Monday, August 6, 2007

Francois Clouet (1510-1572)

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Born probably at Tours, between 1500 and 1520; died at Paris, between 1570 and 1580. He was the son and pupil of Jean the Younger and was naturalized in 1541. At the age of thirty-five he succeeded his father as court painter to Francis I, to whom he was also appointed a valet de chambre. Francois was also court painter to Charles IX, at the close of whose reign all traces of him disappear. Clouet's work in oil, while Flemish in its scrupulous attention to details, is, however, distinctively French, and he carried to its highest the fame of "the Janets". He was the last of the French primitifs. His pictures are painted solidly, in pale, delicate tones, and without chiaroscuro. Clouet's portraits are true, accurate, and devoid of sentimentality; they show forth the moral and intellectual qualities of each sitter; and they "have the charm of intime painting" (Blanc). Two portraits of great brilliancy and distinction are the "Francis II as a Child" (1547) now at Antwerp, and "Henry II" (1553) in the Louvre; but Berlin possesses what are, perhaps, his masterpieces: "Francis II" and the "Duc d'Anjou" (Henry III).

Clouet's office required him to depict every great court function, and as late as 1709 such a group of pictures was in existence. He made many sketches in black and red chalk, showing perfect draughtsmanship and splendid modelling. Castle Howard contains eighty-eight such drawings, all in the manner of Holbein. Clouet also painted miniatures; that of greatest historical interest is "Mary Queen of Scots" (Windsor Castle), which has never been out of royal possession since catalogued, in the time of Charles, as "by Jennet a French limner". It is probably the only authentic picture of the unhappy Mary. Clouet's work was highly valued during his lifetime, and he was a power at the courts of Francis I, Henry II, Francis II, and Charles IX. The brilliant men and women about these monarchs felt that "the Janets" had elevated art and France. To-day their pictures are so highly prized that many forgeries are made of them. Besides those mentioned, other great canvases by Francois are "Elizabeth of Austria", "Charles IX", both in the Louvre, and four portraits in Stafford House (London). Collections of his drawings are in the Louvre, British Museum, and Albertina Museum (Vienna). [Adapted from Catholic Encyclopedia]


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