing their graceful stanzas, when the fair "Marguerite des Marguerites," the Queenly Pearl of Pearls, was telling her delightful tales of love and adventure in the Heptameron."--Henri Vigneau

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The French Renaissance is roughly the period from Charles VIII of France through Henri IV of France and is said to begin with the French invasion of Italy in 1494. The reigns of François I (from 1515 to 1547) and his son Henri II (from 1547 to 1559) are generally considered the apex of the French Renaissance. After Henri II's unfortunate death in a joust, the country was ruled by his widow Catherine de Medici and her sons François II, Charles IX and Henri III, and although the Renaissance continued to flourish, the French Wars of Religion between huguenots and catholics ravished the country.

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 Jean Clouet (and his son François Clouet) and the Italians Rosso Fiorentino, Primaticcio and Niccolò dell'Abbate of the (so-called) first School of Fontainebleau (from 1531). Leonardo da Vinci was also invited to France by François I, but other than the paintings which he brought with him, he produced little for the French king.

King Francis I

In France, King Francis I imported Italian art, commissioned Italian artists (including Leonardo da Vinci), and built grand palaces at great expense, beginning the French Renaissance. Writers such as Rabelais and Pierre de Ronsard also borrowed from the spirit of the Italian Renaissance. From France, the spirit of the age spread to the Low Countries and to the Holy Roman Empire and Scandinavia in the German Renaissance, and finally to Britain by the late 16th century.

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