school of Fontainebleau

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FONTAINEBLEAU, SCHOOL OF. The school of Fontainebleau takes its name from the château of Fontainebleau, located about thirtyseven miles southeast of Paris, the preferred residence of King Francis I (ruled 15151547). The term does not pertain to an educational institution. Rather, it refers to a cohesive group of artists engaged by the king, and after his death by his son Henry II, to decorate interiors of the château with frescoes, elaborately carved wood paneling and stucco sculptures, and by extension, the style of this décor and the prints (particularly those from c. 15421547) that reproduced the compositions of many of the frescoes. Indeed, Henri Zerner pointed out (The French Renaissance in Prints, p. 22) that the expression "school of Fontainebleau" was first used by Adam Bartsch (1818), one of the foremost authorities on graphic art, to classify the etchings and engravings produced by the artists employed at Fontainebleau, or in their style. (The "second school" of Fontainebleau was the next generation of artists who worked at Fontainebleau, around 1600.)

Led by the Florentine painter Rosso Fiorentino (born Giovanni Battista di Jacopo de' Rossi, or di Guasparre, 14941540) and the Bolognese Francesco Primaticcio (15041570), the artists of the school of Fontainebleau were not only French but also included a number of Italians and some Flemish painters and draftsmen (e.g., Luca Penni, Étienne Delaune, Geoffroy Dumoustier, Léonard Thiry, René Boyvin, Antonio Fantuzzi, Giorgio Mantovano Ghisi, Pierre Milan, and Domenico del Barbiere, also called Dominique Florentin, who was also a sculptor). They produced figures in a mannered style characterized by sinuous lines and elongated proportions, frequently arranged in difficult, unrealistic poses. A sense of anguished urgency runs through nearly all of Rosso's compositions. His suicide called attention to the tormented quality of his work.

Rosso was recommended to Francis I by the Venetian poet Aretino, who was the painter's friend. Although the king's predecessors Charles VIII (ruled 14831498) and Louis XII (ruled 14981515) fostered a keen interest in the Italian revival of classical antiquity, Francis I had a single-mindedness of purpose that caused Italian mannerism to be directly transplanted into France. After his military campaigns in Italy met with disaster, he seems to have resolved to use the arts instead to become the rival of Charles V, the popes, and Henry VIII. He accomplished this through sophisticated alterations in his palace at Blois; the creation of a gigantic castle of Chambord; a new château ironically named "Madrid"; and the enlargement and embellishment of the old château at Fontainebleau.

The key ensemble at Fontainebleau is the Galerie François Ier (gallery of Francis I), a long, relatively narrow passageway constructed in 1528 to link the early château with a nearby abbey. Although the gallery was structurally altered over the years, the interior decoration (mostly completed in 15341536) continues to inspire fascination. The walls are lined by a high wood dado, originally created by Scibec de' Carpi, carved with Italianate decorative motifs called strapwork that imitate heavy coils of stiffened leather. The king's emblem, the salamander, appears throughout. Above the dado stretches a series of frescoes depicting classical myths and abstruse allegories related to the king's reign. Sumptuous stucco frames surround and link the frescoes. They comprise not only decorative moldings and reliefs (and subsidiary frescoes), but also nearly life-size, almost freestanding human figures of extraordinary intricacy and elegance. Rosso is credited with the entire design, but because Primaticcio had previously worked in stucco while employed in Mantua, he is believed to have collaborated on the stuccos. A series of tapestries begun during Rosso's lifetime (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) reproduces scenes from the gallery, although with numerous variations. The strapwork of the famous stucco frames, where animate and inanimate forms seem interchangeable, was disseminated throughout Europe by engravings. In some of these, the mythological subjects of the frescoes were later replaced by landscapes, which had broader appeal.

Primaticcio was responsible for several outstanding decorative ensembles at Fontainebleau, among them the chambre du roi (king's bedroom, 15331535), the chambre de la duchesse d'Étampes (bedroom of the king's mistress, the duchess of Étampes, 15411544), the gallery of Ulysses (mostly 15411549), and most impressive of all, the salle de bal (ballroom, c. 15511557). In contrast with the gallery of Francis I, the ballroom has spacious proportions; its mythological frescoes depict festive subjects in keeping with its function. The muscular, superhuman proportions of Primaticcio's figures, inspired by Michelangelo's, decisively influenced French art of the time, not only in the paintings of Primaticcio's most important collaborator, Niccolò dell' Abbate (and even later in the work of Ambroise Dubois and Toussaint Dubreuil, of the second school of Fontainebleau), but also in the sculptures of the great Germain Pilon, who may have been employed at Fontainebleau early in his career.

See also France, Architecture in ; France, Art in ; Francis I (France) ; Henry II (France) .


Blunt, Anthony. Art and Architecture in France 15001700. Harmondsworth, U.K., and New York, 1977.

L'École de Fontainebleau. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris, 1972.

The French Renaissance in Prints. Exh. cat., UCLA/Metropolitan Museum of Art/Bibliothèque nationale, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris, 1994.

Zerner, Henri. L'art de la Renaissance en France: L'invention du classicisme. Paris, 1996.

Mary L. Levkoff

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Fontainebleau. Style of architectural decoration at the French Royal Château created by Italian (notably Rosso Fiorentino (1495–1540), Francesco Primaticcio (1504/5–70), Serlio, and Vignola), French, and Flemish artists for François Ier from 1528 to 1558. It was an eclectic mutation of High Renaissance design into a distinct form of Mannerism featuring lavish cartouches, caryatides, grotesques, scrolls, strapwork, and etiolated stucco figures. Fontainebleau influenced French design until the end of C16, but the style was widely disseminated through printed sources emanating from Antwerp, and influenced Flemish Mannerism and architecture in England, Germany, and The Netherlands.


Blunt (1982);
Chilvers, Osborne, & Frampton (eds.) (1988);
Shearman (1967)

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school of Fontainebleau, group of 16th-century artists who decorated the royal palace at Fontainebleau. The major figures in this group were Italian painters invited to France by Francis I. Il Rosso, a Florentine and the most important member of the school, arrived at Fontainebleau in 1530; he was followed in 1532 by Francesco Primaticcio, a disciple of Raphael, and Sebastiano Serlio. Niccolò dell'Abbate appeared at the court in 1552 during the reign of Henry II. The art of Fontainebleau, today represented chiefly by the Gallery of Francis I, was an offshoot of the mannerist style developed in Italy. It was characterized by a refined elegance, with crowded figural compositions in which painting and elaborate stucco work were closely integrated. The work of the Fontainebleau artists incorporated allegory in accordance with the courtly liking for symbolism.

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Fontainebleau School Style of painting associated with a group of artists working at the French court in the 16th century. In a bid to match the magnificence of the Italian courts, Francis I gathered international artists to decorate his palace at Fontainebleau. Led by the Florentine artists Fiorentino Rosso and Francesco Primaticcio, the group evolved a unique style of mannerism, blending sensuality and elegance.