Galerie Francois I, Palace of Fontainebleau, Seine-et-Marne, France

The François-I gallery is a large ceremonial gallery located on the first floor of the royal castle of Fontainebleau. Built between 1528 and 1530, the Galerie Francois I measures approximately 60 meters long and 6 meters wide, and was once a covered bridge with openings on both sides. The Gallery links the apartments of Francis to the Chapel of the Trinity. King Francis I had it built and decorated in order to connect his apartments to the Trinity Chapel. He kept the keys and showed it to his distinguished guests.

The Galerie Francois I, the first great gallery in France and the origination of the Renaissance style in France, the gallery is lined with frescoes by Rosso Fiorentino, made 1522-40 and framed in carved stucco. The intervention in the 1530s of the Italian artists Rosso Fiorentino and Le Primatice made this gallery the most representative decorative ensemble of the first Fontainebleau School, and testifies to Francis I’s enthusiasm for Italian art.

Francis I
Francis I was King of France, by the time he ascended the throne in 1515, the Renaissance had arrived in France, and Francis became an enthusiastic patron of the arts. At the time of his accession, the royal palaces of France were ornamented with only a scattering of great paintings, and not a single sculpture, not ancient nor modern. A prodigious patron of the arts, he promoted the emergent French Renaissance by attracting many Italian artists to work for him, including Leonardo da Vinci, who brought the Mona Lisa, which Francis had acquired.

Francis’ reign saw important cultural changes with the growth of central power in France, the spread of humanism and Protestantism, and the beginning of French exploration of the New World. Jacques Cartier and others claimed lands in the Americas for France and paved the way for the expansion of the first French colonial empire. For his role in the development and promotion of the French language, he became known as le Père et Restaurateur des Lettres (the ‘Father and Restorer of Letters’).

Francis patronized many great artists of his time, including Andrea del Sarto and Leonardo da Vinci; the latter of whom was persuaded to make France his home during his last years. While da Vinci painted very little during his years in France, he brought with him many of his greatest works, including the Mona Lisa (known in France as La Joconde), and these remained in France after his death. Other major artists to receive Francis’ patronage included the goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini and the painters Rosso Fiorentino, Giulio Romano, and Primaticcio, all of whom were employed in decorating Francis’ various palaces. He also invited architect Sebastiano Serlio, who enjoyed a fruitful late career in France. Francis also commissioned a number of agents in Italy to procure notable works of art and ship them to France.

Francis poured vast amounts of money into new structures. He continued the work of his predecessors on the Château d’Amboise and also started renovations on the Château de Blois. Early in his reign, he began construction of the magnificent Château de Chambord, inspired by the architectural styles of the Italian Renaissance, and perhaps even designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Francis rebuilt the Louvre Palace, transforming it from a medieval fortress into a building of Renaissance splendour. He financed the building of a new City Hall (the Hôtel de Ville) for Paris in order to have control over the building’s design. He constructed the Château de Madrid in the Bois de Boulogne and rebuilt the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The largest of Francis’ building projects was the reconstruction and expansion of the Château de Fontainebleau, which quickly became his favourite place of residence, as well as the residence of his official mistress, Anne, Duchess of Étampes.

Francois I Gallery
In April 1528 Francis I commissioned Gilles Le Breton for a programme of building (completed 1540) at Fontainebleau. The Cour de l’Ovale was to be rebuilt using the old foundations and retaining the old keep, while a gallery, now the Galerie François I, was to be constructed linking this with the Trinitarian abbey to the west, which was soon demolished and replaced by the Cour du Cheval Blanc. The north range of the Cour du Cheval Blanc survives almost unaltered and is of plastered rubble with brick dressings.

The medieval gatehouse (now called the Porte Dorée) in the south-west corner was rebuilt in Renaissance style, based on the entrance to the ducal palace at Urbino. Adjoining the Porte Dorée to the east is the vast Salle de Bal, designed (1541) by Sebastiano Serlio, and next to it in turn is the Chapelle St-Saturnin, on the site of the original medieval chapel. The facades are of an austere simplicity, as the stone used was unsuitable for sculpture, while the interior received rich and permanent decoration.

In 1530 Rosso Fiorentino was entrusted with the decorations of the interior, later joined (1532) by Francesco Primaticcio. Together they developed the style of the first Fontainebleau school, in effect the first extensive and consistent display of Mannerism in northern Europe. Louis XIII’s major work at Fontainebleau was the addition of the magnificent horseshoe-shaped staircase (1632-1634) in the Cour du Cheval Blanc, designed by Jean Androuet Du Cerceau. When Louis XIV came to the throne (1643) Fontainebleau was by far the finest of his palaces. In 1685 he created the beautiful apartment with white and gold decoration in the Pavillon de la Porte Dorée for Mme de Maintenon, and he also enlarged his own bedroom (1714).

