French Baroque

17th-century French art is generally referred to as Baroque, but from the mid to late 17th century, the style of French art shows a classical adherence to certain rules of proportion and sobriety uncharacteristic of the Baroque as it was practiced in Southern and Eastern Europe during the same period.

The name of Grand Siècle (Grand Century) designates in France the seventeenth century, which is one of the richest periods in the history of this country. First used to describe the reign of Louis XIV (1661-1715), historiography now applies it to a longer period that encompasses the entire seventeenth century and runs from the reign of Henry IV – who sees the recovery of the royal authority and the end of the wars of religion – until the death of Louis XIV, that is from 1589 to 1715. During this period marked by the monarchical absolutism, the kingdom of France dominates or, failing that, marks durably Europe thanks to its military expansion and its ever-increasing cultural influence. In the second half of the century, the courts of Europe in search of radiation, princely or royal, take as a model that of the “Sun King” and its attributes. Language, art, fashion and French literature spread across Europe. A very influential French influence that will also mark the entire eighteenth century.

Louis XIII style
In the early part of the 17th century, late mannerist and early Baroque tendencies continued to flourish in the court of Marie de’ Medici and Louis XIII. Art from this period shows influences from both the north of Europe (Dutch and Flemish schools) and from Roman painters of the Counter-Reformation. Artists in France frequently debated the merits between Peter Paul Rubens (the Flemish baroque, voluptuous lines and colors) and Nicolas Poussin (rational control, proportion, Roman classicism).

There was also a strong Caravaggio school represented in the period by the candle-lit paintings of Georges de La Tour. The wretched and the poor were featured in an almost Dutch manner in the paintings by the three Le Nain brothers. In the paintings of Philippe de Champaigne there are both propagandistic portraits of Louis XIII’ s minister Cardinal Richelieu and other more contemplative portraits of people in the Jansenist sect.

Residential architecture
However, under Louis XIV, the Baroque as it was practiced in Italy was not in French taste (Bernini’s famous proposal for redesigning the Louvre was rejected by Louis XIV.) Through propaganda, wars and great architectural works, Louis XIV launched a vast program designed for the glorification of France and his name. The Palace of Versailles, initially a tiny hunting lodge built by his father, was transformed by Louis XIV into a marvelous palace for fêtes and parties. Architect Louis Le Vau, painter and designer Charles Le Brun and the landscape architect André Le Nôtre created marvels : fountains danced; wandering revelers discovered hidden grottos in the gardens.

The initial impetus for this transformation of Versailles is generally linked to the private château Vaux-le-Vicomte built for Louis XIV’s minister of Finance Nicolas Fouquet. Having offered a lavish festival for the king in the newly finished residence in 1661 (Le Brun, Le Vau, Le Nôtre, the poet La Fontaine, the playwright Molière were all under Fouquet’s patronage), the minister was accused of misappropriation of funds and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The architects and artists under his patronage were all put to work on Versailles.

The court of Louis XIV
In this period, Louis’ minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert established royal control over artisanal production in France; henceforth France would no longer purchase luxury goods from abroad, but would, herself, set the standard for quality. This control was also seen in the creation of an academy of painting and sculpture, which maintained a hierarchy of genres in painting (the “noblest,” according to André Félibien in 1667, being history painting), a strong use of pictorial rhetoric, and a strict sense of decorum in subject matter.

Furnishings and interior designs from this period are referred to as Louis XIV-style; the style is characterized by weighty brocades of red and gold, thickly gilded plaster molding, large sculpted sideboards, and heavy marbling.

In 1682 Versailles was transformed into the official residence of the king; eventually the Hall of Mirrors was built; other smaller châteaux, like the Grand Trianon, were built on the grounds, and a huge canal featuring gondolas and gondoliers from Venice was created.

Through his wars and the glory of Versailles, Louis became, to a certain degree, the arbiter of taste and power in Europe and both his château and the etiquette in Versailles were copied by the other European courts. Yet the difficult wars at the end of his long reign and the religious problems created by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes made his last years dark ones.

