Troubadour style  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Taking its name from medieval troubadours, the Troubadour Style was a French artistic movement across multiple media aiming to regain the idealised atmosphere of the Middle Ages. It can be seen as a reaction against Neoclassicism, which was coming to an end at the end of the Consulate, and became particularly associated with Josephine Bonaparte and Caroline Ferdinande Louise, duchesse de Berry. A comparable phenomenon in the United Kingdom and the USA was the Gothic Revival



The rediscovery of medieval civilization was one of the intellectual curiosities of the beginning of the 19th century, with much input from the Ancien Régime and its institutions, rites (the coronation ceremony dated back to the 16th century) and the medieval churches in which family ceremonies occurred.

Even while exhuming the remains of the kings and putting on the market a multitude of objects, works of art and elements of medieval architecture, the revolutionaries brought them back to life, it could be said. The 'Musée du monument français' (Museum of French Monuments), established in the former convent that would become Paris's École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, presented all this glorious debris of the Middle Ages as subjects of admiration for the public and as models of inspiration for students of the departments of engraving, painting and sculpture, but not those of architecture since teaching of this subject had been dissociated from the "beaux-arts" and placed in the École centrale des travaux publics under the direction of J.N.L Durand, a harsh promoter of the neoclassical architecture that characterized the styles of the Convention and Consulate). Later, from the Bourbon Restoration and under the impulse of Quatremère de Quincy and Mérimée, a new tradition of teaching architecture put it back under the fine arts umbrella, in the margins of the declining official school, beginning with private workshops that behaved as diocesan architects working for historic monuments that would give rise to the Société Centrale des Architectes and make Troubador-style architecture possible.

The resurgence of Christian feeling and in Christianity in the arts, with the publication in 1800 of Le Génie du Christianisme ('the Genius of Christianity'), played a major role in favour of edifying painting, sculpture and literature, often inspired by religion.

Artists and writers rejected the neo-antique rationalism of the French Revolution and turned towards a perceived glorious Christian past. The progress of the history and archaeology in the course of the 18th century began to bear fruit, at first, in painting. Paradoxically these painters of the past were unaware of the primitives of French painting, finding it too academic and not sufficiently filled with anecdote.

Napoleon himself did not disdain this artistic current: he took as his emblem the golden beehive on the grave of the Merovingian king Childeric I, rediscovered in the 17th century, and saw himself as the heir of the French monarchy. He also gave official recognition to the Middle Ages in the forms of his coronation, and tried to profit from other trappings of the medieval French kings, perhaps even their miraculous curative powers (Bonaparte visiting the plague-victims of Jaffa by Antoine-Jean Gros was read as a modern re-envisgaing of the thaumaturgical kings).


Public interest in the Middle Ages in literature first manifested itself in France and above all England. In France, this came with the adaptation and publication from 1778 of ancient chivalric romances by the Comte de Tressan (1707-1783) in his Bibliothèque des romans, and in England with the first fantastical romances, like the Castle of Otranto. These English romances inspired late 18th century French writers to follow suit, such as Donation de Sade with his Histoire secrete d'Isabelle de Baviere, reine de France.


In painting, the troubadour style was represented by history painting portraying edifying historical episodes, borrowing its smoothness, its minute and illusionistic description of detail, its rendering of fabrics, the intimate character of its familiar scenes and its other technical means from 17th century Dutch painting. It was brought to an end by the onset of Romanticism and the Revolution of 1848.


The first troubadour painting was presented at the Salon of 1802, under the French Consulate. It was a work by Fleury-Richard, "Valentine of Milan weeping for the death of his wife", a subject which had come to the artist during a visit to the "musée des monuments français", a museum of French medieval monuments. A tomb from this museum was included in the painting as that of the wife. Thanks to its moving subject matter, the painting was an enormous success - seeing it, David cried "This resembles nothing anyone else has done, it's a new effect of colour; the figure is charming and full of expression, and this green curtain thrown across this window renders the illusion complete". Fleury-Richard's descriptions and those of his contemporaries inform us the light filtered through the window was again filtered by the green curtain. David had judged right, the subject and the technique were new.

Fragonard's painting of François Premier reçu chevalier par Bayard (Francis I knighted by Bayard, Salon of 1819) has to be read not as a rediscovery of a medieval past, but as a memory of a recent monarchic tradition.



A fashion for medieval architecture may be seen throughout 19th century Europe, originating in England, and a blooming of the Neogothic style, but in France this remains limited to certain 'feudal' buildings in the parks surrounding châteaux.

After the Troubadour style disappeared in painting, it seems to have continued (or re-emerged) in architecture, the decorative arts, literature and theatre.

Troubador buildings

Decorative arts


  • Aux sources de l'ethnologie française, l'Académie celtique, 1995, Nicole Belmont. This work traces the birth of the fashion for premodern architecture and literature, from the middle of the 18th century of the fad for the monuments of the architecture and literature (Middle Ages, High Middle Ages and Early Middle Ages) and the beginnings of new inventorising and research work on the topic among the Benedictines of Saint-Maur.


  • Exhibition catalogue, Le Style Troubadour, Bourg-en-Bresse, musée de Brou 1971.
  • Marie-Claude Chaudonneret, La Peinture Troubadour, deux artistes lyonnais, Pierre Révoil (1776-1842), Fleury Richard (1777-1852), Arthéna, Paris, 1980.
  • Marie-Claude Chaudonneret, "Tableaux Troubadour", Revue du Louvre, n° 5/6, 1983, pages 411-413.
  • François Pupil, Le Style Troubadour ou la nostalgie du bon vieux temps, Nancy, Presses. Universitaires de Nancy, 1985.
  • Guy Stair Sainty (editor), Romance and Chivalry: History and Literature Reflected in Early Nineteenth-Century French Painting, Stair Sainty Mathiesen Gallery, New York, 1996.
  • Maïté Bouyssy (editor), "Puissances du gothique", Sociétés & Représentations, n° 20, décembre 2005, edited by Bertrand Tillier.



  • Guy Massin-Le Goff, Châteaux néo-gothiques en Anjou, Edition Nicolas Chaudun, Paris, 2007.

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