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French Renaissance - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )

I. Geographical.— France had, since the Romanesque and Gothic periods (pp. 270, 435), become one unitedKingdom, with Paris as the centre, from which the new Renaissance influence radiated to all parts of the country. This new geographical condition conduced to a homogeneous development within her extended boundaries, in striking contrast to the variety displayed at this period in the independent city-states of Italy. The distance of Paris from the centre of the Renaissance movement in Italy helped to delay its adoption in France for some 50 years.

II. Geological.—We have already seen in considering the Romanesque and Gothic periods (pp. 270, 435) that throughout France there was good building stone, easily worked ; so much so that Paris, in which many of the finest buildings were erected under the influence of the now powerful court, is consequently a city of stone, just as, under different geological conditions, London is a city of brick.

III. Climatic.—The climate, as in previous periods (pp. 271, 436), asserted its influence on architecture in demanding a continuance of large windows, high-pitched roofs, and lofty chimneys, which .differentiated Renaissance architecture in France from that in Italy, the land of its birth.

IV. Religious.— The Reformation obtained little hold in France, and ecclesiastical polity remained much the same until the end of the eighteenth century. The supply of Gothic churches proved adequate for the needs of the population in the early part of the period, and therefore, as in England, few churches were then erected. From A.D. 1558 to the end of the century the country was distracted by religious wars between Huguenots and Catholics, and the Massacre of S. Bartholomew in A.D. 1572 drove many of the best Huguenot craftsmen into England. This emigration was further increased by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in A.D. 1685. The chief influence on ecclesiastical architecture in France during later Renaissance times came from the powerful order of Jesuits, which, starting in Spain (A.D. 1539), spread over Europe in the wake of the Reformation and built great churches in France designed for preaching to large congregations, with the object of refuting Reformation heresies.

V. Social.—Paris, as the capital of the newly consolidated Kingdom of France and as the centre of the brilliant court of Francis I, attained pre-eminence in art and literature. This resulted in the adoption of one national architectural style which emanated from Paris and the schools in the vicinity ; while the valley of the Loire became a highway along which, in response to new social conditions, the famous chateaux of kings and courtiers sprang up and formed models for other parts of the country. This influence was largely augmented by the presence, at the court and in the schools, of such Italian artists as Leonardo da Vinci, Cellini, Serlio, Vignola, Rosso, Primaticcio, and Cortona, and was further spread by Italian craftsmen who, travelling from place to place in the district south of the Loire, there erected many picturesque buildings. The kingly power was gradually becoming absolute, owing largely to the policy of Cardinal Richelieu and his successor, Mazarin, in the reign of Louis XIII (A.D.,' 610-43), so that Louis XIV (A.D. 1643–1715) could declare with truth " L'Etat c'est moi." He was the great patron of the later Renaissance in France, and the palaces of the Louvre and Versailles are monuments of his lavish expenditure on architecture and the decorative arts. Under Louis XV (A.D. 1715–74) the accumulated evils of despotism, bad government, and the selfishness of the aristocracy had already become pronounced, when Voltaire and Rousseau voiced the popular discontent in their writings, which prepared the way for the Revolution of A.D. 1789, when all architectural development was arrested. Both Napoleon I and Napoleon III carried on the work of beautifying Paris, and the latter did much to improve the lay-out of the capital by the formation, from Haussman's designs, of the great boulevards and by the completion of the Louvre and other national buildings. Architecture, however, was to receive a rebuff, owing to the Franco-Prussian War of A.D. 1870–71, when Paris was besieged and capitulated. Then followed the Commune and Civil War, when much wanton damage was done to buildings, as at the Palais des Tuileries (p. 637). The series of five universal Exhibitions held in Paris between A.D. 1855 and 1900 showed the remarkable progress made in the country and its marvellous recovery since the disastrous Franco-Prussian War. Since the establishment of the Republic, the centre of social life has been to a great extent shifted from the old aristocracy of the country chateaux to the new bourgeoisie of the towns. The new many-roomed house is chiefly represented by the private " hotels " of the successful commercial classes, while the social and commercial life of the ordinary traders places French women on an active equality with men in their businesses, and this naturally results in simplicity and even severity of home life, which is confined to an " apartement " in a large block round the traditional courtyard. New domestic buildings are, more especially in Paris, still planned with the large central entrance and porter's lodge, to an inner court round which in storeys are the various "apartements " or " flats " opening off the main stairs. The chief development has perhaps been in the building of great shops or universal stores, which of late have been decked out with a certain amount of " Fart nouveau " designed as an advertisement in itself. The main life-blood of France now runs in the enterprising and energetic bourgeoisie, and their home wants are confined to the intensely practical, while pleasure and conviviality are found in open-air restaurants and cafes, from the pavement cafe to the

Pre Catalan " of the Bois de Boulogne. Of hotels for visitors there has been an increasing supply on the grand scale, both in Paris and in fashion-able sea-side resorts. The French have always been dramatic in character and theatre-loving by nature, and the apotheosis of this national trait is to be found in the sumptuous, flamboyant magnificence of the Opera House, Paris (p. 645).

VI. Historical.--The chief factor in the process of building up the Kingdom of France was the final expulsion of the English in A.D. 1453 under the splendid leadership of the inspired Maid, Joan of Arc. A new national feeling was then created, which, as in other countries under similar conditions, gave a great impetus to architecture, and resulted in the erection of many fine buildings, which have since been held worthy to rank as national monuments. During the first half of the sixteenth century Italy became the battlefield of Europe, for in A.D. 1494 Charles VIII of France marched through Italy to claim the Kingdom of Naples, and in A.D. 1508 Louis XI joined the League of Cambrai against Venice, when Florence became the ally of France. Francis I also invaded Italy to substantiate his claim to the throne of Milan, but was defeated and taken prisoner at the Battle of Pavia, A.D. 1525. In these wars the French kings, while failing in their actual object, were brought into contact with the older civilisation of Italy and were thus drawn into the Renaissance movement. Louis XIV, by his conquests in the Netherlands and Germany and his policy of aggression, brought about the formation of a general coalition against himself, ending in his defeat by Marlborough, and this was followed by an era of diminished architectural activity. The war with Prussia (A.D. 1870–71) resulted in the disastrous defeat of France. After the year 1877 colonial expansion brought increased prosperity, The later Franco-Russian alliance strengthened the position of France and constituted an important factor in the early days of the Great War, and now France, with the aid of the Allies, has once more regained possession of the lost provinces Alsace and Lorraine.

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