It was during this period that the arts flourished in France in all fields, in a context of peace found after the wars of religion of the end of the sixteenth century and assertion of the absolute power of the king. If the Italian Baroque influences French artists, the seventeenth century sees the birth of a French art vocabulary borrowed from classicism and references to the ancient style that will gradually have an influence on a European scale. From the second half of the seventeenth century, Paris replaced Rome as the artistic capital of Europe, a role it will not leave until the twentieth century. The French models are spread throughout Northern Europe at the end of the century, for example the mansion between courtyard and garden, which is really developing from Paris throughout the century, French gardens set to point by André Le Nôtre, furniture Louis XIV style or the great royal residences of European courts, built on the model of the Palace of Versailles.

The Dome des Invalides in Paris, an example of classical French architecture.
Throughout the century, the arts in France are embodied by great figures in all artistic fields. The political context favors this emulation: artistic control is very much alive, be it royal, ecclesiastical or private. The collection of works of art, previously undeveloped, is spreading in aristocratic circles, royal collections are greatly enriched, especially under Louis XIV. Sovereigns undertake major urban planning campaigns, particularly in Paris, which must be able to compete with Rome and other major European capitals such as Madrid and London. Palaces are built, large royal squares are created, bridges and hospitals are built. The Louvre and the Tuileries are considerably enlarged under Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV.

The Tridentine Counter-Reformation and the subsequent revival of piety after the divisions of the Wars of Religion led to the construction or reconstruction of churches in the Baroque or Classical style. Their sets are inexhaustible sources of work for painters and sculptors. In the seventeenth century, they will often be formed in Rome, which is then the artistic capital of Europe, before returning to France where they import the latest stylistic novelties. This is the case of Simon Vouet, whose return to Rome in 1627 is an important date for the evolution of painting in France. A French Caravaggesque school was born in Rome in the 1610s, with Vouet as well, the remarkable figure of Valentin de Boulogne. Two of the greatest artists of the century, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, perform almost all of their career in Rome, but have a significant influence on French painting in their lifetime.

In France, Paris becomes the artistic capital, attracting artists from all over the country but several provincial foci are distinguished by their liveliness, as Toulouse, Lyon and Lorraine where Georges de La Tour, one of the most original representatives of Caravaggio. In Paris, artists as diverse as the Le Nain Brothers, Philippe de Champaigne, Eustache Le Sueur, Charles Le Brun, the great decorator of Louis XIV’s palaces, Pierre Mignard, and Hyacinthe Rigaud, the most sought-after portraitist at the end, work. of the century.

The Louis XIII style
At the beginning of the 17th century, the end of Mannerism and the beginning of the Baroque in the court of María de Médici and Luis XIII coincided. The art of this period showed influences from the north of Europe both from the Dutch and the Flemish schools and from the Roman painters of the Counter-Reformation. Among the artists there was a debate between the supporters of Rubens (color, freedom, spontaneity, the baroque) and the supporters of Nicolas Poussin (drawing, rational control, proportion, Roman classicism). At the beginning of the century, Caravagism also stood out, a pictorial tendency influenced by Caravaggio and which had its greatest exponent in France with Georges de La Tour with his paintings lit with candles.

Just as tenebrism was successful in provincial France, classicism took root in the court and in Paris, between an audience of aristocrats and the upper bourgeoisie. The French classicism of the time of Louis XIII was dominated by the figures of two artists who worked in Rome: Nicolas Poussin and Claudio Lorena and were in turn influenced notably by the classicism of Annibale Carracci and his followers. Of the latter, landscapes stand out especially, which influenced romanticism. Both Poussin and Lorena satisfied all tastes of French collectors, especially Richelieu and Mazarino, who acquired their works.

Another painter who also developed his career in Rome, but whose works were acquired in France, was Gaspard Dughet. In Paris, Laurent de La Hyre and Jacques Stella worked.