The gallery was entrusted to the Italian Rosso Fiorentino who decorated it in an original way with paintings, paneling, frescoes and stuccoes, from March 1535 to May 1537 for the stuccos, from 1536 for the frescoes, and who completed it just before the visit of Charles V at Christmas 1539. The carved walnut woodwork is the work of the Italian carpenter Francisco Scibec de Carpi who made them from 1535 with rare species, but turned almost exclusively to walnut wood. walnut from 1539, when he executed the parquet flooring of the gallery. The coffered ceiling plays a rather secondary role in the overall decorative scheme and displays a rather classic style.

The king’s monogram, bearing a salamander can be found everywhere. Most of the stuccos appear as large figures in high relief accompanied by falling fruit. Rosso Fiorentino and Le Primatice spread the motif of cut leather throughout the decorative ensemble, which would later become a school and be repeated many times. The paintings, divided into two groups of six frescoes separated by a central bay, represent stories from Greco-Roman mythology and allegories whose meaning escapes us today, but which probably symbolize the good government of the king and praise Francis I. The colors and style of these scenes are close to Florentine mannerism, where we can particularly see the influence of Michelangelo. In the central bay two oval scenes are represented: Danaé (by Le Primatice) and The Nymph of Fontainebleau (made in 1860 after a work by Rosso).

In the first northern bay is painted the fresco known as the Sacrifice (by Rosso Fiorentino), in which a mitred priest dressed in black stands near a flaming altar, surrounded by old men, women holding children and vase bearers. The priest represented could be Saint Francis of Paula, or else King Francis I himself, the fresco thus evoking the religious role of the king and his skills as a priest, which he exercises in the same way as his function as sovereign. The stuccoes around the fresco represent the sacrifice of a ram and that of a bull, still in the religious theme expressed by the central fresco.

In the first south bay is painted the fresco of Hunted Ignorance (work by Rosso Fiorentino), with on the right the representation of Francis I as a Roman emperor, crowned with laurel, holding a sword and a book. Ignorance, represented by blindfolded characters, is chased away. The stucco framing the fresco represents two male and female satyrs and their children. This fresco could evoke the cultural policy of Francis I, in that it helps to ward off ignorance and thus places the king as guarantor of knowledge. The two satyrs would illustrate the result of ignorance, leading to vice.

In the second northern bay, there is the famous fresco of the Royal Elephant (by Rosso Fiorentino) also known as The Elephant with the caparison (symbol of strength, sagacity, and sustainability of royalty) represented in a square, bearing the number royal on the forehead (salamander shield) and fleur-de-lis on the caparison, thus representing King Francis I himself. At his feet are three allegories of air, earth and water (the man with lightning represents Jupiter, the man with the trident Neptune, and the one accompanied by Cerberus Pluto, in reference to the three spaces over which reigns Francis I), as well as a stork which would symbolize filial love, this representing the king’s mother, Louise of Savoy. On the sides are painted two frescoes on the theme of mythological abductions: on the right Saturn disguised as a horse kidnapping Philyra, and on the left Jupiter, changed into a bull, kidnapping Europa. The stucco lightly illustrates the History of Alexander the Great, notably with Alexander cutting the Gordian knot, under the fresco.

In the second south bay a fresco painted by Rosso Fiorentino illustrates Francis I as emperor, holding a pomegranate in his hand, while a kneeling child hands him other similar fruits. The king is surrounded by soldiers, bourgeois and peasants, dressed in Roman and Gallo-Roman costumes. This scene would evoke the king as defender of the unity of the State: he holds a pomegranate, reputed to have many seeds, which the king thus reunites. The diversity of social classes represented in his entourage would be a reference to the universal character of his government, applying to all his subjects, while the ancient costumes would place Francis I as a new Caesar. The stuccoes represent two embracing couples.

In the third northern bay is painted the fresco of The Fire (by Rosso Fiorentino), in which two figures carry an elderly man and woman on their shoulders, traditionally understood as a representation of the story of the twins of Catania, who fled the fire of their city in charge of their parents. However, a restoration showed that one of the figures was a young woman, while the Catan twins were two men. It could also be an allusion to the myth of Aeneas leaving Troy in flames and carrying his father Anchises on his shoulders; Erwin and Dora Panofsky also saw in it an allusion to the “dedication” of the two children of Francis I, hostages of Charles V in place of their father. The stuccoes represent on the left a bearded man dressed in breeches and on the right a young man wearing a loincloth, these two characters evoking filial love, while the fresco could refer to the devotion of the two sons of François I, they surrendering to the Spanish enemy in exchange for the king then prisoner in Madrid.

