Renaissance Sculpture In France
( Originally Published 1896 )
THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY. Outside of Italy the Renaissance has an external and a rather superficial. significance. In no northern country was it so much a rebirth of the national spirit as a union of the Italian with the national style. The magnificent development of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, the glory of mediaeval France, was attended by a sculptural development of hardly inferior quality. By the fifteenth century, however, the Gothic impulse had expended itself in over-elaboration, and a fallow period ensued, which could be quickened only by a return to simplicity or by the introduction of a new style. The latter was almost a necessary consequence of the growth of French power over Italy. The French feudal castle became now transformed into the chateau de plaisir, and Italian ideals in sculpture replaced the Gothic. This was accomplished by the actual importation of sculptors, chiefly from the north of Italy, who settled at Tours, at Paris, and at Fontainebleau. It is hardly necessary to note the presence in France of Guido Mazzoni, Girolamo da Fiesole, the Juste family, Girolamo della Robbia, Benedetto da Rovezzano, and of Benvenuto Cellini—so many were the Italian artists settled in France and so thoroughly did the French cultivate Italian methods.
THE SCHOOL OF TOURS. Though Italian monuments were made for France early in the fifteenth century, the first school of sculpture to exhibit the new influence strongly was that of Tours. The chief representative of this school, Michel Colombe (1432-1515?), may be compared with the best Italian sculptors of the Early Renaissance. His relief of St. George and the Dragon, made in 1508 for the high altar of the Chateau de Gaillon, does not suffer when brought into comparison with Donatello's treatment of the same subject at Or San Michele ; and his tomb statue of Roberte Legendre, wife of Louis Poncher, which has found a place in the Louvre, may be classed with the beautiful statue of Ilaria in the cathedral at Lucca. But we may observe that the decorative framework that surrounds the St. George relief is Italian workmanship and that Italian artists were seldom absent when any monumental work in sculpture was in process of construction.
Perreal, who with Michel Colombe was a director of art under Charles VIII. and Louis XII., was also strongly influenced by Italian methods. The tomb of Francois II. of Brittany and Margaret de Foix, which he and Michel Colombe designed together, is a transitional monument, in which the principal figures are French, but the decorative base thoroughly Italian. Antoine Juste (1479–1519) and his brother Jean Juste (1485–1534) were by birth Italians, sons of a Florentine sculptor. Antoine appears to have been the designer and Jean the practical sculptor. The tomb of the Bishop of Doi, executed when Jean juste was but twenty years of age, is altogether Italian. But the influence and traditions of Michel Colombe are visible in the tomb of Louis XII. and Anne of Brittany at St. Denis, and more strongly still in the tombs of Artus Gouffier and Philippe de Montmorency in the chapel at Oiron.
The most elaborate monument in the style of this period is the tomb of the Cardinals of Amboise in the cathedral at Rouen. Though designed by Roland Leroux and executed with the assistance of French and Flemish sculptors, the Italian character of the work is so strong that we might naturally look to Milan or Pavia for its inspiration. Only the kneeling statue of George I. preserves the traditions of earlier French sculpture.
THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY. During the first half of the sixteenth century the Franco-Italian style spread rapidly under the vigorous patronage of Francois I. The great chateaux, such as Blois, Chambord, Fontainebleau, St. Germain, Madrid, were transformed or erected in accordance with the new style. These buildings called for sculptural decoration after the Florentine manner of the Early Renaissance. Public buildings and private houses followed at such centres as Tours, Angers, Orleans, Rouen, Rheims, and Toulouse ; then the churches, with their sculptured doorways, altar-pieces, choir screens, and stalls. In the cloisters of St. Martin of Tours, Bastien Francois continued the traditions of his uncle Michel Colombe; in the choir screen at Chartres, Jean Texier rivalled in delicacy of design and carving the most refined of Florentine decoration. Hardly inferior to this were the wooden doors, finely carved by Jean le Pot for Beauvais Cathedral, and the choir stalls of the same period at the Cathedral of Auch. South of Paris the Italian style prevailed over the French, as, for example, in the sculptures of La Dalbade at Toulouse ; in the north, Franco-Flemish influences remained stronger, as may be seen in the pictorial historic reliefs of the Field of the Cloth of Gold at the Hotel du Bourgtheroulde at Rouen.