In the French court, the portrait was also cultivated, especially at this point the work of Philippe de Champaigne, who cultivated both the simple, intimate portrait of great psychological penetration, and the courtier, in which they presented themselves to kings and great figures with all their splendor. The cut portrait is usually standing, with accessories such as columns or curtains. In the paintings by Ph. De Champaigne, there are two portraits of Louis XIII, the triple portrait of Cardinal Richelieu and the portraits of members of the Jansenists, a group to which he belonged since 1645.

At mid-century the mainstream was the atticism, style characterized by its peculiar refinements. Represent this trend Eustache Le Sueur, Sébastien Bourdon, Nicolas Chaperon and Nicolas Loir.

It is a current that occurred mostly in Paris. They used to paint on behalf of patrons, both of the church and lay people.

The aticists preferred to represent themes of classical antiquity, treating them in a precious way. The compositions are simple, but within them included sophisticated codes and symbols that the refined commissioners knew how to decipher.

The characters appear in calm, relaxed, static attitudes. They were dressed elegantly, with clothes that folded and undulated in the classical manner. The gestures were delicate, the expressions cold.

Predominates the drawing on the color, being this one of the soft tonalities, like the gray or the pink. The only color with a certain intensity is blue.

They painted on glued fabrics directly on the French board.

The court of Louis XIV
Although with some predecessor, Nicolas Poussin became a painter of the court. Most of his life was spent in Rome. Cardinal Richelieu ordered him to return to France to hold this position for about a year, dying in 1665. Poussin is the author of a treatise, The Expression of the Passions.

During the reign of Louis XIV, the classicism was identified with the “great taste”, being the most influential figure was Charles Le Brun, atticist in his youth, which marked the official style of the time. Although the initiator is considered Simon Vouet, former tenebrist, is undoubtedly Le Brun the academic figure par excellence, and who best knew how to defend the artistic ideal of the Sun King. He was appointed First Painter of the King in 1664, and directed the work of Versailles.

The creation, in 1648, of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, under the auspices of Cardinal Mazarin, was instrumental in creating official artistic lines at the service of the monarchy.

Thanks to the Academy and the orders of King Louis XIV for the decoration of the Palace of Versailles, the classicism will make this trend the official movement of France and will greatly influence a generation of French painters and the rest of Europe.

Pierre Mignard, successor to Le Brun, followed the same trend, but with greater lavishness.

The academy established the hierarchy of genres in painting, occupying the last place the landscape and being the most noble of the genres the painting of history. This used a very marked pictorial rhetoric and a strict sense of what was considered decorous.

In 1672, Le Brun is in favor of the line (Poussin) to the detriment of color (Rubens). Thus, it gives character and normalises the classical style, the work of Poussin symbolizes the virtues of clarity, logic and order, principles of academicism.

In the portrait of court highlighted Hyacinthe Rigaud and Nicolas de Largillière. This one, and Jean Jouvenet personify the last moments of this current.

As in other disciplines, classicism in painting tends toward an ideal of perfection and beauty, inspired by what is believed then to be the virtues of antiquity.

Fresco compositions are made, especially for the decoration of domes, and oils on canvas smaller than the usual size of Baroque painting.

The painting chooses noble themes and preferably inspired by antiquity or Greco-Roman mythology. However, religious paintings were also frequent. The portrait is also cultivated, starting with those of the king, in lavish arrangements, and following those of nobles and bourgeois who wanted to be portrayed.

Finally, the landscape takes on great importance, treated “Italian style”, that is, views with buildings in perspective and giving great importance to light. The painters took notes of the natural one but then recreated those landscapes in their studies, using them as decoration for the mythological scenes.

Composition and drawing should take precedence over color and the concept of seduction of the senses. The compositions are closed, tending to a pyramid scheme, with centered figures; it is not represented with realism, but rather the characters are idealized. They are posing, calmly, avoiding the forced or exaggerated postures so typical of the baroque.

In sculpture, the figures of Jacques Sarazin, François Anguier emerge in the first part of the century. Under Louis XIV are distinguished Pierre Puget, who is also a painter and architect, and François Girardon and Antoine Coysevox who work for the great orders of the king at Versailles and Paris alongside Martin Desjardins, of Dutch origin. In architecture, Salomon de Brosse, Jacques Lemercier and François Mansart develop the vocabulary of classical French architecture, found in castles and mansions they build for the king and the aristocracy. Under Louis XIV, the king’s favorite architects are Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Louis Le Vau.