In the third south bay is painted (by Rosso Fiorentino) the fresco of Cleobis and Biton, in which the two young men carry their mother and lead her to a temple. Stucco bas-reliefs represent on the left Sidype among the plague victims, on the right the Death of Cleobis and Biton, and in the center Pera feeding Simon. All these scenes would symbolize the love of François I and Marguerite of Angoulême for their mother Louise of Savoy.

The central bay is painted with two oval scenes: to the north, The Nymph of Fontainebleau (made in 1860-1861 by the painter Alaux after a work by Rosso), and to the south, Danaé (by Le Primatice), with stucco made by Le Rosso representing female figures carrying baskets of fruit. The side frescoes illustrate the chariots of Apollo and Diana.

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In the fifth northern bay is visible The Vengeance of Nauplius (also known as The Shipwreck, or The Destruction of the Greek Fleet), by the Rosso, in which Nauplius, in the foreground, kills the panicked Greek sailors. The frescoes in the frames illustrate Neptune and Amymone, while empty niches are placed on either side of the fresco. The central fresco could symbolize the misfortunes caused by treachery and revenge, punished by divine anger. This fresco would thus be a direct evocation of the treachery of the constable of Bourbon, the latter having rallied to the Spanish enemies.

In the fifth south bay the fresco of The Death of Adonis is painted by Rosso. Adonis is featured in the foreground. Loves escape with his clothes. Venus is represented on her chariot in the middle of a cloud. Around it are represented allegories of Fortune, Love (Eros) and Adversity (a broken old woman holding hammers). The stuccoes represent on the left Cybele on her chariot with lions and a lioness, on the right an orgy scene, and in the center a chariot race. This central fresco symbolizing death and misfortune, as well as violent passion, could refer to the death of the dauphin François in 1536. The framing frescoes illustrate two embracing couples.

In the sixth northern bay is painted a fresco dedicated to The Education of Achilles by the centaur Chiron (by Rosso), in which we observe the young Greek hero performing a series of exercises (fencing, swimming, hunting etc.) with prisoners locked in a cage on the left. This fresco would illustrate the education of Francis I and thus the “ideal” education of a prince, while the prisoners would illustrate the form of “slavery” that the lack of education would constitute. The side frescoes represent Giants tied to trees.

In the sixth south bay a scene is painted by Rosso taken from a fable by Nicander of Colophon and illustrating perpetual youth lost by men. We can see at the top left the god Mercury coming to meet men announcing that Jupiter agrees to give them eternal youth. On the left are represented a group of young people, in the center the donkey carrying the youth is drinking while the serpent kidnaps the youth represented in the form of a young girl. Finally, on the right are old men. In the frames of the fresco are represented on the left: young people entering a temple, and on the right: allegories including slander (a three-headed woman surrounded by bees).

In the seventh northern bay, the scene of Venus and Cupid at the edge of a pool is visible (also entitled Venus frustrated or Venus trying to awaken sleeping Cupid), while Mars has gone to war, painted by Rosso. Three cupids carry a shield, a helmet, and a spear. The stuccoes represent a young man on the left and a young woman on the right. Bas-reliefs illustrate a naval battle on the left, and a cavalry battery on the right. This set could evoke the king as military leader, and his sadness at the idea of leaving his home in Fontainebleau (symbolized by Venus). Under the fresco is installed a painting made in 1540, representing a view of the Château de Fontainebleau with the François-I gallery and the Porte Dorée. In the seventh south bay there is a fresco (from Rosso) illustrating the fight of the centaurs and the lapiths. The stucco depicts young men blowing trumpets.

To the east, on the side of the bust of Francis I, violent scenes are painted: Defeat of Pavia, Captivity of the king in Madrid, Combat of the Centaurs and the Lapiths (by the Rosso), Youth and Old Age, The Destruction of the Greek fleet, etc. Under the scene of Venus and Cupid on the edge of a pool (also entitled Venus frustrated or Venus trying to wake sleeping Cupid, while Mars has gone to war, painted by Rosso) is represented, in a tableau produced in 1540, a view of the Château de Fontainebleau representing the François I gallery and the Porte Dorée. Rosso is also the author of The Vengeance of Nauplius, The Death of Adonis, or even scenes depicting The King Holding a Pomegranate, The Sacrifice, and The Hunted Ignorance. He also spread the pattern of cut leather which would later become popular.

