The Château of Fontainebleau features as one of the most important in the history of royal France, but it is perhaps not very well known. Dozens of French kings called it home at least for part of the year, all the way up to the year 1870, but it is perhaps not well known to Americans. You first spot it down a row of trees. It keeps going…
And going… Perhaps it is best known in art historical circles less for its obtuse size, befitting its importance as a royal residence, than for the critical role the interior decoration played in the history of the northern European Renaissance’s debt to Fifteenth Century Italian artists. Apparently Napoleon Bonaparte abdicated on these steps below, built by Henry II; they were recently renovated hence the reason they look so clean.
The Gallery of Francis I is the real star of the show, however, and what I had been excited to see. While Francis I is most famous for inviting Leonardo da Vinci to France, he also brought Rosso Fiorentino and Primaticcio (no, I don’t expect anyone to know who they are) north to decorate this long passageway in the last Mannerist style of the Late Renaissance.
Francis I messed around in Italy for years, and the elephant and the allusion to Hannibal is obvious. I think you can also see the obvious influence of the wood paneling and sculpting in the homes of many of the elite of St. Louis society. Our own Central Library, while in addition to Italian palazzi, owes a debt to French Renaissance interior decorating.
Wood carving has decidedly moved away from the Gothic into the early modern period, borrowing from Classical motifs. It is revolutionary for the time and place.
Here is Francis I, very much looking like a Roman Emperor even though he is still dressed in contemporary clothing.
The ballroom was commissioned by Henry II, but just look at the coffered ceiling and compare it to the ceilings of many of the great commissions of the golden age of St. Louis architecture. Not a coincidence!
The chapel is something else… Italian do ecclesiastic architecture better than the French after the great Gothic cathedrals, which are coming up soon.