The French influence is also evident in the other arts: the designer of gardens André Le Nôtre creates the canonical formula of the French garden which spreads quickly throughout Europe. French furniture becomes a model, thanks to the creations of the cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle. Renowned engravers such as Jacques Callot and Abraham Bosse, as well as renowned goldsmiths from all over Europe, made Louis XIV’s Grande Argenterie, unfortunately only a few years after its creation to cover war costs. of the King.

The art of tapestry flourished again in France in the seventeenth century, thanks to the creation of the Royal Gobelins Manufactory. The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture was founded in 1648 and allowed to centralize artistic creation in the kingdom, sanctioning an evolution of the status of painters and sculptors, perceived no longer as simple craftsmen but as true practitioners of the liberal arts, like men of letters or scientists. In the second half of the century, Paris replaced Rome as the heart of European artistic debates, and in architecture the Versailles palace model and that of the French private mansion, especially for the interior decor, have a lasting influence in Europe.

Some of the most famous architectural achievements of the Grand Siècle are the Palace of Versailles, the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte, the Invalides complex, the Place des Vosges, the Place Vendôme, the square courtyard and the colonnade of the Louvre as well as the Pont Neuf in Paris. The military architecture is embodied by the innovations of Vauban, which strengthens the coast and the borders of the country through a network of citadels and forts designed rationally in a checkered pattern.

Decorative arts

Louis XIII style
The Louis XIII style reflects numerous Spanish, Flemish and Italian influences, lacking the “national” character that “Luis XIV” later claimed or the French goût (“French taste”) characteristic of the previous century (“Renacimento” style).

It was characterized by straight lines, which give it a severe appearance, sometimes tempered by decorative richness. The feet are usually in the form of a column, they rise from a square châssis à boules, although most of the preserved examples have a pediment in balustrades or à décor tourné, with an entretoise (“brace”) in the form of H, with the front feet joined at the top by a decorative reinforcement crossbar. Among other furniture, the cabinets in ebony stand out, with simple lines, a square and massive structure. The decoration of engraved leaves and flowers accompanies scenes of religious or mythological themes, of little marked relief. The decorative exuberance marks a flamenco origin, which is reproduced by local artisans. The importation of Italian products by Cardinal Mazzarino led to an emulation for luxury among the court nobility, which attracted foreign craftsmen. The famous Dutch cabinetmaker Pierre Golle and the Italians Domenico Cucci and Philippe Caffieri worked at the Louvre. The Frenchman Jean Macé de Blois, trained in the Netherlands, worked for the Crown and created the French school of marquetry in which André Charles Boulle later stood out.

Louis XIV style
The Louis XIV style was characterized by an increasingly luxurious furniture, but contrary to the previous styles was not inspired by architecture.Distinct two types of furniture: the d’apparat (“appliance”), richly decorated with plaster and inlays, of solid gilded wood, and the bourgeois (“bourgeois”), in solid wood, the symmetry was absolute, and the ostentatious dimensions. The sources of the motifs were Italian and old (Rome victorieuse, gracieuse, Jules César, etc.) The panneaux had a characteristic style: they could be cast in the four corners, in the upper two and cintrés or even cintrés à ressauts. feet were made in balusters or consoles. The entretoises went from the form in H to the form in X. The marquetry knew an important development with the marqueterie Boulle (André-Charles Boulle).

Combining baroque (triumphant and majestic) and classicist aesthetics (solemn and heroic), the Louis XIV style was considered particularly suitable for expressing Bourbon absolutism. It reached its maturity between 1685 and 1690, under Charles Le Brun, who directs the decoration of the galerie des glaces (“gallery of mirrors”) of Versailles, and of Colbert, who in 1662 bought for the Crown the manufacture des Gobelins, where organizes, under the name of Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne, the production of furniture destined for royal residences, a perfect example of real “colbertista” manufacture.