To the west are notably represented Cleobis and Biton and The Twins of Catane as well as certain allegorical paintings: one of the most famous is that of The Elephant with the Caparison or The Royal Elephant (symbol of strength, sagacity, and continuity of royalty) which bears the royal cipher and represents King Francis I himself. At his feet are three allegories of air, earth and water (the lightning represents Jupiter, the trident Neptune, and Cerberus Pluto, in reference to the three spaces over which Francis I reigns), as well as a stork which would symbolize filial love, this one representing the king’s mother, Louise of Savoy. On the sides are painted two frescoes on the theme of mythological abductions: on the right Saturn disguised as a horse kidnapping Philyra, and on the left Jupiter, changed into a bull, kidnapping Europa.

Château de Fontainebleau
Fontainebleau is a lovely historic town 55.5 km south of Paris, France. It is renowned for its large and scenic forest that surrounds one almighty château, once a hunting lodge beloved of the kings of France. Built in the 12th century, this chateau is also a fabulous relic of French history, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Over nearly eight centuries, 34 emperors and two monarchs spent time in the estate, inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1981.

The Château de Fontainebleau enlarged in particular by François I, the residence of Fontainebleau is the only château that was lived in by every French monarch for more than eight centuries. With 1500 rooms, it is one of the biggest châteaux in France, and the most furnished in Europe. Testimony to the life of the official and initimate courts of the monarchs across the centuries, it embodies better than anywhere else the French ‘art de vivre’.

Surrounded by a vast park and neighboring the Fontainebleau forest, the castle is made up of elements of medieval, Renaissance, and classical styles. The overall effect is awe as successive monarchs added their own personal touches. Fontainebleau is an inspiring place, full of rich details. The most furnished chateau with the decor like Renaissance frescoes, precious porcelain, exceptional furniture through the Second Empire. A stroll in the sprawling gardens and along the canal designed by architect André Le Nôtre is a must.

It bears witness to the meeting between Italian art and French tradition expressed both in its architecture and in its interior decorations. This specificity is explained by the desire of François I to create in Fontainebleau a “new Rome ” in which Italian artists come to express their talent and influence French art. This is how the School of Fontainebleau was born, which represents the richest period of Renaissance art in France, and inspired French painting until the middle of the 17th century, and even beyond.

Famous for witnessing many of the emperor’s important turning points, “The true home of kings, the house of ages,” Napoleon once said about this vast castle built in the Classical and Renaissance styles. Napoleon had locked up the pope of the time there for a long time, Napoleon also signed his first declaration of abdication here Appreciate the double-horseshoe staircase in the main courtyard, the Cour d’Honneur, also known as the Farewell Courtyard, after Napoleon bade farewell there on 20 April 1814, before leaving for the Island of Elba.

Fontainebleau is not only famous for its part in Napoleon’s imperial adventures. Discover the Renaissance masterpieces commissioned by François I, the major projects of Henri IV, the refined decoration of Marie Antoinette, Napoleon I’s apartment, the splendour of Napoleon III and Eugenie, etc. Head toward the west wing, where you’ll find the Renaissance rooms and the Galerie de François Ier lavishly decorated by Rosso Florentino, a master of the School of Fontainebleau. Admire the dramatic chimney in the Guard Room, the original Saint-Saturnin Chapel, and Napoléon’s luxurious Throne Room.

Discover the Chinese Museum created by Empress Eugénie, and its precious antiques originating from China and Thailand. Explore rooms normally off-limits to the general public, like the luxurious theater created under Napoleon III in 1857, similar in its refined style to that of the Chateau de Versailles. There is also Marie-Antoinette’s Turkish boudoir, with its fabulous Oriental exuberance.

Situated in a park of 130 hectares, the château spreads its architecture around four main courtyards and is at the heart of three historic gardens including the largest parterre in Europe (11 hectares), the work of André Le Nôtre. Go boating on the Carp Pond, admire the Grand Parterre, also known as the French Garden, designed by Le Nôtre and Le Vau, or take a walk in the English Garden. The botanical and architectural imprint of each monarch promises a truly royal stroll in the park.

Rich in a first-rate architectural setting, the Château de Fontainebleau also has one of the most important collections of ancient furniture in France, and preserves an exceptional collection of paintings, sculptures, and art objects, dating from the 6th century in the nineteenth century. A favourite weekend getaway for Parisians, which gives a remarkable quality of air and life in the Paris region.

A little train and carriage rides are available for a fun jaunt around the grounds with the family, while initiations at hot air ballooning will soaring over the chateau and the Fontainebleau forest, one of the largest forests in the region. Take a break at the Café des Mariniers on the Cour de la Fontaine is well deserved. Appreciate a stop at the restaurant Les Petites Bouches de l’Empereur located in the heart of the château, in the wing known as the “belle Cheminée”, a stone’s throw from the Porte Dorée decorated by Primaticcio.

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