Baroque style in France had its peculiarities, dictated by political situation. If in Italy and Spain church was in the center of the art world, in the Low Countries – merchant class, here it was aristocracy. Establishing of absolute monarchy required style that would embody the glory and greatness of the King. So here baroque had a clear classicistic taste.
Under the influence of local Renaissance traditions, French baroque architecture is composed in comparison to its Italian variant. The involution of pure Italian baroque could hardly reflect the desired image of respectability, so even Bernini’s designs for the east front of the Louvre were declined. In the architecture of palaces, castles and city mansions severity of the style always predominates over artistic fantasy. The early period of baroque in France is connected with the first decades of the 17th cent. – times of reigning of Louis XIII. Its main representatives are Jacques Lemercier and Francoise Mansart. The period of Louis XIV is distinguished by élan and breadth of architectural conceptions. The leading architect of those days was a nephew of Francoise Mansart – Jules Hardouin-Mansart.
The palace architecture of the 17th cent. continued developing the medieval quadrangular structure of fortresses, that were popular since the time of Philip II Augustus. Buildings got rid of their defensive function, gradually approaching to the arranged and symmetrical U-shaped planning with clearly evolved main part and two side wings. They formed essential part of a baroque palace – cour d’honneur (from French “court of honor”) – a three-sided courtyard that served as a front entrance for the most honored guests. Apart from the premise itself, an architectural complex included service rooms, roads and gardens.
Ecclesiastic architecture orientated on roman, first of all centric types. But French temples had its own logic, different understanding of tectonics and organization of space. Facades were rendered with colossal order that subdued itself the general construction. Interiors were notable for their dazzling sumptuousness.
Roughly speaking, baroque tendencies were rather feeble at the beginning of the 17th cent. It was Simon Vouet, who brought them (although significantly classicized) to Paris after his stay in Rome. Caravaggist austere naturalism and experiments with light were used by Georges de La Tour. But he learnt it not from Italian, but from Dutch followers of this manner. One of the brightest masters of his epoch, Philippe de Champaigne, also revealed clear connections with Dutch and Flemish schools. His legacy illustrates soberness and rationalism, bordering with emotional reticence, inherent to French baroque painting. Along with the main genre – parade portrait, another one came to the fore, as Claude Lorrain was the first painter, who made landscape self-sufficient subject.
In 1648 the Academy of painting and sculpture was established in Paris. Here a traditional three-stage system of academic artistic education was elaborated: drawing from drawings, drawing from casts, drawing from the living model.. In addition, lectures on perspective, geometry and anatomy were given, and a reference library was gradually built up.
From 1661 Charles Lebrun was directing the Academy, under the influence of Louis XIV’s minister of finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who desired all arts to be the instrument of praising the King. Under his ascendancy, baroque features were largely replaced with classistic ones.
In contrast to Spain, in France sculpture was mostly of secular character. If architecture contained numerous evidences of classicistic impact, French sculpture was much closer to baroque spirit. Nevertheless, royal court wouldn’t have accepted a passion and unrestrained emotionality of Roman baroque. More reserved, toned-down style suited the tastes of aristocracy. It didn’t lose the dynamism and certain expressiveness, typical for the art of the 17th cent., but anyway was distant from vigorous character of Bernini’s or Pierre Le Gros – Frenchman, who was active in Rome.
Baroque traits became especially apparent in garden sculpture. Grottos and alleys of Versailles were embellished with antique mythological compositions that gave a feeling of union with the elemental powers. Francois Girardon was a renowned master of such allegorical compositions that could be compared the spirit of Greek Hellenistic art. Their sensuality underlined the taut scenes of struggle (like “The rape of Proserpina”). Less successful in his times, but no less important, is the oeuvre of Pirre Puget, who was one of the most brave in his experiments, artists of the Louis XIV epoch.
In the first half of the 17th cent. reproduction engraving achieved was the most common one. Such artists as Michel Dorigny and Laurent de La Hire were mainly specialized on graphic replicating of paintings of Simon Vouet. However, some masters, like Claude Mellan and Robert Nanteuil made their prints on basis of drawings from life. Clear lines, variability of squeeze in lights and shades created an aerial effect and impression of mobility of forms.
In the second half of the 17th cent. general changes in cultural life brought engraving from the position of “minor art” into the orbit of official one. In 1660 an edict was published, according to which engravers were accepted to the Academy of Fine arts on equal terms with painters and sculptors. That favored overrunning of printing the bounds of workshops and reputation of a craft. For sure, new situation dictated its own demands too engravers. They were encouraged to work in the tideway of decorative and reproduction engraving, reflecting the ideas of “Grand maniere”.
Palace building that was expanded to a large scale, stimulated unprecedented flourishing of decorative arts, and of ornamental engraving peculiarly. Jean Lepautre and Daniel Marot were specializing on depicting plafonds, vases, altarpieces, stuccos, jewelries, clocks, embroidered textile etc. Made in the technique of etching, they were published as albums and were samples for decorating palaces of Versailles, Marly, and Paris. An significant collection of engravings was created during the 17th cent. and called “Cabinet du Roi”. Here large part of it consisted of reproduction prints that weren’t merely replicating famous canvases, but rather rendering them. Besides, images of royal parks, festivals, theatrical plays or battlefields, were represented in this set.
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