Culture of France
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The culture of France is very rich and diverse, reflecting regional differences as well as the influence of immigration. France plays since centuries an important worldwide role as a cultural center, with Paris as a world center of high culture and the international avant-garde (a position it later had to yield to the U. S.).
There is, technically speaking, no architecture named French Architecture, although that has not always been true. Gothic Architecture's old name was French Architecture (or Opus Francigenum). The term “Gothic” appeared later as a stylistic insult and was widely adopted. Northern France is the home of some of the most important Gothic cathedrals and basilicas, the first of these being the Saint Denis Basilica (used as the royal necropolis); other important French Gothic cathedrals are Notre-Dame de Chartres and Notre-Dame d'Amiens. The kings were crowned in another important Gothic church: Notre-Dame de Reims. Aside from churches, Gothic Architecture had been used for many religious palaces, the most important one being the Palais des Papes in Avignon.
During the Middle Ages, fortified castles were built by feudal nobles to mark their powers against their rivals. When King Philip II took Rouen from King John, for example, he demolished the ducal castle to build a bigger one. Fortified cities were also common, unfortunately most French castles did not survive the passage of time. This is why Richard the Lionheart's Château-Gaillard was demolished, as well as the Château de Lusignan. Some important French castles that survived are Chinon, Château d'Angers, the massive Château de Vincennes and the so called Cathar castles.
Before the appearance of this architecture France had been using Romanesque architecture like most of Western Europe (with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula, which used Mooresque architecture). Some of the greatest examples of Romanesque churches in France are the Saint Sernin Basilica in Toulouse and the remains of the Cluniac Abbey (largely destroyed during the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars).
The end of the Hundred Years' War marked an important stage in the evolution of French architecture. It was the time of the French Renaissance and several artists from Italy and Spain were invited to the French court; many residential palaces, Italian-inspired, were built, mainly in the Loire Valley. Such residential castles were the Château de Chambord, the Château de Chenonceau, or the Château d'Amboise. Following the renaissance and the end of the Middle Ages, Baroque Architecture replaced the gothic one. However, in France, baroque architecture found a greater success in the secular domain than in the religious one. In the secular domain the Palace of Versailles has many baroque features. Jules Hardouin Mansart can be said to be the most influential French architect of the baroque style, with his very famous baroque dome of Les Invalides. Some of the most impressive provincial baroque architecture is found in places that were not yet French such as the Place Stanislas in Nancy. On the military architectural side Vauban designed some of the most efficient fortresses of Europe and became a very influential military architect.
After the Revolution the Republicans favoured Neoclassicism although neoclassicism was introduced in France prior to the revolution with such building as the Parisian Pantheon or the Capitole de Toulouse. Built during the French Empire the Arc de Triomphe and Sainte Marie-Madeleine represent this trend the best.
Under Napoleon III a new wave of urbanism and architecture was given birth. If some very extravagant buildings such as the neo-baroque Palais Garnier were built, the urban planning of the time was very organised and rigorous. For example Baron Haussmann rebuilt Paris. The architecture associated to this era is named Second Empire in the English speaking world, the term being taken from the Second French Empire. These times also saw a strong Gothic-Revival trend across Europe, in France the associated architect was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. In the late 19th century Gustave Eiffel designed many bridges (like the Garabit viaduct) and remains one of the most influential bridge designer of his time, although he is best remembered for the Eiffel Tower.
In the 20th century the Swiss Architect Le Corbusier designed several buildings in France. More recently French architects have combined both modern and old architectural styles. The Louvre Pyramid is a good example of modern architecture added to an older building. Certainly the most difficult buildings to integrate within French cities are skyscrapers, as they are visible from afar. France's largest financial district is La Defense, where a significant number of skyscrapers are located. Other massive buildings that are a challenge to integrate into their environment are large bridges; a good example of the way this has been done is the Millau Viaduct. Some famous modern French architects include Jean Nouvel or Paul Andreu.
The earliest French literature dates from the Middle Ages when the area that is modern France did not have a single, uniform language. There were several languages and dialects and each writer used his own spelling and grammar. The author of many French mediaeval texts is unknown, for example Tristan and Iseult and Lancelot and the Holy Grail. Much mediaeval French poetry and literature was inspired by the legends of the Matter of France, such as the The Song of Roland and the various Chansons de geste. The “Roman de Renart”, written in 1175 by Perrout de Saint Cloude tells the story of the mediaeval character Reynard ('the Fox') and is another example of early French writing. The names of some authors from this period are known, for example Chrétien de Troyes and Duke William IX of Aquitaine, who wrote in Occitan.
An important 16th century writer was François Rabelais who influenced modern French vocabulary and metaphor. During the 17th century Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine and Molière's plays, Blaise Pascal and René Descartes's moral and philosophical books deeply influenced the aristocracy leaving an important heritage for the authors of the following decades. Jean de La Fontaine was an important poet from this century. French literature and poetry flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. The 18th century saw the works of writers, essayists and moralists such as Voltaire, Denis Diderot and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
At the turn of the 19th century symbolist poetry was an important movement in French literature, with poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé. The 19th century saw the writing of many French novels of world renown with Victor Hugo (Les Misérables), Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte-Cristo), and Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) among the most well-known in France and beyond. Other 19th century fiction writers include Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Théophile Gautier and Stendhal.
The Prix Goncourt is a French literary prize first awarded in 1903. Important writers of the 20th century include Marcel Proust, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Antoine de Saint Exupéry wrote Little Prince which has remained popular for decades with children and adults around the world.
Marianne is a symbol of the French Republic. She is an allegorical figure of liberty and the Republic and first appeared at the time of the French Revolution. The earliest representations of Marianne are of a woman wearing a Phrygian cap. The origins of the name Marianne are unknown, but Marie-Anne was a very common first name in the 18th century. Anti-revolutionaries of the time derisively called her La Gueuse (the Commoner). It is believed that revolutionaries from the South of France adopted the Phrygian cap as it symbolised liberty, having been worn by freed slaves in both Greece and Rome. Mediterranean seamen and convicts manning the galleys also wore a similar type of cap.
Under the Third Republic, statues, and especially busts, of Marianne began to proliferate, particularly in town halls. She was represented in several different manners, depending on whether the aim was to emphasise her revolutionary nature or her “wisdom”. Over time, the Phrygian cap was felt to be too seditious, and was replaced by a diadem or a crown. In recent times, famous French women have been used as the model for those busts. Recent ones include Sophie Marceau, and Laetitia Casta. She also features on everyday articles such as postage stamps and coins.
- French art
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