THE FRENCH RENAISSANCE

Communication with Italy—Renaissance not sudden—Origin of the schools of France and Burgundy—Touraine and its art—Fouquet—Brentano MSS.—“Versailles” Livy—Munich “Boccaccio,” etc.—Perréal and Bourdichon—“Hours of Anne of Brittany”—Poyet—The school of Fontainebleau—Stained glass—Jean Cousin—Gouffier “Heures”—British Museum Offices of Francis I.—Dinteville Offices—Paris “Heures de Montmorency,” “Heures de Dinteville,” etc.

When the new ideas derived from the Italian revival first reached France, it would be difficult to say. There must have been communication with Italy going on the whole time that Cimabue and Giotto, Memmi and the rest were astonishing their fellow-citizens with their divine performances. The roads from Lyons, Poictiers, Dijon, and Paris were well known, and frequently trodden by both artists and merchants as well as by soldiers. The Renaissance, therefore, was no sudden convulsion. Perhaps a very careful examination of some of our Burgundian MSS. might reveal the presence of notions derived from Italian travel, for it is in the details of ornament that we find the traces of a new movement, and when the great change of style is clearly noticeable it is when the habits of society themselves have been remodelled, and when the once strange and foreign element has become a familiar guest.

In the fixing of schools and centres much is owing, of course, to the residential choice of princes, on whose patronage depends the very existence of art. This explains the schools of Bruges and Dijon, of Paris and Tours, for while the earlier dukes of Burgundy and the earlier kings of France had lived at Bruges and Paris, the later dukes had preferred Dijon, and Louis XI., Charles VIII., and Louis XII. lived mostly at Tours. So that while Dijon became the new centre of Burgundian illumination, Tours became to the new movement from Italy what Paris had been at the commencement of the Gothic period. Tours, in fact, became the centre of the Renaissance. The influence of Dijon was on the wane, Burgundy itself was going down. Michel Coulombe, the great Breton sculptor, who had been trained at Dijon, left it for Tours, and probably illuminators and other artists followed his example. As we know from examples, the Burgundian art of Dijon had the Flemish stamp strongly marked—the Flemish artists had a way of making strong impressions.

Tours, on the other hand, had had an entirely different training. The artists of Touraine had no shadow of Flemish influence in their practice. Their sculptures, enamels, colour-scheme were of another bias. Their stamp came from Italy, and if not so deep as that of Flanders or Dijon, it was equally inevitable and more permanent.

The first name that we meet with among the illuminators of Touraine who are expressly connected with the Renaissance is that of Jean Fouquet. Of his origin or training nothing seems to be known, but he was born probably about 1415. He must have acquired distinction even as a youth, for some twenty-five years afterwards (1440-3) he was invited to Rome to paint the portrait of Pope Eugenius IV., and he stayed in Italy until 1447. On his return to France he was made valet de chambre and painter to Charles VII. at Tours, and continued in the same office under Louis XI. It was part of the business of thepaintre du roy to design and provide decorations and costumes, banners and devices for all state ceremonies, and this became Fouquet's duty at the funeral of Charles VII., and when Louis instituted the Order of St. Michel in 1470, and the last trace of him as an artist occurs about 1477. His sons, Louis and Francis, were both painters, and, like himself, worked much at the illumination of books. It is curious that this great master—one of the greatest miniaturists of any school, and one of the founders of the French school of painting—became entirely forgotten until the discovery of some fragments of a Book of Hours painted for Estienne Chevalier, the King's treasurer.

Forty miniatures of the most masterly description came into the hands of M. Louis Brentano-Laroche, of Frankfort-on-the-Maine. Their uncommon excellence led to a most diligent search for information respecting the artist, which resulted in the unearthing of many other examples of his unequalled pencil. We now know of a dozen most precious examples. Besides the Brentano miniatures, two other fragments of the same Book of Hours have been found, and several large and important MSS. Among these we may name the “Antiquities of the Jews,” by Josephus, in the National Library at Paris (MSS. Des. 6891), and a Book of Hours, executed for Marie de Clève, widow of Charles Duke of Orleans, in 1472. Attributed to him are the “Versailles” Livy (Nat. Lib., Paris, 6907); the “Sorbonne” Livy (fds. de Sorb. 297). A Livy in the public library at Tours also passes under his name, and the famous “Boccaccio” of Estienne Chevalier at Munich, containing ninety miniatures, is also confidently assigned to him. Other MSS. that are imputed to him are probably the work of his sons or scholars.