The work of Boulle testifies to the excellence achieved by craftsmanship and cabinetmaking of the time. Adopting the ideal style of Le Brun, with a classical repertoire, he created furniture that expressed the grandeur (“grandeur”) that was intended. His technique, baptized with his name, designates a type of marquetry composed of écaille de tortue (“turtle scale”) of brass, enamel and ivory. The vibration of light on the surfaces is characteristic, together with the great variety of galbes et courbes of the furniture and the richness of the materials.

At the turn of the century, the Boulle compositions were imbued with the style of the great decorator Jean Bérain who, together with Pierre Lepautre, brought a new vividness to the decorative arts, freeing them from the solemn classicism demanded by Le Brun and evolving towards the Regency style (now in the Rococo period).

The most characteristic furniture of the Louis XIV style was the fauteuil (“armchair”), as well as beds, consoles (with two or three rows of drawers, a model created in the 1690s), tables, mirrors, guéridons (round boards with tripods) of finely sculpted and gilded wood, also called torchères) and large cabinets (rectangular plan, ledge and complex molding). The bureau is an evolution of the cabinet, with one of its best examples in the bureau Mazarin.

Gardening and landscaping
The French garden or “à la française” (jardin à la française), 18 of which the gardens of Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte and Chantilly (all by André Le Nôtre) are prime examples, were a gardening model, opposite the English garden.

Great success was the treatise Antoine Joseph Dezallier d’Argenville, La Théorie et la pratique du jardinage, où l’on traite à fond des beaux jardins appelés comunément les jardins de propreté (editions of 1709, 1713 and 1732).

It should not be confused with musical classicism, whose chronology is later (late eighteenth and early nineteenth).

Literature and philosophy
French literature is exceptionally lively throughout the seventeenth century. In particular, the theater, which was underdeveloped during the Renaissance, is in full swing with the tragedies of Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine, the comedies of Molière and the creation of the Comédie-Française. Poetry flourished especially in the first half of the century with Agrippa d’Aubigné, Théophile de Viau and François de Malherbe. The novel is a great success with Madame de La Fayette’s La Princesse de Cleves but also Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astrée and Paul Scarron’s comic works. The reign of Louis XIV is marked by authors whose most famous writings have since been considered, each in their genre, as classics of French language and literature: La Fontaine and his Fables, Bossuet and his funeral orations, Nicolas Boileau and his poetic Art which defines the classical ideal of the century, Racine, which brings classical tragedy to its highest degree of perfection, Molière for comedy and Charles Perrault with his tales which fix the French oral tradition. Among the memorialists who delivered the portrait of the time are Cardinal de Retz, Madame de Sevigne and Saint-Simon. The most famous moralists are La Bruyère with his Characters and La Rochefoucauld with his Maxims. French philosophy takes a prominent place in Europe thanks to the revival of Cartesian thought. In addition to Descartes, it is the time of Pascal, Mersenne, Gassendi and Pierre Bayle.

Versailles, model for Europe
In the second half of the century, Louis XIV installed the court outside Paris in the area created by his father near the capital, Versailles. He gradually enlarged the original castle and created huge gardens from scratch to constitute the largest royal palace in Europe, a symbol of monarchical absolutism and French power. The influence of the Versailles model is noticeable from the end of the seventeenth century onwards, and throughout the eighteenth century: the type of the grand palace immersed in a park on the outskirts of the capital is reproduced by all the European sovereigns: the palace of Caserta for the King of Naples, Sans-Souci at Potsdam for the King of Prussia, Peterhof for the Tsar of Russia, & c. The influence is not only architectural: the lifestyle and the French label are also imitated.

If French cultural influence is decisive in Europe in the eighteenth century in all fields, reinforced by the spirit of the Enlightenment and the uninterrupted vitality of the arts, France is gradually competing at the political and military level so that the term Grand Siècle is not applied to him. The seventeenth century and the reign of Louis XIV were erected as a model from the time of Louis XV and considered a golden age, a time when France asserts itself voluntarily on all levels, cultural as political and military .

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