During the second half of the sixteenth century the influence of Catherine de' Medici over the last of the house of Valois signified a strengthening of Italian influence over French art. In architecture the Gothic style ceased to determine structural forms, and sculpture assumed greater independence. The three great architects of this period, Bullant, Lescot, and Delorme, constantly applied for assistance to the three great sculptors, Bontemps, Jean Goujon, and Germain Pilon.
Pierre Bontemps (fl. 1552) retained more than the others the Franco-Flemish spirit. Nothing could be more Italian in style than the triumphal arch designed by Delorme as the tomb of Francois I. at St. Denis. But Bontemps, the author of the sculptured reliefs at its base, represents, in accordance with French traditions, the conquest of the French in Italy. The funerary urn for the heart of Francois I. is also more Flemish than Italian in decorative detail.
Jean Goujon (1520-1566?) may be considered the typical sculptor of the developed Renaissance in France. His style represents the best of Flemish pictorial naturalism transformed by Italian grace and beauty. If he is somewhat severe and Flemish in his early work for the two principal doors of St. Maclou at Rouen (1540-1541), he is already a great sculptor, if we may attribute to him the sepulchral statue of Louis de Breze. Already in 1541 his reliefs for Lescot's choir screen in St. Germain l'Auxerrois show the prevailing Italian spirit. Harmony and elegance rapidly replaced his former austerity, as we may see in the grand chimney-piece, now at Chantilly, which he made for the Chateau d'Ecouen. In 1547 he deco-rated for Lescot the loggia which was ordered to grace the entrance of Henri II. into Paris. In the eighteenth century this was transformed into the Fountain of the Innocents. Goujon's reliefs representing fountain nymphs were treated with a grace peculiarly his own, and adapted most cleverly to the narrow spaces they occupied. It may have been also an Italian inspiration, perhaps from Benvenuto Cellini's relief at Fontainebleau, that led Goujon to produce the celebrated Diana of the Louvre, which he made to adorn a fountain at the Chateau d'Anet. But we cannot fail to see in this also a grace which is specifically French. In his work for the deco-ration of the Louvre, from the Pavilion de l'Horloge to the Porte Goujon, and upon the staircase of Henri II., his fertile fancy found free play. But he just missed perfection in the Caryatids for the hall now called by that name in the Louvre. His sympathy with the Huguenots seems to have been the cause of his leaving France for Italy, where he died (at Modena) between 1564 and 1568.
The third member of this distinguished trio was Germain Pilon (d. 1590?). In his earliest work for the tomb of Francois I. he adhered to the manner of Bontemps, and in his four figures for the tomb of Henri II. at St. Denis he was comparatively free from the Italian manner. But the new style appeared in full bloom in his Three Graces made to support the urn for the heart of Henri II. and in a bust of an infant in the Louvre. Pilon's best pupil was Barthelemy Prieur (d. 1611), who was associated with the distinguished architect Bullant in several important works. Italian influence upon French sculpture was strengthened by the sojourn in Italy of such sculptors as Berthelot, Guillain, Sarrazin, Vouet, Mellan, and the Anguiers.
OTHER SCHOOLS. The school of Troyes, represented by Francois Gentil, the school of Toulouse, represented by Nicholas Bachelier, and the sculptors of Lorraine show, with slight variations, the general tendency. In Lorraine special mention may be made of Ligier Richier (1500-1567), whose Holy Sepulchres at Hattonchatel and at Saint-Mihiel form an interesting parallel, to the works of Mazzoni and Begarelli. As a sculptor of sorrow and Of death, he represented the expiring spirit of the Middle Ages.
THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY. This was for France a century of self-assertion and of superficial grandeur. It was epitomized in the character of Louis XIV. In architecture the " ordre colossal " was introduced; in painting, huge bombastic canvases, and in sculpture, pompous monuments were popular. The leading French sculptors were Girardon, Coysevox, and Puget. Their works showed an increasing tendency toward the display of emotion at the expense of classic form and repose.
Francois Girardon (1628-1715) of the three was the most restful. His relief of the Nymphs at the Bath, at Versailles, exhibited an interesting combination of classic a n d French grace, but his Rape of Proserpine already followed in the line of Bernini, and his tomb of Cardinal Richelieu at the Sorbonne inaugurated the series of pompous tombs of the age of Louis XIV. and XV. He was the chief of a group of sculptors whose works may be best studied at Versailles. Among these was Robert le Lorrain (1666-1743), whose chef-d'oeuvre is the relief upon the Ancien Hotel de Rohan, representing the Horses of the Sun.
Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720) was an original, varied, and productive sculptor, more thoroughly French than Girardon.
His ornamental sculptures at Versailles showed the magnificence of the decoration in demand at this period. As a portrait sculptor his statues and busts, such as those of Louis XIV. and the Prince de Conde, of Bossuet, and Le Brun, were distinguished, life-like, and carefully executed. Toward the end of his career he made a dozen or more monumental tombs. Of his many pupils the best were Nicholas and Guillaume Coustou, whose graceful works mark the new spirit of the eighteenth century.
Pierre Puget (1622--1694), born at Marseilles, brought into French sculpture the heat of southern emotion. His Caryatids at the Hotel de Ville at Toulon were exaggerations of the spirit of Michelangelo. His inspiration was drawn more from Bernini and Algardi in his Milon of Croton and his relief of Alexander and Diogenes. His works were marvels of technical ability, and full of fire, but not free from exaggeration.
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. The pompous and grand art of Louis XIV. was followed by an art of graceful form and delicate sentiment. During the reigns of Louis XV. and XVI., sculpture of this character appealed strongly to a large class. The eighteenth century presents, therefore, a long list of skilful sculptors in France. The line began with Jean Baptiste Lemoyne, who was a pupil of Robert le Lorrain, the pupil of Girardon. His principal works were destroyed during the Revolution, but his style may be measured by a number of excellent busts which still survive. He counted among his pupils Pigalle, Caffieri, Pajou, Falconet, and others of less renown.
Michel Slodtz (1705—1764), the author of the S. Bruno at St. Peter's, R o me, is linked with the preceding century through his father, Sebastian Slodtz, who was a pupil of Girardon. Michel Slodtz was one of the masters of - Houdon. Edme Eouchardon (1698 –1762) was called by Voltaire the French Pheidias; but his graceful Cupid bending the Bow, in the Louvre, and the charming reliefs of the fountain in the Rue de Grenelle-Saint-Germain show a spirit more closely related to that of Praxiteles. Jean Baptiste Pigalle (1714—1785), a more brilliant sculptor, infused a living quality into graceful forms. His Mercury attaching wings to his feet is full of life as well as beauty. His monumental tombs were finer in detail than in general composition. Gabriel Christophe Allegrain (1710-1795) was much admired by Diderot for his classic form, as was also Maurice Etienne Falconet (1716-1781), who manifested a philosophic fondness for abstract subjects, such as Melancholy, Friendship, Music. Jean Jacques Caffieri, the best of a family of artists, whose ancestors came from Italy, was noted for his refined and graceful busts, seven of which are in the Museum of the Comedic Francaise. Augustin Pajou (1730-1809) was a sculptor of exquisite grace and delicate sentiment. His aristocratic bust of Madame Du Barry and his statue of Psyche remind one of his contemporary, the painter Boucher. Louis Michel Claude (1738-1814), called " Clodion," spread the taste for the lighter phases of sculpture by an extensive production, chiefly in terracotta, of minor works of household art.
The sum of all that is best in French sculpture of the eighteenth century is to be found in the work of Houdon. Jean Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), the pupil of Lemoyne, Michel Slodtz, and Pigalle, applied his energy in the direction of naturalism. " It should be our aim," he declared, " to preserve and render imperishable the true form and image of the men who have brought honor and glory to their country." He urged his pupils: " Copiez, copiez toujours, et surtout copiez juste." He was not lacking on the ideal side, as his light-stepping Diana of the Louvre testifies, but his strength as a sculptor lay in portraiture. His seated statues of Voltaire and of Rousseau, and his busts, such as those of Moliere and Diderot and Buffon, of Franklin and Washington, are the works by which his genius is to be measured. In these also he showed himself not only thoroughly French, but essentially modern.
EXTANT MONUMENTS. Outside of the museums of the Louvre, Trocadero, Cluny, Ecole des Beaux Arts, and the private collections of Paris, French Renaissance sculpture may be best studied in Tours, Rouen, Caen, Dijon, Toulouse, and in the more important of the French chateaux.