Clouet, François (c. 1515/20–1572)

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CLOUET, FRANÇOIS (c. 1515/201572)

CLOUET, FRANÇOIS (c. 1515/201572), French portraitist, painter to the king. François Clouet was the most important French portraitist of the sixteenth century. He is best known for numerous drawings of the members of the late Valois court executed in a technique adopted from his father, Jean Clouet (c. 1485, Brussels?1540, Paris). Of a fairly consistent uniformity of composition in which the sitter, sketched in black subtly enlivened with rusty red, is almost invariably depicted bust-length in three-quarter profile from the left, nearly all the drawings measure about 12 in. × 8 ½ in. Although the black medium is frequently referred to as chalk in English (more correctly in French, crayon, 'pencil'), it was in fact derived from powdered slate (Zvereva, pp. 1921). The red was made from clay. A sparing use of blue, yellow, and white pencil occasionally enhances the image. A few portraits were further elaborated with watercolor or white gouache. Although several of François Clouet's drawings are preliminary studies for paintings, the vast majority were created as portraits in and of themselves. The most significant group, numbering in the hundreds, was commissioned or owned by Catherine de Médicis. One of the most remarkable documentary records of historical figures before the invention of photography, they make Renaissance France come to life while simultaneously constituting a final expression of chivalric art.

Jean Clouet (nicknamed Janet in his own time) was not the first French artist to use these media for portraits. Jean Fouquet used them too, and Jean Perréal is believed to have practiced a similar type of portraiture, possibly influenced by, or influencing, Leonardo da Vinci. Perréal or Leonardo may, in turn, have inspired Jean Clouet to create the delicate black-and-red portrait drawings that are overwhelmingly associated with the name Clouet, which then likely influenced Hans Holbein. Several artists were active in the workshops of the Clouets. Numerous versions or copies of some compositions are known, and the attributions of many drawings are still actively debated.

In 1540 or 1541, upon the death of Jean Clouet, François received his father's appointment as court painter to King Francis I. Little is known of his career before that time. In 1541 he was described as having "well imitated" his father. In 1547, when the king died, Clouet modeled the death mask that was used in the funerary ceremonies around the wax effigy of the deceased ruler. Clouet then entered the service of Henry II, whose wife, Catherine de Médicis, developed an interest in portrait-drawings that quickly surpassed that of her father-in-law. At first she commissioned them from Germain Le Mannier (active 15371559). In 1559, around the time of her daughter Elisabeth's marriage to Philip II of Spain, Catherine commissioned portraits of all the royal children from Clouet. During the celebrations of this union, Henry II was mortally wounded in a jousting accident, and Clouet fabricated his death mask. The documents pertaining to this commission have continually been associated with a terra-cotta of the king's suffering face (Louvre), but this tortured fragment is not a death mask. It is more likely Germain Pilon's preparatory study for the king's tomb in the basilica of St. Denis. Conversely, a series of large bronze portrait medallions (many in the Cabinet des Médailles, Bibliothèque Nationale de France), often erroneously attributed to Pilon, are instead virtual copies of Clouet's portraits.

At the end of 1559, Clouet became responsible for establishing the imagery of French coins. His only known dated work of art (1562) is a painting of his friend, the apothecary Pierre Quthe (Louvre). In its rich draperies and subtle suggestion of depth, it departs strikingly from the formula of the portrait-drawings. This suggests that by then Clouet may have become familiar with portraits by Titian (born Tiziano Vecelli) and Il Bronzino (born Agnold di Cosimo), perhaps during a trip to Italy. The Lady in the Bath (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) also bears Clouet's name, as does a standing portrait of Charles IX (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). A bust-length painting of the young king's wife, Elisabeth of Austria (Louvre), probably created around the time of their marriage in 1570, is usually attributed to Clouet. Beautifully nuanced in tonality and lavishly decorative with a multitude of regal embellishments, this is one of the loveliest portraits of the French Renaissance. The Bath of Diana (c. 155059?, Musée des Beaux Arts, Rouen) is also generally ascribed to Clouet. Around 1571, during negotiations to arrange the marriage of her favorite son, the future Henry III, to England's Queen Elizabeth, Catherine de Médicis sent his portrait by Clouet to the British monarch, commenting that the artist "had time only to do the face."

See also Catherine de Médicis ; France, Art in .


Adhémar, Jean. Les Clouets et la cour des rois de France de François Ier à Henri IV. Exh. cat., Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1970.

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

Malzeva, Nataliya Lvovna. French Pencil Portraits of the Sixteenth Century. Moscow, 1978.

Zvereva, Alexandra. Les Clouets de Catherine de Médicis: Chefs d'oeuvre graphiques du Musée Condé. Paris and Chantilly, 2002.

Mary L. Levkoff

Clouet, Francois (1515–1572)

views updated May 14 2018

Clouet, Francois (15151572)

French portrait painter and miniaturist, born in Tours as the son of the artist Jean Clouet. He learned painting from his father and was brought to the court of King Francis I at a young age. He followed in his father's footsteps by winning an appointment as the king's court painter in about 1540. After the death of the king, he remained at the French court as the painter of King Henry II, Francis II, and Charles IX. He is best known for two portraits, Elizabeth of Austria and The Apothecarist Pierre Quthe, as well as the work known as Lady in Her Bath, a work that took the court and the art world by storm and set off a rage for bath portraits that remained a staple of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. These three works were the only paintings Clouet signed. He also executed paintings of Catherine de Médicis, Francis I, Mary Queen of Scots, and Charles IX. Clouet was a skilled draftsman and a painter with a special ability to reveal the emotion and character of his subjects in his works. His fame spread widely among the nobility of France and Clouet found his work in high demand throughout his life.

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Francois Clouet

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